The River

Movie Information

In Brief: While it scarcely scales the heights of Jean Renoir's finest works, The River remains a fascinating minor footnote in his career. The story — about three girls growing up in Bengal, India, experiencing first love (unfortunately with the same man) — is slight, and the acting is on the hit-or-miss side. Yet Renoir is mostly interested in the film's Indian setting and the culture there. It remains notable as the first international production to be completely shot in India — and in color.
Genre: Drama
Director: Jean Renoir
Starring: Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Patricia Walters, Radha, Adrienne Corri
Rated: NR

I have a friend who doesn’t generally care for color movies. (Yeah, and he’s not entirely sold on the talkies either.) He talks a lot of guff about how most movies don’t really use color. (I counter that most black-and-white movies don’t really use black and white either. This has been going on for 40 years.) The one exception I can count on him making to this is Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), which I’ve finally caught up with — and, yes, it’s pretty visually striking. It’s also the first international production — at least in color — that I can find was shot entirely in India. (Indian locales in films like Zoltan Korda’s The Jungle Book (1942) are evoked by other means than going to India.)

Here’s the thing — I don’t think the claims for its use of color (this is not strictly my friend’s idea) hold up today. It’s been outpaced by Mira Nair and even Wes Anderson (who claims this film as an inspiration) for sheer beauty. But it is a handsome film — and that probably stands out all the more because The River is an extremely simple story about three teenage girls — Patricia Walters, Radha, Adrienne Corri — in India all falling in love with the same man, an embittered one-legged soldier (Thomas E. Breen). There are some subordinate plots, but that’s the main thrust, and it doesn’t seem really worthy of a filmmaker like Renoir. The acting is on the uneven side and the film is held together by a narration. (You may note that the only of the actors I’ve named that lasted in movies is Adrienne Corri, best know as Mrs. Alexander in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange.)  Definitely worth a look, but don’t be expecting Grand Illusion (1937) or Rules of the Game (1939).

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present The River Friday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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