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Film / Bend of the River

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Bend of the River is a 1952 Western film directed by Anthony Mann, starring James Stewart.

It's 1866 and Glyn McLyntock (Stewart) is acting as a guide, taking a group of settlers from Missouri to the Columbia River territory of Oregon. Glyn is haunted by his past: some years ago he was a "border raider" on the Missouri-Kansas border. Glyn is hoping to start a new life for himself as a farmer or rancher. One night when the wagon train is camped, he rescues one Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) from getting lynched by some people who claim Cole stole a horse. As it turns out, Cole was also a border raider back in the day. Jeremy Baile, the leader of the group of settlers, is none too happy to have Cole with the wagon train. Baile is unaware of Glyn's similar history.

Glyn successfully guides the wagon train to Portland, Oregon, but not before Jeremy's beautiful daughter Laurie (Julia Adams) is wounded in an attack by the Shoshones. Glyn and Jeremy buy food for the winter from Portland merchant Tom Hendricks and then go upriver to scout out a settlement while Laurie stays in Portland to recover. When neither Laurie nor the food shows up at the settlement, Glyn and Jeremy go back to Portland, only to receive unpleasant news. While they were upriver starting the settlement, gold was discovered elsewhere along the Columbia. Hendricks has reneged on their deal and sold their food to the gold miners. And Laurie is dating ne'er-do-well Emerson Cole.

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Tropes:

  • Beta Couple: Trey and Margie flirt, and they're paired up together at the end, but they are definitely of secondary importance behind Glyn and Laurie.
  • Call-Back: When he saves Cole from a lynching early in the film, the only reason Glyn will give is that he just doesn't like hangings. At the end of the film, he's revealed to have an ugly scar on his neck, evidently from a hanging back in his raider days that he somehow survived.
  • Card Sharp: Cole and Trey kill a fellow gambler who was dealing from the bottom of the deck.
  • Determined Homesteader: Jeremy, who is absolutely determined to get his farming community started, and refuses to take a large sum of money to sell his food to the gold miners instead.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Cole starts off as a pretty likable fellow who pretty much serves as The Lancer to Glyn for most of the film and even saves Glyn's life. That changes.
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  • Foreshadowing: As they're coming into Portland, Jeremy wonders if it would be quicker to go over the mountains instead of around. Glyn vetoes this, saying that it's highly dangerous and they could get stuck up on the mountain and die. Later, Glyn decides that crossing over the mountain is just what they'll have to do to outrace Hendricks and his goons.
  • Gold Fever: Glyn and Jeremy are surprised to find that a gold rush has turned sleepy Portland into a boom town. Much later, after Hendricks is killed, Jeremy muses how he was a good fellow before the gold rush.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Jeremy and the rest of the settlers chopping trees and plowing dirt as they get their little village started.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Trey starts out as an affable type who does some mild flirting with Marjie, and later he helps Glyn and Jeremy get their supplies onto the steamship. Then later he supports Cole when Cole overthrows Glyn and seizes the food. Then still later, after Glyn slices his cheek with a bullet, Trey flips again and helps Glyn defeat Cole.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: The ending reveals Glyn has a nasty scar on his neck from a hanging that he somehow survived, back in his days as a raider.
  • Professional Gambler: Trey. Cole too, for a while.
  • Retired Badass: Glyn was a fearsome "border raider" back in the day, but all he wants now is a quiet life farming or ranching.
  • Scenery Porn: Some lovely footage of Mount Hood and the Sandy River of Oregon.
  • Stock Footage: Some obviously spliced-in footage of the rapids that keep the steamship from taking the settlers the rest of the way upriver.
  • Title Drop: Multiple references to the "bend in the river" where the settlement is located.
  • That Man Is Dead: When an amused Cole, who knows what Glyn used to do, asks who he's running from, Glyn answers that he's running from "a man named Glyn McLyntock."
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Cole, whose given reason for his Heel–Face Turn involves Jeremy's refusal to look beyond his criminal past.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: And so does throwing your knife, as Cole dispatches two different Shoshone this way.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Some unpleasant racist humor from Lincoln "Stepin Fetchit" Perry, who plays Adam, Captain Mello's silly first mate.
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