a Allan Dwan The Rivers Edge Ray Milland Anthony Quinn RIVERSEDGE-4(1)

If you can say one thing about Allan Dwan, it is that he knew when he had a weak link. His film The River’s Edge is a competent three-hander, hinging, mostly, on the female prize Debra Paget. She is horrifically out of her depth alongside the sinister Ray Milland and overtly noble Anthony Quinn. Dwan was aware of how fundamentally unappealing his female lead was (which he readily admitted to Peter Bogdanovich) and therefore avoids the probing, complicating character moments that could make this a great film. Lacking any great Hollywood magic, beauty or exceptionalism, The River’s Edge, with its gleaming Cinemascope, is a drama of deflated, pathetic studio fakery and real-feeling moral ugliness.

Nardo Denning (Ray Milland) sets the film in motion when he intrudes upon Ben and Meg Cameron (Quinn and Paget) and their unhappy home on the range. Twists come a mile a minute, revealing, not only that Nardo and Meg have a long history, but that Ben knows about it. The romantic tension between Nardo and Meg – and the magnetic force he has on her – do not belie the deadly attraction one could expect from a thriller like this one. Their relationship feels more like Sharon Stone and James Woods’ in Casino than any other more important film couple’s. Milland feels unlike the noirish criminals who remain as terrifying as they are admirable. He is, instead, a liar, a seducer, and a self-serious idiot.

Ultimately, all three characters end up on a paranoid trek across the Mexican-American border. The men look more and more foolish as the threats pile up higher and higher. Even with knives at each other’s throats, they are really only concerned with the fickle affections of their female companion. Paget fades into the background of the unreal sets as we rush toward a resolution laden with irony and redemption. The past is firmly the past.  Desolation and cuckoldry have transformed into fulfillment for the couple, catalyzed by Denning’s disturbing interruption.. Even though Quinn’s character is too understanding and Paget’s character is two-dimensional, we get the feeling that they will now function as a family unit. As the opening song says, “There’s no returning. There’s only tomorrow.”