The River (1929)

The River is almost impossible to appraise now for the simple reason that only about half of it still exists. More, what does exist is the middle of the film, and of the four (?) extant reels only two of them seem to be actually continuous. On top of that, the condition of the surviving footage can be politely described as average at best, and at worst some shots are so murky that you can barely see anything in them; I’d say whatever print of the film was found was not exactly first generation straight from the negative. Hence, evidently, why the film is relegated to “extra” status on the DVD. This is a shame for many reasons, but with the Hervé Dumont reconstruction we can at least kind of see what was going on. This time Borzage paired Farrell with Mary Duncan, cos Gaynor wasn’t going to work in this story… young man (Farrell) travels on self-built barge down a river, pauses at a dam construction camp which is shutting down as winter sets in; the chief engineer has just been arrested for murdering one of the workers for trying to get it on with his mistress (Duncan); the latter chooses to remain alone in the camp after it’s deserted for the season. It wasn’t until after the film was over that I stopped to consider how strange the set-up actually is; only one other character (a deaf-mute worker Farrell befriends) appears in the existing footage, otherwise it’s basically the two of them, this manchild with a boat and this more experienced woman who seduces him, isolated in the wilderness as winter sets in. Based on what we still have, I suspect I’d like this a lot if a complete print were ever to be discovered—and part of the extant footage actually came from the Swedish censors, so if they retained that clip maybe someone retained the rest…

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