Both Otto Preminger and Marilyn Monroe were forced to do the film against their will, due to contractual obligations. They both expressed their frustration over the script which they considered below par. However, the film was a box office hit upon its release and remains a popular classic western.
While most of the cast and crew went to lunch, Marilyn Monroe preferred to go underneath the set, between all the pillars and dust, to find Bandit the raccoon. She would put him in her lap, pet him, and talk to his owner Ralph Helfer about animals and horses.
Robert Mitchum did not get along with director Otto Preminger or co-star Tommy Rettig.
The 3 pairs of jeans that Marilyn Monroe wore in the movie were among a collection of her personal items that were sold for $42,550 at auction at Christies Auction House to designer Tommy Hilfiger.
During the difficult shoot, Otto Preminger had to contend with frequent rain, Robert Mitchum's heavy drinking, and an injury to Marilyn Monroe's ankle that kept her off the set for several days and ultimately put her in a cast. Young Tommy Rettig seemed to be the director's sole source of solace. He respected the boy's professionalism and appreciated the rapport he developed with Monroe, which often helped keep the actress on an even keel. When Natasha Lytess, Monroe's acting's coach, began to interfere with Rettig's performance, thereby undermining his confidence, Preminger let the cast and crew know about her behavior. Preminger was delighted to find that they finally began to support him in his efforts to remove her from the set.
During post-production, Otto Preminger departed for Europe, leaving editor Louis R. Loeffler and Stanley Rubin to complete the film. Jean Negulesco was called in to film a few retakes. The dailies reconfirmed Rubin's belief that Preminger had been the wrong choice for the project. He felt the director had failed to capture the Western aura, had ignored key elements in the plot, and had badly directed action sequences, leaving them looking staged and static. In several cases, studio and location shots didn't match.
Marilyn Monroe's voice was her own & she worked hard to get her guitar fingering accurate. (She may have worked hard, but even an amateur guitarist can tell that she isn't playing.)
During the shoot in Jasper, local resident Wilbur Stanley and a friend were watching some of the scenes. Robert Mitchum accepted their invitation during a break and they returned to their car, where they each had a beer and talked. Afterward Mitchum got out of the car, threw the bottle across the ground near there, and commented "Best breakfast I ever had!"
As the studio caravan motored to location near Banff, traffic was halted after a gasoline truck ahead of them exploded. Members of the company and Marilyn Monroe's boyfriend Joe DiMaggio organized a search party to find the driver, who had run into the woods, his clothes on fire. They found the badly burned driver, and rushed him to the hospital.
Roughly a decade after the film was made, Marilyn Monroe claimed this was her worst film, and Otto Preminger spoke bitterly about her in numerous interviews. It wasn't until January 1980, when being interviewed for the New York Daily News, that he conceded, "She tried very hard, and when people try hard, you can't be mad at them." (Less than a decade after this was made she was no longer acting because she was no longer alive.)
Film editor Dann Cahn recommended a young woman he was dating for the part of a beautiful young woman in Your Show Time (1949). Producer Stanley Rubin auditioned her and turned her down because she did not have enough experience. The young woman's name was Marilyn Monroe. Rubin later tried to make up for his mistake and cash in on Monroe's fame by casting her in River of No Return (1954).
When director Otto Preminger insisted that actors perform their own stunts for the scenes of the raft struggling down the rapids, delays caused the film to run over schedule and budget. On one occasion Marilyn Monroe had to be saved from drowning when her boots filled with water, and on another she and Robert Mitchum had to be rescued when their raft became stuck on a rock and was on the verge of overturning. However, according to Lee Server's biography "Robert Mitchum: Baby I Don't Care", they didn't do their own stunts. The people on the overturning raft were stunt performers Roy Jenson, Helen Thurston and midget Harry Monty. Mitchum would often "appropriate" anecdotes; this appears to be one of them. The stars were only allowed to perform on a raft secured to the riverbank, although Monroe actually did twist her leg.
Marilyn Monroe was accompanied by Natasha Lytess, her acting coach. Otto Preminger clashed with the woman from the very start. She insisted on taking her client aside and giving her direction contrary to that of Preminger, and she had the actress enunciating each syllable of every word of dialogue with exaggerated emphasis. Preminger called Stanley Rubin in Los Angeles and insisted Lytess be banned from the set, but when the producer complied with his demand, Monroe called Darryl F. Zanuck directly and asserted she couldn't continue unless Lytess returned. Zanuck commiserated with Preminger but, feeling Monroe was a major box office draw he couldn't afford to upset, he reinstated Lytess. Angered by the decision, Preminger directed his rage at Monroe for the rest of the production.
According to TCM, Marilyn Monroe's frequent and severe lateness caused the film to be delayed. Robert Mitchum had some influence in getting her to appear on time.
This was not the first meeting of Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. Mitchum had worked at Lockheed Aircraft with Monroe's then first husband James Dougherty. The two had met on at least one occasion during the mid 1940's.
Otto Preminger had no interest in the project until he read the screenplay and saw potential in the story. He also approved of Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe, who already had been cast in the lead roles.
Otto Preminger's experience on the film convinced him he never wanted to work as a studio employee again, and he paid Fox $150,000 to cancel the remainder of his contract.
While filming a scene, Ralph Helfer's trained raccoon panicked and hid underneath the set after a fake tree crashed to the ground.
This was the first film released by 20th Century-Fox to feature the "CinemaScope extension" fanfare before the opening credits. Written by Alfred Newman, it's a rerecording his original 1933 fanfare, with the extra few bars that play under the credit "Twentieth Century-Fox presents A CinemaScope Production". After Fox switched to Panavision in 1967, they went back to their old fanfare, so the extension fanfare wasn't used again until it was revived by George Lucas to play before the opening credits to Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). This time those few extra bars played under the credit "A Lucasfilm Limited Production". Since then, it's been re-recorded a few times but remains to this day the intro to every film released by that studio.
Marilyn Monroe's only starring role in a Western. She had an uncredited supporting role in the Western comedy "Ticket to Tomahawk" (1950).
On May 15, 1952, Los Angeles Times reported that Louis Lantz's original story had been purchased as a vehicle to star Dale Robertson, and that Julian Blaustein would serve as the picture's executive producer. The news item also announced that the film would be shot on the Salmon River in Idaho. According to a November 1952 Daily Variety news item, Lantz was set to write the film's screenplay, but only Frank Fenton is credited onscreen.
Because of their previous experience with Westerns, producer Stanley Rubin had wanted William A. Wellman, Raoul Walsh, or Henry King to helm the film. He was concerned that Otto Preminger, who had more experience with film noir melodrama or sophisticated comedy, would be unable to rise to the task of directing a piece of Americana.
Otto Preminger was preparing for the opening of The Moon Is Blue (1953) when 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck assigned him to direct this film, as part of his contract with the studio.
Stanley Rubin scheduled twelve weeks of preproduction, during which Marilyn Monroe rehearsed and recorded the musical numbers written by Ken Darby and Lionel Newman, and forty-five days for filming.
There aren't very many "River Rapids Westerns" made, but coincidentally, Otto Preminger and the actor he'd collaborated the most, Dana Andrews, both made this type of Western this same year. For Dana it was Smoke Signal. Both films are featured dangerous Indians which sent the protagonists on the river in the first place.
This is a different kind of film for Otto Preminger, and lacks the creative camera pushes and pulls and gliding shots he was known for. It's directed pretty much like a standard studio Western.