Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The River (1929)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions


The River (1929)

In Frank Borzage's partially-lost sublime erotic drama, his last silent film (a silent era, pre-Hays Code masterpiece, 43 minutes of a total of 84 minutes were all that survived, restored and reconstructed in 2006 with fragments, explanatory title cards and surviving stills):

  • the two romantic leads at a backwoods construction-logging camp near a river were:
    (1) naive, bashful, innocent, virile farm boy-man Allen John Pender (Charles Farrell) who was journeying down the river solo in a home-made houseboat or barge, and (2) local urban vamp and femme fatale Rosalee (Mary Duncan) (the kept mistress of bullying con-man Marsdon (Alfred Sabato), the electro-power dam construction foreman who had just been jailed for murdering an engineer who expressed his love for Rosalee) - and Marsdon's villainous or malevolent pet crow (or raven) who guarded Rosalee
  • Allen's progress down the river was delayed by the dam construction: "River's too low to get my boat through the narrows"; Allen watched as the workmen left the construction site to go to the city for the winter
  • the scene of an unexpected meeting at the riverside where Allen was swimming naked near the river’s lethal whirlpool; he told Rosalee that the vortex of the river was treacherous but exciting: "It's kinda fun to see how close you can come without getting pulled in..."; she claimed she was remaining there alone (and not taking the afternoon train to the city) and didn't mind being without a man: "I'm staying here...I want to be lonesome! I'm sick of men... I never want to see one again!"
At River's Edge: Allen (Charles Farrell) with Rosalee (Mary Duncan)
  • after he missed the mid-day train, she invited him into her wooden shack for a supper meal; her sexuality and erotic manner were captivating and appealing to him; he volunteered to chop some wood and then asked: "If you hate men so...why did you invite me to supper?"; she bluntly responded: "You don't count," causing Allen some personal hurt feelings
  • after eating, they stacked playing cards for entertainment; she seductively leaned towards him and asked: "How many women have you known, Allen John?"; he naively answered that he had only known his mother; the two stood together to compare their respective heights (with and without her shoes); the time flew by so fast that he missed the midnight train; the worldly-wise Rosalee teased and called him "a boy" unlike Marsdon: ("I've known only men - like Marsdon"); Allen compared himself favorably to Marsdon: "I'm a better man than Marsdon. I'd never treat you like he did!"; after she laughed at him, he threatened to leave as soon as possible, and she gladly offered him a lantern to find his way
Allen Invited Into Rosalee's Shack For Supper
"How many women have you known?"
Comparing Their Heights
  • according to title cards, however, Allen was worried about Rosalee and her lack of provisions for the winter months and did not leave; the next day, Allen bought supplies and delivered them to her cabin and began to stock her shelves; when she returned, she surprised him and asked what he was doing; furious, she told her crow: "He thinks he can buy us body and soul with canned tomatoes, succotash, spaghetti!"; after she rejected and spurned his good-hearted efforts, Allen took the supplies and threw them in the river; however, she changed her mind and the two of them rescued or saved most of the supplies in the water
  • the couple returned to the cabin where Allen warmed himself by the fire; Rosalee appeared in a pretty dress; he again planned to take the train - the last one until springtime, but first decided to chop firewood for her; she dared him: "I don't believe you could chop enough wood to keep anybody warm"; Allen chopped wood for her with an axe - to show his strength and release tension as she watched - and predictably, he was delayed and missed his train: (Rosalee: "I knew you'd miss it" Allen: "You wanted me to miss it"); feeling humiliated for being treated like a fool, Allen left
  • Rosalee became bored and "terribly lonely" during the long winter months and was surprised and happy to see Allen arrive for an unexpected visit after a long period of time, to check on her; after he warmed himself by the fire, he suggested that they celebrate and he pulled out a checker-board (she reacted with disinterested amazement); she tossed aside the game board, laid down in front of him, and confessed: "I'm thinking of you, Allen John"; she touched her breast through her clothing and told him: "My heart..."; when he reached out and put his hand on hers, she removed her hand and allowed him to feel her breast and heart beating; after a short pause, he nervously removed his hand, felt his own heart, and answered: "Mine too"; she sat up and listened to his heart, and then told him close to his face: "Mine beats much stronger!" - and they hugged and embraced
Seduction Scene: Feeling Each Other's Heart Beats
Rosalee: "My heart..."
His Hand On Hers
Removing Her Hand
Feeling His Own Heart: "Mine too"
Rosalee: "Mine beats much stronger!"
  • during the extended seduction scene, Rosalee became enraged at the raven's squawking intervention and tried to kill it, screaming out: "I'll kill him! I've wanted to for weeks!", but then stabbed her knife into Allen's chest when he tried to stop her: (Rosalee: "You're hurting me! Let me go or I'll kill you!"); she was shocked at what had happened: "If that blade hadn't bent...I'd have killed you!"; he responded: "You haven't hurt me..."; she then confessed her love for him: "But I know now that I love you...better than anything in the world"; he proposed: "Rosalee, I want you to marry me," but she discouraged him: "! You don't know what you're saying, Allen John!"; she ordered him out into the snowy night as he begged for her love; outside as he left, he threatened: "I'll take you away from Marsdon!"
  • in the next symbolic scene, due to his growing sexual frustration, Allen maniacally chopped down four trees in the bitter cold as she watched from inside; he cried out: "I'll show you I'm a better man than Marsdon! I'll cut you enough wood to keep you warm!"; afterwards, he returned to his barge, chilled to the bone; completely, exhausted, he collapsed onto the floor and soon lost consciousness as his fire went out
  • the scene of Allen's near death from freezing - he was brought to Rosalee's cabin by his friend - giant deaf-mute Sam Thompson (Ivan Linow) (a friend of Marsdon's victim); Sam rubbed fresh snow on his bare chest to revive him, and he was given spoonfuls of hot liquid to drink; Rosalee begged and prayed for him to live: "I love him! He mustn't die! I love him!"; then, in the film's most sensational and controversial scene, Rosalee got in bed to warm him with her body heat as she opened her coat and laid on top on him (wearing only her silky slip), while pleading: "Please... please... let him live! - and he soon miraculously revived and opened his eyes (he recognized her: "Rosalee...Rosalee!"); he told her: "I didn't even go away when you wanted me to"; she replied: "Oh, Allen John! I never want you to leave me! I love you!" - he asked: "Enough to go down to the sea with me --- in the spring?"
Rosalee Getting in Bed With Allen to Warm Him
Allen Revived
  • in the climactic ending (described by title cards), it turned springtime as the couple prepared for their long journey down the river in his barge; as Rosalee returned to her cabin for the last time - to free the crow, the violent and sinister Marsdon burst into the room (at exactly the same time the crow flew from its cage); he had escaped from prison and had come back to claim Rosalee as his mistress; when she cried for help, Allen rushed in but was briefly stunned unconscious by a log; Rosalee fled toward the river and was pursued by Marsdon; suddenly, the silhouette of Sam appeared (with a score to settle with Marsdon); crazed by everything, Rosalee plunged into the river's whirlpool, and Allen (who had gained consciousness) dove in to rescue her (while Marsdon was taken away to be killed by Sam)
  • according to last few explanatory cards: "The lovers survive. Allen John settles Rosalee in the cabin of his houseboat and then steers it away from its moorings. Sam strangles Marsdon in the forest. He washes his hands in the river and then watches the barge floating slowly down towards the sea. 'The river, like love, cleanses all things' "

Workers at the Dam Construction Site

The Site's Row Houses on Stilts

Rosalee with Raven

Allen Blocked by Dam Building Site From Continuing Down-River

Allen's Reaction to Rosalee's Insulting Statement: "You don't count"

Leaving Rosalee's Cabin with a Lantern - A Pinpoint of Light

Seduction Scene: Raven Intervening

Seduction Scene: Allen Stabbed

Seduction Scene: Wounded in the Chest

Seduction Scene: An Apology, Confession of Love and a Spurned Proposal of Marriage

Chopping Down Four Trees To Prove His Manhood

Attempts to Awaken Allen

Last Surviving Scene: Could They Be Together in the Spring?


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