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August 19, 2008

Cinematic Denver: Debra Paget

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The River's Edge
Alan Dwan - 1957
20th Century Fox Region 1 DVD

Happy 75th Birthday, Debra Paget!

If there was ever an actress who truly defined starlet, it could well have been Debra Paget. For almost seven years, Paget was the go-to girl for the role of the princess, Native American, Egyptian, or just plain ingenue. At the age of 16, Paget played wife to James Stewart, the first of a series of much older screen husbands. Elvis and Richard Egan fought over Paget in Love Me Tender. As consistently as Paget worked, she never became a true star. When she did receive top billing in a very good film, it was never seen as intended by American audiences. Fritz Lang's Indian films are throwbacks to the kind of work he had done at the beginning of his career in the Twenties. While some may gripe that Paget's role should have been done by an Indian actress, the films are the best of her relatively short career, and the ones that made the best use of her abilities. The Fox films are interesting to see as more representative of her work, although Paget's role in her last film for the studio is atypical.

One of the first things wrong with The River's Edge is that there is no river. It more of a furious stream. Someone thought that the film should be made exactly as written and because the character is described as a redhead, the normally brunette Paget has one of the worst dye jobs ever. This was Paget's last film at Fox and in the beginning of the film she is presented as badly as possible with faded carrot color hair and a pair of shorts with one leg riding much higher than the other. Paget's hair and costume improve later, even if her perfomance doesn't.

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Paget plays the ex-con wife of rancher Anthony Quinn. Former partner in crime Ray Milland shows up the New Mexico ranch, looking to hire Quinn as his guide across the Mexican border, with plans to reunite with old flame Paget. Milland is carrying a suitcase full of enough bills for early retirement. Milland and Paget's plans to take off, leaving Quinn behind, collapse after Milland accidentally on purpose runs over a highway patrolman with his pink Thunderbird. Paget still feels that Milland is her one and only even after he attempts to run her over, the T-bird gunning towards Paget in a corn field, briefly a "South by Southwest". Quinn guides the two through a mountain pass, while Paget eventually realizes that the simple minded big lug is the guy for her. Paget hurts her arm, Quinn hurts his leg, and Milland almost gets away with the loot until it gets away from him.

The efforts of film scholars James Ursini and Alain Silver on the commentary track still couldn't convince me that The River's Edge is more than mildly entertaining hokum. One little piece of interesting of information was that Dwan may have written the script as well as others credited to his frequent editor, James Leicester. There is also some discussion on the sexual elements that Dwan liked to insert when possible with his films. In the case of The River's Edge, the audience is teased with shots of a bra falling to the floor, bathtub and shower scenes, and Paget's wearing nothing but a robe. If you want to see more of Paget in a much better film, the Lang films will fit the bill. The River's Edge stands as Fox's odd send off as the studio sweetheart was transformed briefly into a rural femme fatale.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 19, 2008 12:48 AM


Debra Paget was the most beatifull starlet in Hollywood and Europe movie world. Besides, she was a very good dancer and ouststanding acting young artist. She ranked first for a lot of movie spectators, at a level no less tan Marilyn Monrroe en America or Brigitte Bardot in France.
We would like to receive her news more frequently

Posted by: edelante at December 26, 2009 09:44 AM