Many Rivers to Cross

Robert Taylor stars in the M-G-M romantic comedy/western Many Rivers to Cross (1955) as Bushrod Gentry, a handsome 18th century trapper who reluctantly becomes the object of affection for marriage-crazed pioneer Mary Stuart Cherne (Eleanor Parker). While making his way through Kentucky, Gentry becomes wounded in a scuffle with a group of Shawnee Indians. He is rescued by Mary, who instantly falls for the trapper and brings him home to her family. Gentry stays with the Chernes until he recovers, but matters become complicated when Mary summons him to a cave and declares her affections. Although Bushrod insists that he is not marriage material—he would rather roam the wilderness in search of the perfect plot of land—Mary schemes to win him over. She instigates a no-holds-barred fight between the trapper and her oafish suitor, Luke (Alan Hale Jr.), and when this fails to yield the desired result, she lies to her family, telling them that Bushrod attempted to seduce her in the cave. Outraged, Cadmus Cherne (Victor McLaglen) forces Gentry to marry his daughter, but after the ceremony the scorned trapper flees into the wilderness with Mary in pursuit.

When Bushrod subsequently lands in jail for punching a dishonest innkeeper, Mary rescues him and the “couple” spend an evening bickering under the stars, with Gentry continuing to resist her advances. Much to Bushrod’s good fortune, they are interrupted by a party of men who are out to exact justice on a group of thieving Shawnees. The trapper seizes the opportunity to have two of the men escort Mary home, prompting her to end their marriage in tears. Gentry bonds with the party’s leader, family man Esau Hamilton (James Arness), but has an epiphany when he visits Hamilton’s home and successfully treats the fever of an ailing child. The experience warms Bushrod toward a family lifestyle, causing him to reconsider his relationship with Mary. After he finds her in the wilderness and joins her in warding off a relentless Shawnee attack, the couple makes peace and they resolve to spend their lives together.

Many Rivers to Cross boasts a musical score by Cyril J. Mockridge, a mainstay of the Twentieth Century-Fox music department (on loan to M-G-M for this one and only assignment). Noted for his light touch with comedies and musical adaptation, Mockridge did not conduct his own music—not an issue at Fox, where Alfred and Lionel Newman were two of the finest studio conductors ever to work in film—so Miklós Rózsa performed those duties for Many Rivers to Cross. (Rózsa seldom conducted film scores for other composers but he did conduct at least twice for Bronislau Kaper, on 1955’s The Glass Slipper and 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Me.) Mockridge teamed with the great orchestrator Alexander Courage on the project, although Harper MacKay and Al Woodbury also assisted with a handful of cues.

The cornerstone of Mockridge’s sweeping Americana score is the merry song “The Berry Tree” by Saul Chaplin (a songwriter and executive on staff at M-G-M), inspired by the traditional folk song “The Next Big River.” Introduced as an anthem for Bushrod’s carefree lifestyle, the infectious tune quickly comes to represent Mary’s longing to be with the trapper; by the end of the film, the song embodies their mutual love. Although Mockridge continually varies “The Berry Tree” throughout the score to function in settings that range from sentimental to comedic to rowdy action, the composer also incorporates several supporting ideas: a nostalgic western melody introduced on harmonica for Bushrod’s dream to find the perfect plot of land; a jaunty, comedic motive for the film’s sprawling fight sequences; and a compassionate pentatonic-flavored theme representing Bushrod’s acceptance of a family lifestyle late in the film. Mockridge’s work is generally lighthearted in tone, save for the Indian attack scenes, which feature aggressive brass writing while tied to the rest of the score through severe developments of the ever-present “The Berry Tree.”

Those critics who mentioned the score, paid it compliments: Variety’s reviewer remarked that the “picture has been well-scored by Cyril J. Mockridge”; the Los Angeles Examiner offered that “Mockridge further enhanced [the film] with his mountain music score”; and The Hollywood Reporter stated that “Cyril J. Mockridge has created a fine score from mountain themes including a bang-up use of [‘The Berry Tree’] for a sort of theme song and title number.”

Disc 2 of this album presents the complete score to Many Rivers to Cross, remixed and remastered in glorious stereo from the original 35mm three-track scoring sessions.

1. Main Title
For the opening credits, robust brass and hoedown string writing support a carefree vocal performance of the Saul Chaplin-composed song “The Berry Tree,” sung by Sheb Wooley. An aching string rendition of the melody follows for a card dedicating the film to the brave frontier women of America. The cue winds down playfully as young Miles Henderson (Darryl Hickman) pays a concerned visit to the family of his wife-to-be, Cissie (Betty Linn); she has lost interest in Miles now that handsome trapper Bushrod Gentry (Robert Taylor) has come to town.
2. Gourd Seeds
In a nearby stable, Bushrod dismisses the affections of Cissie. A lonesome harmonica theme plays through his rehearsed excuse: His dream in life is to wander the territory on his own and find a plot of land where he can settle down and plant his gourd seeds. Cissie runs off heartbroken, the cue erupting violently when a Shawnee Indian attacks her. After Bushrod fends off the perpetrator with his whip, weepy strings take over as townsfolk gather and pry a grateful Cissie away from Gentry. Playful winds suggest “The Berry Tree” when Miles confronts Bushrod for supposedly stealing his girl. (In the subsequent scene, as Bushrod makes his way through the wilderness, he whistles and sings “The Berry Tree,” but Robert Taylor’s performance is not included on this CD.)
3. Bushrod Gets Bushed/Here Comes Mary/Barren River
After Bushrod leaves town, Mockridge provides a cautious setting of “The Berry Tree” for the frontiersman hiding by a riverbank and spying on a group of Shawnees. As Gentry swings into action and dispatches all but one of the Indians, frenetic action music spotlights a savage, repeated-note development of the main theme. The remaining Indian stabs Bushrod in the arm, but just as he is set to kill the trapper, Mary Stuart Cherne (Eleanor Parker) fires a shot that sends the Indian running away. Delicate woodwinds usher in the main theme on strings as flirtatious Mary and her Indian companion Sandak (Ralph Moody) introduce themselves to Bushrod.
Lush strings mark a transition to Mary and Sandak escorting the wounded trapper toward their home on Barren River. Mary tells Bushrod of her large family to a rustic statement of the main theme that spotlights harmonica and banjo.
4. Come See My Cave/In the Cave
After Gentry meets the Cherne family, an increasingly amorous Mary dresses his wound. At night, while Bushrod recuperates in Sandak’s shed, Mary pays him a visit; gentle impressionism for woodwinds and tremolo strings leads to a series of moody, tentative developments of “The Berry Tree” as she convinces him to accompany her to a secret locale.
Shimmering strings, piano and harp evoke the inside of a cave where Mary and Bushrod proceed to kiss near a reflecting pool. The main theme culminates in wedding chimes when Mary implies a desire for marriage, prompting Bushrod to deliver his “Gourd Seed” speech to a reprise of the harmonica melody. Angered by his rejection, Mary tosses her torch into the water, the score responding with a conniption.
5. Invitation to a Wedding
The following morning, Bushrod leaves the Cherne household, but when Mary finds him bathing in a stream she marches him home at gunpoint to a lumbering, grumpy treatment of “The Berry Tree.” Once Mary locks the frontiersman in Sandak’s shed, strings and winds underscore her awaiting the arrival of her oafish suitor Luke (Alan Hale Jr.); his appearance is marked by an outburst of fiddle and brass.
6. Luke and Bushrod Fight
Mary instigates a fistfight between Luke and Bushrod by telling the former that Gentry called her a “snake” (she hopes that Luke will break Bushrod’s leg, confining him to her house). A crowd gathers as the two men pulverize one another, the score responding with fitful, cartoonish material as well as a jaunty “fight” motive, which Mockridge will reprise throughout the film.
7. Fight Continued
The boisterous fight material continues for the men restarting their match after a water break. Bushrod eventually triumphs over Luke and the score winds down wryly with a victory fanfare; a chime quotation of “Here Comes the Bride” suggests that this will not be Mary’s last attempt at ensnaring Gentry.
8. Nail Shoot Part 1
Bushrod agrees to serve as a judge at the Barren River Nail Shoot (a marksmanship contest) where a country ensemble version of “The Berry Tree” plays.
9. Nail Shoot Part 2
Mary’s father, Cadmus (Victor McLaglen), wins the contest when Bushrod and Mary trick him into wearing a pair of glasses he had previously refused to use out of pride. The small ensemble version of “The Berry Tree” returns for Cadmus’s victory and continues when Mary thanks Bushrod for his help.
10. Contrary Mary and Mooning
As Cadmus berates Mary for turning down Luke’s marriage proposal, coy woodwinds take up a Scottish-tinged development of the main theme. The scene transitions to Mary’s room, where Mrs. Cherne (Josephine Hutchinson) advises her daughter to forget about Bushrod; lush strings take up “The Berry Tree” as Mary looks down at Sandak’s shed from her window, pining for the trapper.
11. Bushrod Fights the Brothers
In an effort to keep Bushrod at Barren River, Mary tells her family that the trapper took advantage of her in the cave. A brawl between Gentry and the Cherne brothers ensues to playful, raucous developments of the material from “Luke and Bushrod Fight.” After Bushrod defeats his opponents, Cadmus forces him to marry Mary at gunpoint.
12. So Long Mary/Mary’s Vocal/Sandak Sings/Off to Bowling Green
A chipper setting of the main theme plays as Bushrod angrily abandons Mary and takes off into the wilderness. Mary and Sandak follow his trail while singing “The Berry Tree,” with pounding native percussion humorously backing the Indian’s vocal. For the sake of completeness, the vocals are here taken from the soundtrack of the finished film (the only surviving source), including sound effects; an instrumental-only and thus “clean” version can be heard on track 29. Pastoral developments of the main theme follow for Gentry’s journey to an inn at Bowling Green.
13. Thirty Days/Steppin’ Mary
Bushrod punches an antagonistic innkeeper only to learn that he is Bowling Green’s justice of the peace. The trapper languishes in jail, to the accompaniment of a bluesy clarinet reading of the main theme, as the innkeeper taunts him from outside his cell. Sneaky woodwinds and exclamatory strings denote Mary knocking out the innkeeper from behind and springing Gentry, with a wry march setting of “The Berry Tree” following for a transition to Bushrod, Mary and Sandak traveling through the woods. The material resolves warmly as Mary feigns exhaustion.
14. Interrupted Love
While camping in the woods, Mary attempts to seduce Bushrod, accompanied by dreamy readings of the main theme for shimmering strings and glockenspiel. Comical wind gestures continually interrupt the romantic material to represent the trapper fending off her advances. The cue ends with a threatening air as a group of shotgun-toting men arrive on the scene, a “punishment party” in search of thieving Shawnees. Bushrod decides to join them and seizes the opportunity to send Mary back to Bowling Green with two of the men.
15. Busted Romance
Later, Mary tracks down Bushrod at a saloon. Bitter strings mingle with melancholic suggestions of the main theme as she ends their marriage and leaves for Barren River.
16. Bushrod Save My Chee-ild/Montage/Came the Dawn
Bushrod accompanies the punishment party’s leader, Esau Hamilton (James Arness), to his home when Hamilton learns that his baby daughter has fallen ill. The score balances a dire tone for Hamilton and his family worrying over the baby with a wholesome theme for Bushrod’s plan to treat her with steam.
Urgent developments of the new melody escalate through a montage of Gentry and the Hamiltons generating steam in a makeshift tent for the baby. When her fever finally breaks at dawn, the cue’s suspenseful air melts into a compassionate string reading of the theme as Esau and Bushrod soak in the experience. “The Berry Tree” gently caps off the cue before Gentry, a changed man, leaves the Hamiltons to find Mary.
17. Back to Barren River/Bushrod Finds Sandak/Where’s Mary?/Mary’s in Trouble/Stalking/What Took You So Long? (abridged)/Frontier Woman/Strategy/More Strategy/You Won Me/End Title—New/End Cast
A lengthy sequence of cues accompanies the film’s climactic action: Sentimental clarinet plays through Bushrod’s encounter with two injured victims of a Shawnee raid. Once they inform him that the Indians are heading for Barren River, Gentry continues through the woods, the score capturing his concern for Mary with the repeated-note version of the main theme from “Bushrod Gets Bushed.”
Piercing orchestral outbursts sound when he reaches the corpse-strewn site of the ambush and discovers a wounded Sandak. The Indian tells him that Mary fled the attack and the trapper proceeds to track her, accompanied by methodical developments of “The Berry Tree.”
A passage of violent brass and strings marks a cut to Mary pursued by a band of Shawnees, with subdued suspense material following as she hides inside a hollow tree trunk in the middle of a river. One of the Indians discovers her and prepares to scalp her but Bushrod arrives just just in time and shoots him. As the trapper is reunited with Mary, a fateful brass development of “The Berry Tree” leads to warm, playful readings of the tune for the pair squabbling.
Pounding tribal music signals the arrival of the remaining Indians on the scene. The couple takes refuge in Mary’s cave, where they make their final stand, the score alternating repetition-based suspense with threatening action material and delicate, reassuring statements of the main theme for Bushrod and Mary picking off the invading Shawnees. The rowdy motive from “Luke and Bushrod Fight” returns for the couple teaming up to fend off the final Indian.
A soothing statement of “The Berry Tree” plays through the aftermath of the attack as the pair resume their bickering. Bushrod bids Mary farewell, accompanied by a reprise of his harmonica melody, but she rushes into his arms and declares her love once again; they kiss, the score responding with a vocal performance of “The Berry Tree” that continues through the end title card, while a spirited orchestral arrangement of the tune plays during the closing credits.

Bonus Tracks

18. Main Title (instrumental)
This earlier recording of the “Main Title” features an instrumental of “The Berry Tree” in place of Sheb Wooley’s vocal.
19. Here Comes Mary (original version)
Mockridge’s original version of “Here Comes Mary” (track 2) was relatively short, featuring agitated strings for Mary’s initial rescue of Bushrod.
20. Mooning (original version)
This earlier rendition of “Contrary Mary and Mooning” (simply titled “Mooning”) features an alternate opening that eschews the Scottish flavor of the film version.
21. Arkansas Traveler (Square Dance)
A festive square dance plays as source music at a group marriage ceremony in Barren River. This is a re-recording of an Al Sendrey arrangement originally written for M-G-M’s The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947, otherwise scored by George Bassman).
22. Wedding Waltz
At the marriage ceremony, Bushrod and Mary dance to a quaint country waltz. The trapper is set to leave town, but Mary angrily plots to keep him around. This Rudy Kopp composition, arranged by Robert Franklyn, was re-recorded from Westward the Women (1951).
23. So Long Mary/Mary’s Vocal/Off to Bowling Green (original versions)
Mockridge originally composed this belabored, comical arrangement of the main theme for Bushrod leaving Mary behind at Barren River. Alternate accompaniments for the vocal performance of “The Berry Tree” by Mary and Sandak were also recorded.
24. Thirty Days/Steppin’ Along (original versions)
This alternate cue includes a brief development of “The Berry Tree” for Bushrod’s jailbreak (track 13), unused in the film (likely due to deleted footage).
25. Interrupted Love (original version)
This unused cue features an abbreviated take of the romantic material for Bushrod and Mary camping at night.
26. What Took You So Long?/Seeking Shelter
This alternate selection from the film’s climactic action sequence (track 17—which uses only a portion of “What Took You So Long?” and none of “Seeking Shelter”) replaces coy readings of “The Berry Tree” with violent brass and strings that emphasize the threat posed by the Shawnees.
27. End Title (original version)/End Cast
The original rendition of the “End Title” builds towards a grand, romantic climax for the lovers kissing—eschewing the vocal heard in the film.
28. Main Title (instrumental, alternate)
The bulk of this track is the same as track 18, but the beginning is an alternate opening (marked “Wide Screen Version”) and the ending a more formal conclusion; as a result the track overall is significantly shorter.
29. So Long Mary/Mary’s Vocal (instrumental)/Sandak Sings/Off to Bowling Green
This is a version of track 12 without the vocals (and sound effects) taken from the finished film itself.
30. The Berry Tree
This extended version of “The Berry Tree” (performed by Sheb Wooley and orchestra) does not appear in the film. —