The River must be seen in its original Technicolor; it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine anyone fully enjoying this wonderful film while watching a black-and-white TV print. Adapted by director Jean Renoir and Rumer Godden from Godden's own novel, the film is set on the banks of West Bengal. The central character is teenaged British girl Harriet (Patricia Walters), the offspring of a jute-mill owner (Esmond Knight) and his wife (Nora Swinburne). Harriet and her best friend Valerie (Adrienne Corri) harbor a crush for a dashing visitor named Captain John (Thomas E. Breen), who in turn is preoccupied with the hauntingly beautiful Indian girl Melanie (Radha Shri Ram). This languid state of affairs is shaken up by unexpected tragedy involving Harriet's impulsive brother (Richard Foster). The real star of the proceedings is the titular river, exquisitely color-photographed by Claude Renoir (Jean's nephew) and his Indian assistant Ramanda Sen Gupta. The apotheosis of Jean Renoir's lifelong fascination with India, The River served as a launching pad for the directorial career of Satyajit Ray, who met and befriended Renoir during the shooting of this film.
by Hal Erickson synopsis