Tom Dunson builds a cattle empire with his adopted son Matthew Garth. Together they begin a massive cattle drive north from Texas to the Missouri railhead. But on the way, new information and Dunson's tyrannical ways cause Matthew to take the herd away from Dunson and head to a new railhead in Kansas. Dunson, swearing vengeance, pursues.
John Wayne ... Thomas Dunson
Montgomery Clift ... Matthew 'Matt' Garth
Joanne Dru ... Tess Millay
Walter Brennan ... 'Groot' Nadine
Coleen Gray ... Fen (also as Colleen Gray)
Harry Carey ... Mr. Melville (as Harry Carey Sr.)
John Ireland ... Cherry Valance
Noah Beery Jr. ... Buster McGee
Harry Carey Jr. ... Dan Latimer
Chief Yowlachie ... Quo (as Chief Yowlatchie)
Paul Fix ... Teeler Yacey
Hank Worden ... Simms Reeves
Mickey Kuhn ... Matt, as a boy
Ray Hyke ... Walt Jergens
Wally Wales ... Old Leather (as Hal Talliaferro)
In the pantheon of great performances by John Wayne, Red River ranks as one of the great ones, probably in the top five of his films. It's what the publicity folks mean when they talk about epic westerns.
John Wayne is a driven man, he's got to get that gigantic herd of cattle to market in Missouri or face ruin. He's not going to be selling them in Texas at carpetbagger prices so he's putting together the biggest, longest cattle drive on record to get to the railroad terminus in Missouri. He does it with the able assistance of his stepson Montgomery Clift newly returned from the Civil War.
A prologue to the main film shows what happened to Wayne years before. He left a wagon train going to California with good friend Walter Brennan and later that train is massacred with Wayne's fiancé Coleen Gray along with it. On the way to Texas, Wayne and Brennan pick up Mickey Kuhn who is playing a younger version of Monty Clift. They settle in Texas and Wayne puts together the biggest cattle ranch in the state which is where the main film starts.
Wayne and Clift play beautifully off against each other. Father and surrogate son, first working together and then having a big difference of opinion on the cattle drive. Clift started a film career in Red River playing sensitive people who you can only trod on just so long before they take action. You can see the inner workings of such later Clift roles as Rober E. Lee Prewitt and Noah Ackerman. Monty made a grand screen debut. And it was his debut, Red River was filmed first, but held up in release and Clift's The Search was released first to the public.
John Wayne had one of the best faces for movie closeups ever. In his best performances, top directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Bill Wellman realized this. He has a few in this film and they tell the audience more about what's going on inside this man than ten pages of dialog.
With Joanne Dru, Howard Hawks tries to repeat the magic he had with Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Joanne is no Bacall, but she's good and had a pretty good career on her own. Her scenes with both Wayne and Clift have some of the same bite that Bacall's do with Bogey.
Dimitri Tiomkin's score deserves star billing right up there with the human cast. It is one of the great movie scores of all time period. let alone in the western genre. For me I've always noticed the similarity with the cattle drive beginning with the great use of Tiomkin's music and what Cecil B. DeMille did in the sound version of Ten Commandments as Charlton Heston tells the Hebrew children, he's takin' 'em to Canaan with Elmer Bernstein's score in the background as DeMille's cast of thousands moves out. I've often wondered whether DeMille copied Hawks, or Hawks was influenced by DeMille's silent Ten Commandments.
Red River is a must, for John Wayne fans, for Monty Clift fans, for fans of both and of great movie music like I am.
Red River(1948) is a film that gets better with age. This was the first of five Howard Hawks/John Wayne features. Red River(1948) was Howard Hawks third straight gem right after To Have & Have Not(1944) and The Big Sleep(1946). John Wayne had come a long way from his low budget Lone Star film days.
The film is considered a Western take on The Mutiny on the Bounty. The relationship between Tom Dunson and Matt Garth is deeply complex. Although they're prepared to kill each other, deep down they still respect for one another. This relationship is based on control, idealism, respect, and trust.
It takes a fascinating look at the cattle drive during the Wild West. The film shows the responsbility that went with driving cattle across country and the different road blocks that many riders were faced with. Red River(1948) shows that the cattle drives were a cowboy's main source of work. City Slickers(1991) would do a wonderful homage to this Howard Hawks classic.
Tom Dunson, Ringo Kid, and Ethan Edwards to name a few are some of the best characters played by the duke. He exhibits here that he was a great actor as well as a great Hollywood star. Its a shame that his best performances were overlooked by by many people during his lifetime(he's definitely a superior actor compared to the likes of Stallone, Arnold, and Willis combined). It was actually filmed during 1946 but was shelved for two year due to a legal battle with Howard Hughes.
Montgomery Clift stands out on his own as Matt Garth in acting next to John Wayne. Walter Brennan is excellent in the role of Tom Dunson's sidekick. Red River(1948) was one of the best film to come out of 1948. Red River(1948) contains a trademark flirtious man-woman relationship between Matt Garth and Tess that also evident in some of the director's other works...I.E., His Girl Friday(Walter & Hildy), Ball of Fire(Potts & O'Shea), To Have & Have Not(Harry & Slim), The Big Sleep(Phillip Marlowe & Vivian Sternwood), and Rio Bravo(John T. Chance & Feathers).
Dimitri Tiomkin's thunderous score sets the tone for this rousing story of cowboy ranchers in nineteenth century Texas headed north, with a thunderous herd of cattle in tow. It's the archetypal story of the American West, with its strong, ethical male leader, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne), and his pursuit of a big dream, set in an era when men were men, times were tough, hardships were inevitable, guns ruled, and Native Americans were the bad guys. What a saga ...
What makes "Red River" such a grand adventure is its high quality. Its story is simple, direct, exciting, and well told, with complex characters, interesting and sympathetic because they show weakness as well as strength. Dunson is a good man, but he's stubborn and headstrong. His semi-adopted son, Matt (Montgomery Clift), is good with a gun but a little softhearted. Dunson's chief sidekick is Groot (Walter Brennan), a cantankerous old buzzard who has problems with his teeth.
It's the relationship between these three men that is the heart and soul of "Red River". Trouble ensues along the way, you can be sure. And how that trouble unfolds and plays out presents viewers with engaging human drama, and humor, centered on these three main characters. The lonesome High Plains, with all its inherent risks, adds grandeur to the epic story.
At strategic points in the film, the page of a book appears on screen with text that briefly summarizes upcoming events. It's like we, the viewers, are reading a book about some long ago trailblazers. It's a technique that could have been intrusive. But here, it is handled with such finesse that it actually helps the narrative, by functioning as a transition from one sequence to the next.
The acting is fine. John Wayne is more than convincing as Dunson. Walter Brennan is characteristically funny. And Montgomery Clift is terrific. Had he maintained his looks, and if real-life circumstances not intervened, Monty could have been one of the truly top actors through at least the 50s and 60s.
If the film has a weakness, it might be the cinematography. Not often, but at times, the actors appear to be standing in front of a canvas, an effect that renders a shallow depth of field. Maybe this was the result of technical limitations of photography at the time the film was made.
There are few film westerns that can compare in quality with "Red River". And I don't know of any other cinematic cattle drives that are this good. So, the next time you herd your cattle to market, this is the film to watch. Even if you have no cattle, "Red River" is still a wonderfully entertaining cinematic experience.
* Filmed in 1946 but held for release for two years, in part due to legal problems with Howard Hughes who claimed it was similar to his The Outlaw (1943).
* Texas Longhorn cattle had been nearly extinct as a breed for about 50 years when this film was made. Only a few dozen animals were available. In the herd scenes most of the cattle are Hereford crosses with the precious Longhorns prominently placed in crucial scenes.
* This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1990.
* The theme song, "Settle Down" was later used under the title "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" in Rio Bravo (1959), another John Wayne western.
* There was some concern that John Wayne and Montgomery Clift would not get along since they were diametrically opposed on most political issues, and both were outspoken on their views. According to legend they agreed not to discuss politics and the shooting went smoothly.
* Five dams were built to bring the San Pedro River in Arizona, where the crossings were shot, to flood stage.
* In a 1974 interview, Howard Hawks said that he originally offered the role of Thomas Dunson to Gary Cooper but he had declined it because he didn't believe the ruthless nature of Dunson's character would have suited his screen image.
* The role of Tess Millay was intended for Margaret Sheridan but she became pregnant shortly before filming. Instead she suggested her friend Joanne Dru for the role.
* Cary Grant (who had worked with Howard Hawks on Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939)) turned down the role of gunslinger Cherry Valance, a part that was subsequently minimized in the final film.
* During production, many members of the cast and crew caught illnesses and injuries. Howard Hawks was hospitalized for several days after being stung by a centipede. John Wayne caught a severe cold. Joanne Dru suffered from influenza.
* This is Montgomery Clift's debut film, but because it was shelved for 2 years, the first film the public saw of Clift was The Search (1948), which he was Oscar-nominated for.
* Upon completing this movie, Howard Hawks gave John Wayne a belt buckle that featured the Red River D logo (Wayne later wore this as part of his costume in El Dorado (1966)). Wayne later returned the favor and gave Hawks a twin buckle.