RED RIVER (1948) B/W 133m dir: Howard Hawks

w/John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan, John Ireland, Noah Beery Jr., Coleen Gray, Paul Fix, Harry Carey Sr., Harry Carey Jr.

Sprawling, lusty western blessed with extraordinary direction and the surprisingly forceful teaming of the screen's foremost macho man with the screen's most sensitive introvert. In this exemplary western, Wayne plays cattle baron Tom Dunson and Clift is his "son," Matthew Garth; they're at odds over the way John runs his empire. The film climaxes in a memorable knock-down-drag-out confrontation between the two at the end of a cattle drive over the Chisholm Trail.

From Variety's review of the film: "Howard Hawks's production and direction give a masterful interpretation to a story of the early west and the opening of the Chisholm Trail, over which Texas cattle were moved to Abilene to meet the railroad on its march across the country.

"Also important to Red River is the introduction of Montgomery Clift. Clift brings to the role of Matthew Garth a sympathetic personality that invites audience response.

"Hawks has loaded the film with mass spectacle and earthy scenes. His try for naturalness in dialog between principals comes off well. The staging of physical contact is deadly, equaling anything yet seen on the screen. Picture realistically depicts trail hardships; the heat, sweat, dust, storm and marauding Indians that bore down on the pioneers. Neither has Hawks overlooked sex, exponents being Joanne Dru and Coleen Gray.

"Picture is not all tough melodrama. There's a welcome comedy relief in the capable hands of Walter Brennan. He makes every scene stand out sharply, leavening the action with chuckles while maintaining a character as rough and ready as the next.

"Sharing co-director credit with Hawks is Arthur Rosson. The pair have staged high excitement in the cattle stampedes and other scenes of mass action."

From Bosley Crowther's October 1, 1948, New York Times review: "So long as it sticks to cow-herding and the gathering clash between these two [Wayne and Clift] --- a clash brought on by disagreement as to whether they should try the untrod trail --- it rings with the clang of honest metal and throbs with the pulse of real life. For Mr. Hawks has filled it with credible substance and detail, with action and understanding, humor and masculine ranginess. He has made it look raw and dusty, made it smell of beef and sweat --- and he has a stampede of cattle in it that makes you curl up with terror in your seat."

From The Movie Guide: "There have been many classic westerns but this Hawks masterpiece certainly ranks among the best of the genre. Along with Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, it's probably the best of all the 1940s westerns --- an unforgettable sweeping spectacle with the kind of grandeur few westerns achieved. ...

"Hawks fills every frame of this movie with action and drama. Borden Chase, author of the original novel, always resented the changes Hawks made to his story (especially the ending), but the plot and characterization are steady and strong nonetheless. Wayne gives a terrific performance, certainly one of the best of his career, and Clift matches him all the way. Matthew's sensitive but determined manner is a perfect counterpoint to Dunson's ruthlessness. It was Hawks who insisted that the marvelous Brennan remove his false teeth for the running gag with Chief Yowlachie; at first the 42-year-old balked at the idea, but he quickly remembered that it was Hawks who had expanded his Oscar-winning role in COME AND GET IT. All of the supporting players, especially Ireland, Beery, the Careys, and Fix are memorable, and Dru firmly joins the ranks of the strong women who invade a man's world in Hawks's films. [Russell] Harlan's photography is stunning, sweeping through the horizonless plains and covering the vast territory the cowboys must travel in their odyssey: storms, rivers, canyons, distant buttes all encompassed beautifully. Matching the elegance of the cinematography is [Dimitri] Tiomkin's stirring score.

"At this point in his career, Hawks was already an established master of the directorial craft. His work had included comedies (HIS GIRL FRIDAY), war films (AIR FORCE), and mysteries (THE BIG SLEEP), all classics. This was his first western, and he quickly exhibited his mastery of that genre as well as he once again considered the status of the male hero and the bonding he makes with others in the name of professionalism. RED RIVER, which would gross almost $5 million in its initial release, was seen by the public and critics alike as a classic, and it remains so today."

 

The film was nominated for Oscars for Best Original Screenplay (Chase) and Editing (Christian Nyby).