"Red River" deserves the adulation that critics, film scholars, and most importantly audiences have lavished on it since its premiere in 1948. One of the earliest "psychological" westerns, preceded by Selznick's "Duel in the Sun" (1946) and followed by King's "The Gunfighter" (1950), etc., "Red River" maintains interest after half a century due to the unique tensions between its characters, and the supreme skill with which those characters are played. Set against the backdrop of the first cattle drive along the Chisum Trail, the story basically boils down to an epic conflict between two men of different generations. John Wayne is the older sharp-shooter who builds up an empire through ruthless wiles and steely determination; Montgomery Clift, who is equally proficient with a gun, is the young surrogate son who tends to manage through intellect and reason rather than violence. These two opposing personalities and styles eventually erupt into a mortal combat under the strain of driving over 9,000 head of cattle across the hostile terrain of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. As the volatile Dunson, John Wayne gives one of his most finely nuanced performances. Living by a personal code of ethics which doesn't always translate into lawful or even rational behavior, Wayne is neither sympathetic nor deplorable; he's simply human. His performance is bolstered by the contrast provided by the quietly charasmatic Montgomery Clift, whose unspoken love and respect for Wayne's father figure shine through the fear and intimidation he expresses. (Remarkably, this was Clift's first performance in front of the movie cameras; the stage-trained actor seems to have adapted instinctively to the more subtle technique required of film work.) Various other characters come between these two to create some memorable triangles throughout the film. Three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan is wonderful as Wayne's longtime sidekick whose allegiance eventually shifts over to Clift; Paul Fix also does a fine job in a minor role as the character whose fate jumpstarts the conflict between the two leading men. Most fascinating among the supporting cast is John Ireland who plays the curiously-named Cherry; the Freudian scene in which he and Clift admire each other's pistols, and then commence to shoot them off together is simply astonishing. It's worth noting that Cherry is the first one to try and intervene during the climactic showdown between Wayne and the "son" he contemptuously characterizes as "soft"; equally significant is the fact that the character who finally brings resolution into the movie is a "strong" woman (played by Joanne Dru). The MGM DVD release of this classic United Artists film is, in my humble opinion, abominable. The source print is visually a disaster, chock full of lines, jumps, flutters, speckles, and other visual noise. The grays are grainy and at one point, the picture even is briefly - and distractingly - out of focus. The sound isn't much better: it crackles and pops and the volume is inconsistent. Adding insult to injury, there are no extras at all, not even cast biographies or production notes, much less a theatrical trailer. This is one classic film that demands - and richly deserves - to be restored, remastered and repackaged.
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One of the handful of timeless Westerns that essentially changed public expectations of the genre. The script and characters were unique for its day, when most Westerns had fallen prey to strict, good-guys-in-white-hats formulas, thus paving the way for for the likes of "High Noon" and "Shane". Wayne's and Brennan's performances are standouts by any measure, and the supporting cast of many John Ford-MGM stalwarts is equal to the task (you even find unique appearances by father-and-son veterans Harry Carey and Carey Jr, not to mention some B-Western bad guys from the Republic lot given a chance to do some real acting). Despite the contrived and awkward ending, the story and characters are riveting and exceptionally engrossing. Director Hawks seems to have had a field day here, as the production values are superb, especially for a western. The only obvious downside (and this is strictly a personal bias) is the shuffle-and-mumble Method techniques of Montgomery Clift, whose acting here and in later years remained somewhat contrived and stilted. As for that old standby, John Ireland, he reveals a more natural style that only highlights Clift's somewhat affected effort in the scenes they share. The ending aside, this is one of those classics that can be watched again and again to reveal new detail with each viewing. The DVD is a bit murky in spots, but it does convey the gritty, nearly film-noir visual style of the original. I was a kid when I saw the film's initial release. It's as impressive today as it was then. get it!
Although there are definitely weaknesses in the screenplay and score for RED RIVER, there is also no question that this film is an American masterpiece. Howard Hawks who directed one of the best comedies Hollywood ever produced, BRINGING UP BABY, took on an almost impossible task: making an adult Western, basically a cattle drive- inspired remake of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, with over 9,000 head of cattle and the men who, for various reasons, go on the drive from Texas to Kansas. John Wayne is the boss, Dunson the cattle baron, who becomes obsessed with his mission--getting his cattle sold and onto the railroad. If there is a "villain" in the movie, Dunson is it and Wayne plays him wonderfully. The drive, itself, takes over three months and it is grueling: psychological, as well as physical, problems beset the men. Wayne's "adopted" son, Matthew, is second in command and it is the relationship between these two men that makes up the heart of the movie and makes the movie as deep and moving as it is. Director Hawks had seen a young actor in a Broadway play and brought him to Hollywood to make his screen debut as "Matthew." In this crutial role, Hawks had discovered one of the most under-rated, talented, complicated, handsome actors Hollywood ever saw: Montgomery Clift. If Clift had done no film work besides Fred Zinneman's FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and Hawks' RED RIVER, he'd deserve a place in cinema history. Quibbles? The score by Dmitri Tiomkin could certainly stand to be a bit more subtle; both the creation by the writers and the playing by Joanne Dru of the major female role is completely one dimensional; the last few moments of the movie are as silly as the rest of the two hours+ are fascinating. So, an altogether thrilling movie, even with a few faults. If for no other reason, all true movie lovers must see the way the stampede is filmed. The D.V.D. version has no "extras" to speak of, but the print looks beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
"Red River" is a strong, driving film, powering down its values and message with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Like Hannibal leading elephants over the Alps, John Wayne leads his massive army of cattle through the impassible terrain, through the mountains, valleys and rivers. His character, Thomas Dunson, is the usual Western stereotype of a hard, uncompromising man with a will of iron. The surprises, and the true quality of "Red River," is when the story strays from its cliche and into the uncharted territory of the human soul. Standard issue masculine values, such as duty, loyalty and strength are on display, but not always resolved in an expected manner. John Wayne plays an excellent anti-hero, and Montgomery Clift is the perfect heir-apparent. The weakness of "Red River" lies in its Western cliche, of which there are many, and in its unnecessary foreshadowing of events. A better director might have allowed the story to unfold without telling the audience exactly what was going to happen 3 moves in advance. Not a classic along the lines of "High Noon," "The Searchers" or "Unforgiven," but still a standout Western for any fan of the genre. Has one of the funniest lines about beef that I have heard, sounding like an advertisement for the Beef Council.
Without a doubt one of the best westerns ever made. The film has everything; a truly epic scope, Montgomery Clift, Howard Hawks and of course John Wayne. Easily the best film about cattle driving. A western of epic proportions with awe-inspiring cinematography by Russell Harlen that perfectly captures the beauty of the open trail. This film is also blessed with one of Dimitri Tiomkin's best scores, Tiomkin also scored 'High Noon'. Montgomery Clift is excellent in his film debut as Matt, a brooding performance that showcased his talents that would later flourish in movies like 'From Here To Eternity' and 'A Place In The Sun'. But John Wayne surprised everyone from John Ford to himself creating an extremely complex multi-layered character; Thomas Dunson, that remains one of his best performances, second only to Ethan Edwards in Ford's 'The Searchers'. And what would a great Howard Hawks western be without Walter Brennan? An ambitious western that covers a lot of ground and is filled with classic Hawksian touches especially during the campfire scenes. The scenes right before the stampede where there is complete silence (only a coyote is heard from a distance) and any sound could stir up hell-storm of crazy running cows is pure Howard Hawks. And then one of the most exciting sequences in western history ensues, easily the best stampede ever filmed. As for the story, it is basically 'Mutiny On The Bounty' for the open trail. Dunson is being forced to round up his cattle (and some of his neighbors) and take them up the Chisholm Trail. An epic and extremely difficult cattle-drive becomes possible because of Dunson's determination. But when another easier trail is made clear but Dunson decides to do it his was, the hard way. This makes the men uneasy and Dunson becomes a tyrant and slowly goes mad. This is one of the best psychological transformations of any character in film history. This causes a mutiny that is lead by Matt (Clift), his own step-son, that makes for one of the most compelling conflicts in film history. But, as memorable as this western is, it still has one or two 'bad scenes'. Basically almost all the scenes with Joanne Dru are badly made, save the scene when Dunson asks her to bear his son. The scene when Clift first meats her during the Indian attack is especially bad. And the silly ending is a huge letdown. These two driving forces clash in a much-anticipated showdown and shouldn't be stopped by a woman. The intensity near the end, I think, was so unbearable and Hawks had too many emotions exploding in those few moments that maybe he didn't know how to handle them. But still this remains a memorable western and one of the best. From a scale of 1-10 I give this film a 10!
Having weighed-in on _The Culpepper Cattle Company_, I have to genuflect at the altar of THE cattle-drive movie-- _Red River_. This film pre-dates _The Searchers_ by about eight years. The lead character, Tom Dunson, is a sort of prototype for Ethan Edwards. This is John Wayne without sentiment or schmaltz, until the final scene which differs from the story on which the film is based, and which jars a bit. That being said, _Red River_ still stands as the definitive cattle-drive movie. Wayne/Dunson builds an empire but then must head the herd north on a drive that simply _has_ to get through-- despite conflicts with nature, rustlers, Indians, and between Dunson and his men, including his adopted son, Matthew Garth. Wayne is cast against his own stereotype as Dunson and comes across as a hard and unlikeable character. Walter Brennan as his sidekick, Groot, nearly steals the show just as he did (again) in Hawk's _Rio Bravo_. Montgomery Clift does a passable job as Matthew Garth, but is outclassed by John Ireland as Cherry Valance, the gunfighter turned cowhand. The rest of the cast is outstanding. You need only look at the cast list to appreciate the fine ensemble company that Howard Hawks put together for this movie. This is also on of Dimitri Tiomkin's finest musical scores. Finally, I agree with Maltin on this point: beware edited and abridged copies of this film. Anything less than a 133 minute running time should not be bothered with. "Take `em to Missouri, Matt!"
This is one of the best, if not THE best westerns ever made. John Wayne and Montgomery Clift make a great combination, Throw in Walter Brennon and others and it makes a superb cast. Honestly, the two women characters were irritating, but luckily they weren't around enough to make too much of a negative impact. The scenery and storyline were top notch, and the acting was convincing. You could see the changes in Dunson as the movie moved along and you knew it was going to come to a head eventually. The picture quality was excellent. Criterion Collection did a fine job with the restoration. Having the two versions of the movie was nice. There are things about both versions that I liked. They seem to coincide with what Howard Hawks liked as well. I would have really liked it if there had been a third version created for this set combining the two into a 'definitive' version of Red River with Walter Brennon's commentary and the longer ending, which is far superior. Oh well, it was just a thought..... There was one thing that I noticed was missing. Years ago I remember seeing the movie on TV somewhere. There is a scene early in the movie where Dunson and Groot were fighting Indians. Near the end of the scene, Dunson goes off to get the last one while Groot stays behind to distract him. In both versions of the movie in this set, the scene cuts off before you hear Dunson doing in the last Indian. In the version I saw that once (and only once) you hear Dunson finishing him off and you can see Groot grimace. I wonder where this scene went in these versions? I assumed that one of these two would have that full scene but it doesn't. Strange. I always notice that when watching the movie. That scene just isn't complete. Anyway, it's a great movie and well worth the price.