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.
Wayne, as Tom Dunson, is shown as a young, determined man at the opening of RED RIVER, taking his wagon out of the line of a train heading west. He and his companion Groot (Brennan) intend to head south, toward Texas and the Red River, leaving behind Tom's sweetheart Fen (Gray). When Tom and Groot
see black smoke trailing behind them in the distance, they know that Indians have attacked the wagon train, but the two men must soon deal with an attack on their own wagon. The next day they find young Matthew Garth (Micky Kuhn), a survivor from the wagon train massacre, and take him along on
their journey to Texas. Dunson eventually lays claim to a substantial expanse of land, successfully defeating a wealthy Mexican who also claims the territory. Years pass, and Tom Dunson owns a sprawling cattle empire. Matthew (now played by Clift) has fought in the Civil War and has returned to
become Tom's right-hand man. Needing cash, Wayne decides to drive a herd of cattle north and sell them. But he doesn't take the advice of Matt's friend, hired gun Cherry Valance (Ireland), and pushes his herds through a painfully difficult route. Men start deserting him, but Tom mercilessly drives
both his crew and his cattle on. Matthew is unable to confront his father figure for a long time, but an eventual showdown is inevitable.
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 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. 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
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.
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- Review: 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 gr… (more)