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The story of the first great cattle drive along the legendary Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas is told through the relationship of Tom Dunson and Matthew Garth, the boy Dunson adopts after an Indian raid wipes out everyone else on a wagon train, including the woman Dunson loves. Together, they build a vast cattle empire and years later, take on an ambitious and hazardous drive of 10,000 cattle north. But Dunson's stubborn, tyrannical ways soon put his men and his herd in danger, forcing Garth to take over the drive to Abilene. Dunson, swearing revenge, pursues him to a final showdown.
Director: Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson (Co-Director)
Producers: Charles K. Feldman (uncredited), Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Borden Chase, Charles Schnee, based on Chase's story "The Chisholm Trail"
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editing: Christian Nyby
Art Direction: John Datu Arensma
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: John Wayne (Thomas Dunson), Montgomery Clift (Matt Garth), Walter Brennan (Groot Nadine), Joanne Dru (Tess Millay), John Ireland (Cherry Valance), Harry Carey, Sr. (Mr. Melville), Noah Beery, Jr. (Buster McGee), Harry Carey, Jr. (Dan Latimer).
Why RED RIVER Is Essential
Red River is widely and justifiably acclaimed as one of the greatest Westerns ever produced in Hollywood. Its tale of rugged men on an arduous mission - a hallmark of director Howard Hawks' work - combines a sweeping epic scope, moments of humor, and rousing action sequences with a sharply drawn emphasis on character and the logistics of a great cattle drive that had a profound effect on the development of the frontier.
The film represents Hollywood craftsmen working at the peak of their abilities and breaking new ground in their careers. Hawks was by this time one of the master directors in the industry, a versatile artist whose work encompassed comedies, war films, mysteries, and adventure pictures. Red River was his first Western, and in taking on the genre he significantly reinvigorated it as a form that could contain complex characters and broader themes within its rugged action-oriented stories. John Wayne was already an established star of Westerns as well as war films and other action pictures but not considered much of an actor until Red River was released. It had critics, public, and colleagues in the industry sit up and take notice, not only because of his multi-layered performance but for the way his role made use of, commented on and even subverted his on-screen image.
Although Montgomery Clift had already appeared on the screen in The Search  - filmed after Red River but released earlier - it was Red River that brought him to the attention of the nation. Clift's naturalistic performance signaled the arrival of a new acting style that achieved greater intensity and vulnerability, the obvious result of "The Method" which was being taught at the Actors Studio and the Group Theatre in New York City and was gaining popularity with stage and film actors.
Red River is also remarkable for the brilliant exterior work of cinematographer Russell Harlan, who had only recently gotten his first break in big-budget features after years of labor on Hopalong Cassidy programmers.
All this would be enough to recommend Red River, but what sets the film apart from the Westerns that came before it is a story and theme worthy of classical tragedy and mythology: the need for the "son" to challenge and surpass the "father" if civilization is to move forward. Along with John Ford's epic dramas made during this same period (which were also an influence on Hawks's film), Red River gave a new life and direction to the genre, setting the stage for character-driven psychological Westerns in the years to come and creating a rich and enduring myth of the American West. As one critic has noted, the complex shadings given here to what had previously been the very black-and-white moral world of the Western, "propels the genre into the 20th century."
by Rob Nixon
Red River (1948)
A radio version of Red River was aired in the late 40s with three of the original stars (John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru) and Jeff Chandler as Matt.
The story was redone for television in 1988 with James Arness as Dunson, Bruce Boxleitner as Matt, Ray Walston as Groot and Gregory Harrison as Cherry.
In John Wayne's final film, The Shootist (1976), archival footage from his previous movies was cut into the picture to represent the past of his character, J.B. Books. One of the films used was Red River.
The story of Red River draws liberally on the plot and character elements of the book (and 1935 movie version of) Mutiny on the Bounty, transposing the conflict between the stern captain and the rebellious young second-in-command on a British ship in the late 18th century to the American West of the late 1800s. Borden Chase, who wrote the story on which Red River was based, also worked on the screenplay for the 1935 film version of Bounty.
Red River also bears some resemblance to Come and Get It (1936), a film Hawks began that was taken over by William Wyler. In both films, there is a conflict between an older and younger man, father and foster son figures, who end up competing for the same woman; in the case of Come and Get It, the Frances Farmer character is a surrogate for the woman the older man loved and lost years before.
John Wayne's high regard for Red River was evident on screen for years thereafter. Whenever he could in other films, he wore a belt with a buckle that displayed the Dunson brand.
Both the book The Celluloid Closet and the 1995 documentary made from it referenced Red River as one of the classic Hollywood pictures with veiled homoerotic undertones. Joseph McBride and Gerald Peary, in an interview with Howard Hawks for Film Comment, commented on the gay subtexts of several of the director's films, particularly this one. Hawks' reply was that it was "a goddam silly statement to make." The exchanges between Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift) and Cherry Valance (John Ireland) have been especially singled out as coded homosexual dialogue (see Memorable Quotes).
In Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), the movie shown as the last feature in the doomed movie house in the fading Texas town is Red River.
There is a Red River Computer Co. in New Hampshire whose founders named their business after the 1948 movie.
According to Hawks, Wayne's frequent director John Ford was so knocked out after seeing the actor as Tom Dunson in Red River, he remarked, "I never knew the big son of a bitch could act," and would thereafter come around and watch whenever Wayne worked with Hawks. After Red River, Ford began to cast Wayne in more complex parts. Also, in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wayne was cast as a character who, like Dunson, is older and dealing with the realities of a man past middle age. It is considered one of Wayne's best performances. Many critics have noted a greater continuity of performance and character in Wayne's work after Red River and have commented on how from this point he became much more of a collaborator in the films he made with everyone, even the often dictatorial Ford.
In his movie Rio Bravo (1959), Hawks encouraged 19-year-old Ricky Nelson to copy Montgomery Clift's mannerism from Red River, rubbing his nose with his index finger.
The song Dean Martin sings in the jail in Rio Bravo was originally written by Dimitri Tiomkin for Red River, but it was completed too late for use in the scene where a cowboy song was needed, so they substituted another one. But strains of the song can be heard in Red River's theme music, and the words were changed for use in the later movie.
Borden Chase's original story was published in novel form by Random House in 1948 as Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail to capitalize on the success of the film. A hardcover first edition of the book was being sold on line in late 2006 for $3,800.
A central feature of the Borden Chase work, evident in several other Westerns he wrote, is the relationship between two men, often deeply linked by a common bond, either in deadly conflict or in a father-son mentorship/rivalry.
by Rob Nixon
Red River (1948)
Red River has been released in two versions, one with Walter Brennan speaking the linking narration (making that version eight minutes shorter) and the other with turning pages of a book that describe the story links. Critics most often prefer the spoken narration, although the book version is the one released on DVD. Some prints also eliminated the scene of Matt and Cherry's competitive target practice, leading some reviewers to complain that the film does not sufficiently flesh out the relationship between the two. Hawks himself preferred the narrated version. He noted that the book was used in the first cut and that he had no idea why they even released it that way, especially on television, where the text was too small to read.
Although not released until September 1948, Red River became the year's third biggest moneymaker, earning more than $4 million on its first run.
Upon attending a rough-cut screening of the picture, Montgomery Clift was disappointed, mostly because of the ending, which he thought was ludicrous "because Joanne Dru settles it and it makes the showdown between me and John Wayne a farce." He also found his own performance mediocre but recognized it as a star-making role. "I watched myself in Red River and knew I was going to be famous, so I decided I would get drunk anonymously one last time," he later said.
Red River was the first project for Howard Hawks and John Wayne, but the two worked together four more times, three of them Westerns (Rio Bravo , El Dorado , Rio Lobo ) and one, Hatari! , that had many characteristics of a Western, despite its African setting. Wayne later told Peter Bogdanovich that the only question he ever asked Hawks when the director approached him about doing a film was the date they would start shooting.
Arthur Rosson was given co-director credit because of his extensive and acclaimed work guiding the second unit, which captured many of the great cattle drive and large action scenes. The brother of famed cinematographer Harold Rosson and director Richard Rosson, both of whom also worked with Hawks, he was the sole director of many silent pictures and several B Westerns of the sound era, and a trusted second unit director on major films of the 20s through the 50s, including several productions with Cecil B. DeMille.
Writer Borden Chase's novels and stories were turned into a number of pictures, many of which he adapted himself. A specialist in Westerns, though not exclusive to that genre, he also wrote a number of original screenplays, including Winchester '73 (1950) and Bend of the River (1952), both directed by Anthony Mann. His work was the basis for three other John Wayne films, although he never worked with Hawks again. His daughter is retired dancer-actress Barrie Chase who is best known as Fred Astaire's dance partner in several of his TV specials of the 1950s and 60s.
Co-scripter Charles Schnee was a much-respected screenwriter and Oscar® winner for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). His other notable work includes Anthony Mann's psychological Western The Furies (1950), Nicholas Ray's stunning directorial debut They Live by Night (1948), and William Wellman's strange fantasy The Next Voice You Hear... (1950), in which God speaks to small-town America via the radio.
Cinematographer Russell Harlan began his career in the late 30s and made his mark photographing a string of Hopalong Cassidy movies through the mid-40s. He got his first break in feature-length A pictures with Lewis Milestone's war film A Walk in the Sun (1945) and two Joel McCrea Westerns before Hawks hired him for Red River. He worked with Hawks six more times and also did notable work on such films as The Big Sky (1952), Blackboard Jungle (1955), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Hawaii (1966).
Christian Nyby began his career as an editor in 1943 and cut four of Hawks' pictures, as well as several for Raoul Walsh. He began his directing career with The Thing from Another World (1951), which Hawks produced and assisted in the writing and directing, though he received no screen credit for the latter two duties. Nyby, who died in 1993, worked most frequently on television, including several episodes of the Western series Gunsmoke, which starred James Arness who played the alien "Thing" in Nyby's directorial debut. Coincidentally, Arness also played Wayne's role in a 1988 TV remake of Red River.
Dimitri Tiomkin was one of the most successful film composers of all time, earning 22 Academy award nominations and scores of other honors. He won two Oscar®s for Best Score, for the Western High Noon (1952) and the John Wayne movie The High and the Mighty (1954). He also shared an Oscar® with lyricist Ned Washington for the High Noon theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling." He scored four other Hawks films.
Walter Brennan shares the distinction of being the first actor to win three Academy Awards, all of them in the Best Supporting Actor category. He was chosen Best Supporting Actor for Come and Get It (1936); Kentucky (1938), a version of the Hatfield and McCoy legendary feud; and William Wyler's The Westerner (1940). One of the most successful character actors in American film history, Brennan appeared in more than 200 pictures (six for Hawks, seven with Wayne) between 1925 and his death in 1974, a great many of them Westerns. He was also the star of the popular 1950s TV comedy series, The Real McCoys.
Joanne Dru married fellow Red River co-star John Ireland in 1949. They divorced in 1957. After appearing in Red River, her second feature film appearance, she was cast in several other Westerns, including one called Siege at Red River (1954), even though she hated horses. Dru, who died in 1996, was the sister of actor-singer Peter Marshall, probably best known as the host of the original Hollywood Squares all-star game show of the 1960s.
Blink and you'll miss a couple of future stars in bit parts. Shelley Winters can be glimpsed as a dance hall girl in the second wagon train. Richard Farnsworth, Oscar®-nominated for his work in Comes a Horseman (1978) and The Straight Story (1999), plays one of Dunson's men. He was also a stuntman on the picture. Harder to recognize is Glenn Strange, who took over the role of Frankenstein's monster from Boris Karloff and played the part in three films (and once on TV), including Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Strange appeared in 16 of Wayne's earlier films; Red River was their last picture together.
Several players in Red River appeared with John Wayne in a number of films, many of them identified as the John Ford stock company in many of that director's pictures. Hank Worden (Simms Reeves) played a key part as Old Mose in The Searchers (1956) and was in 15 other Wayne movies. Paul Fix made 27 pictures with Wayne between 1931 and 1973. Wayne worked with Harry Carey four times and with his son, Harry Carey, Jr., ten times. Noah Beery, Jr. and Wayne were in four films together.
Chief Yowlatchie, as the comic character Quo who trades quips with Walter Brennan's Groot, was born Daniel Simmons, a member of Washington state's Yakima tribe. He started his career as an opera singer before venturing into movies in 1925.
Memorable Quotes from RED RIVER:
WAGONMASTER (Uncredited): Now look, Dunson, you're too good a gun for me to let you leave the train now.
DUNSON (John Wayne): Then I'm too good a gun for you to argue with.
WRITTEN PASSAGE: And that was the meeting of a boy with a cow and a man with a bull and the beginning of a great herd.
GROOT (Walter Brennan): Nine to ten thousand head of cattle clear to Missouri.
MATT (Montgomery Clift): We can make it.
CHERRY (John Ireland): That's a good-looking gun you were about to use back there. Can I see it? And you'd like to see mine. Nice, awful nice. You know there're only two things more beautiful than a good gun-a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. You ever have a good Swiss watch?
SIMMS (Hank Worden): Plantin' and readin', plantin' and readin'. Fill a man full o' lead, stick him in the ground and then read words on him. Why, when you kill a man, why try to read the Lord in as a partner on the job?
TESS (Joanne Dru): I believe it's your beef we're eating.
DUNSON: Who told you that?
TESS: The man you promised to kill.
DUNSON: You better marry that girl, Matt
MATT: When are you gonna stop telling people what to do?
SIMMS: Well, I don't like to see things goin' good or bad. I like 'em in between.
NADINE: Don't like to see strangers coming. Maybe it's because no stranger ever good newsed me.
MATT: What do they call you?
CHERRY: Some call me one thing and others another.
MATT: What do they call you the most?
CHERRY: My name.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
Red River (1948)
Although he had never directed a Western before, Howard Hawks bought Borden Chase's story, "The Chisholm Trail," about the first cattle drive on that historic route. The story was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in late 1946 and early 1947 after principal photography had been completed for the location shoots on Red River.
The biggest controversy surrounding Red River and the one criticism usually leveled at it involves the ending. In Chase's original story, Dunson is killed in the fight with Matt and taken back to Texas so he can be buried on the other side of the Red River in the cattle empire he created. Chase bitterly opposed changing the story to allow Wayne's character to live and be reconciled with Clift's character and he always resented Hawks' decision to do that.
Hawks never had a warm regard for Chase either. "I wouldn't say he was the greatest judge of how [to write a story]," Hawks later said, adding that Chase "never had another good picture," an unfair judgment considering Chase's screenplays for several outstanding Anthony Mann Westerns of the 1950s (Winchester '73 , Bend of the River  and The Far Country ).
According to Hawks, Charles Schnee was hired to help him rewrite the story over Chase's objections and the two writers never worked together on the script.
John Wayne was offered $150,000 and ten percent of the profits to play the role of Tom Dunson.
Hawks originally wanted Gary Cooper for the role of Dunson, but the actor declined, saying the character was too ruthless for his taste and might have a negative impact on his likable hero image.
Hawks also wanted another big name in the cast, albeit in a small but important role. But Cary Grant turned down the part of Cherry Valance that eventually went to John Ireland.
After Hawks saw Montgomery Clift on Broadway in Lillian Hellman's play The Searching Wind, the 26-year-old actor, who had resisted "going Hollywood" for a few years, became the first and only choice for the role of Matt Garth. He was offered a flat $60,000 for the work. But Clift had to be talked into doing the role, mostly because of his concern about the climactic fight scene with the bigger and tougher Wayne. It was a doubt amplified in his mind by several friends who told him he was crazy to play against type. Clift finally agreed to do it at Hawks' urging but refused to sign more than a one-picture deal.
The role of Tess Millay was originally intended for Hawks discovery Margaret Sheridan, but she became pregnant before shooting began and did not get to make her film debut until the Hawks-produced The Thing from Another World (1951). The part went to Joanne Dru, who had only one previous picture to her credit.
An old hand at Westerns, Wayne attended a production meeting with Hawks and executive producer Charles K. Feldman and expressed his concerns with their approach to Red River. The first thing he suggested was that they get United Artists to up the $1.5 million dollars by more than 50 percent since their intentions were clearly to make a blockbuster.
Wayne said he gave the producers extensive advice about the possible location and logistical problems associated with making Westerns and insisted Hawks hire real cowhands and trained stunt professionals instead of the amateurs he had lined up. The director ended up signing 70 real cowboys for the job. He also contracted to have dozens of horses represent the hundreds required by the story and about a thousand head of cattle at $10 per day each stand in for Dunson's herd of 10,000. Wayne said once it was clear Hawks was taking his advice seriously and the budget would be increased, he agreed to do the picture.
by Rob Nixon
Red River (1948)
Before filming began on Red River, consideration was given to shooting in color, but Hawks found the color processes at that time to be too garish and decided on black-and-white as being more conducive to a feeling of the period.
Hawks and his crew scouted more than 15,000 miles of territory in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mexico before settling on a location. Red River was shot on a vast cattle ranch near Elgin, Arizona from June through November 1946. Other locations included the Whetstone Mountains in Arizona and the San Pedro River, standing in for the Red River.
The San Pedro River was in a location where it seldom rained which was ironically named the Rain Valley. Hawks had five dams built on the river to make the waters rise to the appropriate level.
Despite the reputed lack of rain, there were frequent unexpected downpours on location. Wayne convinced Hawks to shoot in all weather, and the script was rewritten to accommodate a fierce storm.
Shots of the great cattle drive required 25,000 gallons of water to settle the dust kicked up by the cattle.
To coordinate the massive movement of actors, crew and cattle, the company depended on short-wave radios and walkie-talkies for communications.
Two sets of costumes were required to cover wear and tear, to a total of $150,000 for the cowboys' wardrobe (Joanne Dru's costumes alone cost more than $20,000). Each actor had two pairs of boots at $150 a pair.
Delays were caused by weather and illness. Wayne was bedridden with a severe cold, Dru caught the flu, and Hawks had to be hospitalized after being bitten by a centipede. On the first day of shooting, Clift burned himself on the thigh with a blank cartridge practicing quick draws.
Originally budgeted at around half a million, the film eventually cost at least twice that to make.
Hawks said he often thought of Western master John Ford when shooting, particularly in a burial scene when ominous clouds started to gather. He told Wayne to keep talking, say anything, and they would fix the sound later. In the final cut, the scene is played with a big cloud dramatically passing over, and Hawks said he told Ford, "Hey, I've got one almost as good as you can do-you better go and see it."
Clift had learned to ride horses while at military prep school, but it was a different kind of riding than he was required to do in this role. He asked experienced Western actor Noah Beery, Jr. for help and worked hard to become convincing on screen. Beery later said, "The thing he enjoyed most was becoming a hell of a good cowboy and horseman." Hawks always had high praise for how hard Clift worked on the picture.
The slightly built, 5' 10" Clift was nervous about standing up to the 6' 5" Wayne but gained confidence when Hawks told him to play his scenes like David against Goliath. He also urged the young actor to underplay in his scenes with Wayne, particularly the scene in which his character challenges Dunson for the first time. Wayne was also not sure Clift could be convincing as a rugged cowboy, but after that first confrontation scene he told Hawks his doubts were gone and "he's going to be okay."
Despite Wayne's acceptance of Clift in the part, the two did not become friendly. Clift hated the way the story had been changed to allow Wayne's character to live at the end, and Wayne told Life magazine, "Clift is an arrogant little bastard." The younger actor did occasionally take part in the nightly poker games Wayne and Hawks organized but also said, "They tried to draw me into their circle but I couldn't go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me because it seemed so forced and unnecessary."
Wayne responded to Clift's underplaying by working harder at his difficult role. In the scene where Clift's character tells him he's taking over the drive and moving the herd to Abilene, Wayne turned his back on him and said in a low voice, "I'm gonna kill you, Matt." The action was counter to Hawks' direction to have Wayne cringe. But the actor refused to appear cowardly and played it his way, to Hawks' ultimate satisfaction. The improvised moment left Clift dumbfounded and was used in the final cut.
Hawks and Wayne also differed on how Wayne would play the aged Dunson. Hawks thought that beyond the added gray hair and wrinkles, Wayne should move and talk differently and suggested he consult Walter Brennan on techniques for appearing old. Wayne found the shuffling and tottering that Brennan suggested to be detrimental to his character and image and played it his own way, "standin' tall." But Wayne did interject some subtle movements to convey his advanced years, such as reaching out for Clift's assistance in rising to his feet from a crouch. "Oh, yeah, Hawks and I had a few fights along the way," Wayne said, "but he accepted me as an expert, which I was, and we did not have any more trouble, and I was always happy to work for Hawks."
Hawks had great respect for Wayne, even though many people didn't consider him a great actor. "He's a damn good actor. He does everything, and he makes you believe it," Hawks later commented.
Hawks insisted Walter Brennan play his role mostly without his false teeth for the running gag about his character losing his teeth in a poker game. At first Brennan balked, but then remembered he had earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® playing mostly without his teeth under Hawks' direction in Come and Get It (1936) so he consented.
Writer Borden Chase, who did not get along well with Hawks, claimed the director fancied Joanne Dru and was so upset by her attention to John Ireland that he cut Ireland's role in the picture considerably. Hawks later called Chase "an idiot," a heavy drinker and philanderer who didn't know what he was talking about, adding that the real reason he cut Ireland's scenes was because the actor was always getting drunk, stoned on marijuana, and losing his hat and gun. Dru and Ireland were married a year after this film's release.
Chase also objected to what he considered the historically inaccurate use of six-shooters. Hawks insisted on using them, however, so he didn't have to stop a scene to reload guns.
Hawks shot the beginning of the cattle drive in close-ups of each of the principal cowhands because he felt tight shots would be needed to help the audience keep all the characters straight in their minds. To that end, he also gave them all different kinds of hats, including a derby. Montgomery Clift used Hawks' own hat, which was given to him by Gary Cooper. Cooper had imparted a weather-beaten look to the hat by watering it every night. "Spiders built nests in it," Hawks said. "It looked great."
Hawks claimed the problem with the one scene that invites criticism of Red River, the ending, was not the scene itself but the way Joanne Dru played it.
To get the impressive shot of Wayne surveying his vast herd, the camera was placed on a motorized turntable so it always moved at the same speed. The shot began with Wayne at a fencepost and panned across the cattle until it came to another fencepost. The camera was then stopped while the available cattle were moved into the next segment of the shot, then started again. This was repeated until the camera moves back to Wayne, giving the impression that he was looking out at many times more cattle than they actually had on location.
In the shot of Walter Brennan's character driving the chuck wagon across the river, the actor did the stunt himself.
The release of Red River was held up due to a copyright infringement lawsuit from Howard Hughes, who claimed the climax of Red River was taken from his production of The Outlaw (1943), which Hawks had begun directing but quit. As Hawks told the story, Hughes was suing over the use of the line "Draw your gun," a ludicrous charge. The real dispute, however, was over a scene featuring Dunson's unsuccessful attempt to draw Garth into a gunfight, a scene which was similar to one involving Pat Garret and Billy the Kid in Hughes's The Outlaw. Reportedly Wayne, who had a good relationship with Hughes, interceded and eventually got permission to release the film with the scene intact.
by Rob Nixon
Red River (1948)
AWARDS AND HONORS
Although not released until September 1948, Red River became the year's third biggest moneymaker, earning more than $4 million on its first run.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Film Editing (Christian Nyby) and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Borden Chase).
Charles Schnee and Borden Chase received a nomination for Best Written American Western from the Writers Guild of America.
Howard Hawks was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement by the Directors Guild of America.
In 1990, Red River was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
THE CRITICS CORNER
"It's a spectacle of sweeping grandeur, as rugged and hard as the men and times with which it deals. ... The staging of physical conflict is deadly, equalling anything yet seen on the screen." Variety, July 14, 1948.
"So long as it sticks to cow-herding and the gathering clash between these two-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 got a stampede of cattle in it that makes you curl up with terror in your seat. He has also got several fine performances out of a solidly masculine cast, topped off by a withering job of acting a boss-wrangler done by Mr. Wayne. This consistently able portrayer of two-fisted, two-gunned outdoor men surpasses himself in this picture. We wouldn't want to tangle with him. Mr. Clift has our admiration as the lean and leathery kid who does undertake that assignment, and he carries it off splendidly." Bosley Crowther, New York Times, October 1, 1948.
"A memorable performance [by Montgomery Clift] in one of Hawks' finest films, worthwhile not only for its picture of a lean, practical, and independent cowboy but for the way it seemed to compel John Wayne into thinking about his part." David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
"The tragic rivalry is so well established that somehow it keeps its weight and dignity in our memories, even though the ending undercuts it. ... Between Wayne and Clift there is a clear tension, not only between an older man and a younger one, but between an actor who started in 1929 and another who represented the leading edge of the Method." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 1998.
"Immaculately shot by Russell Harlan, perfectly performed by a host of Hawks regulars, and shot through with dark comedy, it's probably the finest Western of the 40s." Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide (Penguin Books, 2000).
"It wasn't just his physical beauty that mesmerized audiences. In Red River Clift conveyed a more tortured sense of uncertainty and self-doubt than we expected to see in a laconic cowpoke. The Western is ordinarily set in a universe of absolute moral certainty; the intense self-questioning that Clift brings to his characterization suddenly propels the genre into the 20th century." Stephen Farber, Movieline magazine, October 2004.
"The epic story is both a view of American history and a view of the American civilization as a successor of those of the past...But this journey has a relation to Homeric epic as well as to American history...The contrast between the sensitive, "soft," almost beautifully handsome Clift and the hard, determined, indomitable Wayne not only provides the essential psychological contrast required for the film's narrative but also provides two brilliant and brilliantly contrasted acting styles for the film's dramatic tension." - Gerald Mast, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.
"Unromantized western has remarkable authenticity; beautiful black-and-white photography by Russell Harlan, with emphasis on cloudy skies, barren terrain, darkness that makes night oppressive to give harsh feel to the West...but Dru (whom I usually like) is miscast; in pivotal role, coming in so late in the film and having such an important part, she interferes in the proceedings in more ways than one. Through her, picture changes tone; while momentarily satisfying, the ending is more suitable for a comedy." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.
"Brawling Western, a bit serious and long drawn out but with splendid action sequences." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.
"A magnificent horse opera - one of the more elaborate celebrations of those trail-blazing episodes that Hollywood used to glorify as "historical events"...A lot of it is just terrible, but Clift - in his most aggressively sexual screen performance - is angular and tense and audacious, and the other actors brawl amusingly in the strong-silent-man tradition." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.
"A Spirited Western, and a study of the deeper meanings of companionship." - Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema.
"...the epic power of Red River is immense. It's a classic Western...Red River was conceived as a sort of Western version of Mutiny on the Bounty...Clift, in his screen debut, is stunningly tense and aggressive...But a large part of the movie's effectiveness is the result of Russell Harlan's black-and-white photography (the scenery is spectacular) and a truly heroic score by Dimitri Tiomkin." - Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide.
"A seminal Western, as much for Wayne's performance, which drew the response from John Ford of 'I didn't know the sonofabitch could act!', as for Hawks' magisterial direction...The ending has been attacked as a compromise that makes nonsense of Wayne's character as a man who sees things through to the bitter end, and certainly it seems out of kilter with the thrust of Chase's script...All that one can say of the ending as used is that it works." - Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Western Movies.
"...has the dimension of classical Greek tragedy....It's also notable as a mood piece of epic majesty, with a famous stampede and the much loved 'Yee haw' scene re-enacted in City Slickers ." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies.
Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford
Red River (1948)
One of the great Westerns of all time and a crowning achievement for Howard Hawks, Red River (1948) was made at the height of his long career. An established master of the medium highly regarded for his versatility, Hawks' work spanned comedies (Bringing Up Baby, 1938), crime dramas and mysteries (Scarface, 1932), and war stories (The Dawn Patrol, 1930). But there was always something richer in Hawks' work besides his expertise at handling genres, something that transcended the conventions, and in this epic tale about the great cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail, he weaves a captivating drama of generational conflict and codes of conduct among men of the West.
With magnificent scenes of the cattle drive filmed on location in Arizona and Mexico, Red River went $800,000 over its original $3 million dollar budget. More than 9,000 steers were photographed for the herd drive, requiring 25,000 gallons of water to settle the dust they kicked up. Dams had to be built across the San Pedro River (standing in for the Red River) so it would rise to the appropriate level for shooting, and the 500 actors and extras had to be fitted with duplicate authentic costumes to cover for the substantial wear-and-tear they endured. But on its release, the movie was an instant hit, raking in $5 million in its initial run and earning Oscar® nominations for Best Editing and Best Screenplay.
The part of Tom Dunson seemed a natural for John Wayne, even if it was a darker character for him than usual, one whose motives are not always crystal clear or even admirable. But many people have expressed more surprise at Hawks' casting of Montgomery Clift in the part of Matt Garth, Dunson's son-figure and rival. Hawks had seen Clift in a Broadway production of the Lillian Hellman play The Searching Wind and offered him the part. Clift accepted, even though it made him extremely nervous. He was familiar with how to ride a horse, but only military-school style. And the script called for the thin, 5' 10" Clift to engage in a rousing climactic fistfight with powerfully built, 6' 5" Wayne. But Hawks believed in his ability; the young actor rewarded his faith by working hard every day to learn to ride and handle a gun expertly and turn in a performance Hawks was very pleased with. Of course, he had considerable help from the director, who showed him how to underplay Wayne. "Don't try to get hard because you'll just be nothing compared to Wayne," he told him. After one of their first scenes together, the skeptical Wayne told Hawks, "He's gonna be okay." Off screen, however, Clift never really warmed to Wayne or Hawks. In Montgomery Clift by Patricia Bosworth, the actor stated that he occasionally joined them for nightly poker games where "they laughed and drank and told dirty jokes and slapped each other on the back. They tried to draw me into their circle but I couldn't go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me because it seemed so forced and unnecessary."
Red River marked the first time Hawks and John Wayne worked together (four more pictures followed). Wayne had done a number of films with John Ford, who made him a star with Stagecoach (1939). Then Hawks cast Wayne in Red River. The actor was reluctant at first to play an older man but Hawks later said he told the 40-year-old Wayne, "Duke, you're going to be one pretty soon, why don't you get some practice?" In Shooting Star by Maurice Zolotow, Wayne recalled, "[Walter] Brennan showed me his idea of an old man walkin' and talkin'. His idea of it was kinda shufflin' and totterin'. And mumblin'. I was supposed to be tough and hard and walk like that? Hell, I was thinkin' about those old cattle guys I knew when I was a kid around Lancaster and there wasn't one of them that didn't stand tall. I played Tom Dunson my own way, standin' tall. Oh yeah, Hawks and I had a few fights along the way, but he accepted me as an expert, which I was, and we did not have any more trouble." Wayne ended up turning in a compelling performance, and Ford - always a bit abusive and condescending to Wayne despite the actor's devotion to him; was reported to have said, "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act." Following this role, Ford cast Wayne in increasingly more complex roles in such films as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956) so it could be said that Red River brought a new richness to Wayne's acting as he moved from playing gung-ho men of bravery to characters driven by obsessions or a need to maintain control at all costs.
Wayne and Hawks formed a mutually respectful and beneficial bond that lasted the remainder of their lives and kept them working together until 1970. Other actors in the cast didn't fair so well. For instance, Hawks, though married, took a strong fancy to Joanne Dru, as he often did with his leading ladies. But he didn't like that cast member John Ireland was paying so much attention to the actress, and the story goes that in revenge, Hawks cut Ireland's role down to almost nothing. Hawks denied the story and insisted it was because Ireland spent too much time drinking, smoking marijuana, and losing his gun and hat. Whatever the truth, Ireland had the final victory; he and Dru were married shortly after production ended. And one other piece of trivia involving the cast: This is the only time that two staples of the Western genre; father and son, Harry Carey and Harry Carey Jr.; appeared in a movie together.
Producer/Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Schnee, Borden Chase, based on Chase's novel, The Chisholm Trail
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editing: Christian Nyby
Art Direction: John Datu Arensma
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: John Wayne (Tom Dunson), Montgomery Clift (Matthew Garth), Joanne Dru (Tess Millay), Walter Brennan (Groot Nadine), John Ireland (Cherry Valance), Noah Beery Jr. (Buster McGee), Coleen Gray (Fen), Harry Carey (Mr. Velville), Chief Yowlachie (Quo), Harry Carey, Jr. (Dan Latimer).
by Rob Nixon