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Red River Movie Review

wayne clift drive film

1948 – Howard Hawks –

A success at thirty-two thanks to Stagecoach, John Wayne by all accounts was beginning to wonder if at age forty-one he might be headed from leading roles to character parts when Howard Hawks cast him in Red River as Tom Dunstan. It was one of the first times that Wayne played a character older than he was at the time of the film and certainly the first time he had played such a part in such a prominent film. Both the star and the movie were a success, and Wayne would consistently show up on the top ten stars list for the next twenty years.

Red River has been often been called the best western of the of the 1940s. Wayne's portrayal of the heroic but ruthless leader of the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail was felt by many to be deserving of an Academy Award. The story concerns rancher Dunstan who, after spending many years building up his cattle ranch, is determined to keep financially afloat after the Civil War. This can only be done by undertaking a massive cattle drive to Missouri. He is accompanied on this treacherous journey with his good friend and sometime conscience Groot (Walter Brennan) and his surrogate son Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift, in his debut role). As the drive progresses, so does Wayne's obsession and tyranny. This is by far one of Wayne's most unsympathetic and intriguing roles. He drives himself and his men to the brink of exhaustion, and we see him mentally deteriorate to the point of paranoia. Clift leads a successfull rebellion to take the drive on a shorter route through Abilene in hopes of using the rumored railhead there. Wayne vows to kill him if they should ever meet again.

It is this final showdown in Abilene that is paradoxically the strongest and weakest point of the film. The fight scene between Wayne and Clift had to be most keenly and precisely choreographed considering the disparity in the sizes of the actors. It is Wayne's sudden self-recognition of his love and respect for Clift that may be somewhat untrue to character. After a maudlin intervention by Tess (Joanne Dru), the film ends leaving the audience to deal with Wayne's incredulous and too pat character transformation. The ending (changed from the original script) and its attempt to force a reconciliation between father and son, weakens but does not ruin an otherwise excellent movie.

Cast: John Wayne (Tom Dunstan), Montgomery Clift (Matthew Garth), Walter Brennan (Nadine Groot), Joanne Dru (Tess Millay), John Ireland (Cherry Valance), Noah Beery, Jr. (Muster McGee), Paul Fix (Teeler Yacey), Harry Carey, Jr. (Dan Latimer), Chief Yowlachie (Quo), Ivan Parry (Bunk Kenneally), Harry Carey, Sr. (Mr. Millville), Hal Taliaferio (Old Leather), Tom Tyler (Quittler), Dan White (Laredo), Hank Worden (Simms), Collen Grey (Fen) Screenwriter: Borden Chase, Charles Schnee Cinematographer: Russell Harian Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin Producer: Howard Hawks for United Artists Running Time: 133 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1948: Nominations: Editing, Story Budget: $3.5M Box Office: $4.5M.

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