Sometimes you get lucky...
Oct 26, 2000 (Updated Nov 1, 2000)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Wayne, Clift, Screenplay, Photography, Score, Direction, Supporting actors
Cons:What, No Oscars?
Red River (1948)
Recommend this product?
Montgomery Clift made his acting debut in this classic Howard Hawks western, one of the very best of the genre. Clift stars as "Matthew Garth" an orphaned boy picked up on the plains by "Tom Dunson" and "Nadine Groot" (John Wayne and Walter Brennan). The time is 1851 and this episode is out of the book Early Tales of Texas, shown during the opening credits. The narration is from Groot, whose handwritten diary writings appear across the screen from time to time.
The tyrannical Dunson typifies the no-nonsense nature of the early settlers of Texas. He establishes his inflexible character early, by leaving the Californy-bound wagon train and his sweetheart to strike out on his own. Dunson wants to stake a claim to some of the land he sees around.
Shortly after leaving the train, Indians attack, slaughtering everyone. Dunson and Groot see the smoke. Suddenly Indians attack the two men. Dunson kills his assailant and finds the bracelet he gave to his sweetheart before he left the wagon train. Matthew, the sole survivor of the massacre, shows up leading a cow. Dunson appropriates the cow and takes Matthew along, after disarming him and admonishing him not to trust anyone.
Later, Dunson finds the land he wants. As he and Groot discuss raising beef cattle a pair of Mexican cowboys ride up. They tell the men the land belongs to a man who lives 400 miles south of the Rio Grande. Dunson tells him that it belongs to him now. The two men face off and draw. Dunson is the winner. He sends the other Mexican back to inform the former owner. Matt wants to know how Dunson knew when the other man was going to draw. "By watching his eyes."
A decent man at heart, Dunson buries the Mexican and reads the Bible over him.
Years pass and the Red River D is the largest ranch in Texas. Dunson is now white-haired. We identify the now grown-up Matthew by the silver snake bracelet given to him by his adoptive father Dunson, the same bracelet he had given his sweetheart back at the wagon train.
Dunson has a problem. It is after the Civil War and there is no market for beef in Texas. He decides to organize the first cattle drive over what will be known as the Chisholm Trail to Missouri.
What happens during the cattle drive and after makes for a compelling, interesting story, including a stampede, a mutiny and a gunfight. Any viewer, not just a western fan would enjoy this film, as it has all the elements that add up to a great viewing experience.
Story: The screenplay is a western version of the 1935 hit Mutiny on The Bounty. The classic tensions between the old professional and the young upstart are played out to perfection.
Acting: John Wayne does his most convincing performance as ramrod-straight Tom Dunson, the heavy of the film. Monty Clift plays the good guy, with a lot of personality. Walter Brennan, of course, is one of the finest character actors American cinema has yet produced. His performance here is no exception to his stellar credits. His losing his false teeth to the Indian cowboy is priceless comic relief. The supporting cast: John Ireland, Noah Beery, Jr., Hank Worden, Paul Fix, and many other familiar "Cowboy" faces. Joanne Dru for eye candy. What’s not to like?
Photography: Big Sky courtesy of Russell Harlan.
Direction: Superior work by action specialist Howard Hawks, whose credits include several Wayne vehicles, Gary Cooper’s finest hour Sergeant York, and the original Scarface.
Score: Dimitri Tiompkin produced the classic Western score.
Without a lot of exaggeration, I have to give this one five stars! See it! :>
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