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Fourteen years after starting his cattle ranch in Texas, Tom Dunston is finally ready to drive his 10,000 head of cattle to market. Back then Dunston, his sidekick Nadine Groot and a teen-aged boy, Matt Garth -who was the only survivor of an Indian attack on a wagon train - started off with only two head of cattle. The neatest market however is in Missouri, a 1000 miles away. Dunston is a hard task master demanding a great deal from the men who have signed up for the drive. Matt is a grown man now and fought in the Civil War. He has his own mind as well and he soon runs up against the stubborn Dunston who won't listen to advice from anyone. Soon, the men on the drive are taking sides and Matt ends up in charge with Dunston vowing to kill him. Written by
In the pantheon of great performances by John Wayne, Red River ranks as one of the great ones, probably in the top five of his films. It's what the publicity folks mean when they talk about epic westerns.
John Wayne is a driven man, he's got to get that gigantic herd of cattle to market in Missouri or face ruin. He's not going to be selling them in Texas at carpetbagger prices so he's putting together the biggest, longest cattle drive on record to get to the railroad terminus in Missouri. He does it with the able assistance of his stepson Montgomery Clift newly returned from the Civil War.
A prologue to the main film shows what happened to Wayne years before. He left a wagon train going to California with good friend Walter Brennan and later that train is massacred with Wayne's fiancé Coleen Gray along with it. On the way to Texas, Wayne and Brennan pick up Mickey Kuhn who is playing a younger version of Monty Clift. They settle in Texas and Wayne puts together the biggest cattle ranch in the state which is where the main film starts.
Wayne and Clift play beautifully off against each other. Father and surrogate son, first working together and then having a big difference of opinion on the cattle drive. Clift started a film career in Red River playing sensitive people who you can only trod on just so long before they take action. You can see the inner workings of such later Clift roles as Robert E. Lee Prewitt and Noah Ackerman. Monty made a grand screen debut. And it was his debut, Red River was filmed first, but held up in release and Clift's The Search was released first to the public.
John Wayne had one of the best faces for movie closeups ever. In his best performances, top directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Bill Wellman realized this. He has a few in this film and they tell the audience more about what's going on inside this man than ten pages of dialog.
With Joanne Dru, Howard Hawks tries to repeat the magic he had with Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Joanne is no Bacall, but she's good and had a pretty good career on her own. Her scenes with both Wayne and Clift have some of the same bite that Bacall's do with Bogey.
Dimitri Tiomkin's score deserves star billing right up there with the human cast. It is one of the great movie scores of all time period. let alone in the western genre. For me I've always noticed the similarity with the cattle drive beginning with the great use of Tiomkin's music and what Cecil B. DeMille did in the sound version of Ten Commandments as Charlton Heston tells the Hebrew children, he's takin' 'em to Canaan with Elmer Bernstein's score in the background as DeMille's cast of thousands moves out. I've often wondered whether DeMille copied Hawks, or Hawks was influenced by DeMille's silent Ten Commandments.
Red River is a must, for John Wayne fans, for Monty Clift fans, for fans of both and of great movie music like I am.
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