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Tom Dunson builds a cattle empire with his adopted son Matthew Garth. Together they begin a massive cattle drive north from Texas to the Missouri railhead. But on the way, new information and Dunson's tyrannical ways cause Matthew to take the herd away from Dunson and head to a new railhead in Kansas. Dunson, swearing vengeance, pursues. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Some people think this is the greatest western ever made and they aren't far off the mark. It is certainly among the most expansive. Borden Chase adapted his own Saturday Evening Post story "The Chisholm Trail" but it was Howard Hawks who fleshed it out. There are some who see the relationship between Tom Dunson, (John Wayne), and his surrogate son Matthew Garth, (Montgomery Clift), as mirroring that of Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian and again that isn't too far off the mark either. Then there is the teasingly suggestive homo-erotic by-play that exists between Clift and gunslinger John Ireland, with a lot of emphasis on the affection each shares for the other's gun. But pat psychology aside the film is chiefly enjoyable for its sheer physicality. Indian attacks, gunfights, cattle stampedes and a great climatic confrontation between Wayne and Clift, it has them all.
Clift, a relative newcomer when the film came out, (it was only his second picture), is excellent. The camera loves him and he knows it. This is Clift at his most likable and laconic. But it is Wayne's tyrannical Tom Dunson who dominates every scene. It's a great piece of acting, the equal of his work in "The Quiet Man" and "The Searchers", maybe better. Those who say he was the same in every picture were surely blinkered. Given a great part like Dunson or Ethan Edwards he clearly understood the psychology of the role and what made the character tick. And for once, Dimitri Tiomkin's great score adds to, rather than detracts from, the film. Trivia time; in Peter Bogdanovitch's "The Last Picture Show" it was Hawk's "Red River" that was the last picture show.
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