Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.
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.
- May 18, 2005