Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Red River (1948)

It's great to take another dip in the Red River (1948) after nearly 30 years.

This fine western by Howard Hawks was part of my first-year film class at Brock University. Several westerns, including Stagecoach, were screened.

There's at least two iconic scenes in this 1948 effort new audiences might have seen in movie books or compilations of western scenes. Sidekick Walter Brennan throws a knife to John Wayne while he fights another man in the water. The second is a montage of cowboys yelling out to start a massive cattle drive.

Thomas Dunson (Wayne) found his piece of heaven in Texas in 1851. He and Nadine Groot (Brennan) break away from a wagon train and head for ideal land for a cattle ranch. His goal is to offer "good beef for hungry people."

The decision comes with a heavy price. The wagon train is attacked by Indians just hours after Dunson's departure. His girl, who he didn't want to join him, dies.

Matt Garth (Montgomery Cliff) survives the attack. Dunson adopts him. Both men prove quick to draw their guns. While Dunson is cold when it comes to killing, Garth takes a kinder approach to who he'll dispatch. That distinction stirs up some friction between father and adopted son, with Dunson accusing him of being soft.

Dunson builds up his beef empire, but times are tough in the American south in 1865. He has lots of cattle, but no market. Dunson decides to launch a massive drive of 10,000 cattle to Missouri. The stakes are high. Attacks by raiders and Indians are likely.

Dunson drives the men hard. Where Garth sees chances to ease off and given the crew rest, Dunson demands more continued action. Morale nosedives. Defections start. There's a suggestion that Dunson's mental health may be impacted as he ignores sleep and keeps focused on his goal. "I don't like quitters," he says. The relationship between father and son strains, leaving Dunson determined go get revenge.

There's lots to like in Red River. The cast, with supporting characters such as John Ireland, Harry Carey, Jr., and his dad, Harry Carey, is very fine.

Clift is impressive in his film debut.

Joanne Dru shines as the feisty Tess Millay, who loves Garth and tries to talk sense into Dunson. But the first meeting of the sweethearts, during an Indian attack on a wagon train, seems awfully unbelievable. These two young kids are making eyes at each other while bullets and arrows are flying. That really seems unlikely.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Red River (1948) earned Oscar nods for best writing and editing.

That's Mickey Kuhn as a young Matt. Born in 1932, he's still alive as of this writing. His acting resume isn't long - 32 credits on Internet Movie Database. But his credits include A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone with the Wind!

Chief Yowlachie offers comic relief as Walter Brennan's sidekick, Quo. Yowlachie was King of the Rock People in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.

Noah Beery, Jr., appearing here as cowboy Buster McGee, played James Garner's father on television's The Rockford Files.

Red River was Joanne Dru's second film credit.

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