Red River (1948)

red river poster 1948 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, epic

Feels like a very traditional Western, abrupt ending

Movie Info

Movie Name: Red River

Studio: Monterey Productions

Genre(s): Western/Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): August 26, 1948

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

red river john wayne montgomery clift walter brennan

Well, I think going to Missouri will be a real way to bring us together.

Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) has set out to Texas to tame the West for his cattle.  Working with his trail hand Groot (Walter Brennan), Dunson finds himself teamed with a young upstart cowboy named Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift), and Dunson manages to turn a small number of cattle into an admirable herd.  When beef prices crash, Dunson decides he needs to drive his large herd to Missouri and recruits local farm hands to help him do it.  The journey is hard and Dunson can be cruel…forcing Matt to make a difficult decision to keep the herd and the men going.

Directed by Howard Hawks, Red River is a Western adventure drama.  Adapting the serialized story The Chisholm Trail by Borden Chase which was published in the Saturday Evening Post from December 1946 to January 1947.  The film was actually shot in 1946 but did not receive a release until 1948.  It received Academy Award nominations for Best Writing and Best Film Editing.  It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #709).

red river cattle drive john wayne

Trying to herd cows is like herding…cows.

Red River is what it is.  It is a John Wayne Western.  In that sense it is pretty traditional, and it is also a tough sell for people who aren’t fans of Westerns.  That being said, Red River is a film that not only gave John Wayne more clout, but it also presents a classic Western tale to measure other Westerns against.

The film has all the elements you’d expect in a Western.  You have cowboys, “Indians”, rustlers, and almost a femme fatale type of character in Joanne Dru’s Tess.  It can seem like clichés now, but the story and telling of Red River presents a classic adventure of the West.  The reasons so many Westerns of the 1950s and later seem like Red River is that Red River was an influence over them.  With that aspect, it has to be respected.

The movie also helped turn John Wayne into a more respected actor.  In the film he plays the heavy and not a very nice guy for most of the movie.  He’s brash, bossy, dangerous, and unforgiving.  The movie helped him impress John Ford who gave Wayne some of his biggest roles as a result.  Montgomery Cliff also impresses in the film as someone who actually can realistically go toe-to-toe with Wayne (who didn’t particularly like Cliff).  The film features one of the final performances of Harry Carey (whose son also appears in the film).  Though she ends up being an important role in the film, Joanne Dru’s character feels a bit shoehorned into the picture since she shows up so late in the game.

red river montgomery clift joanne dru

Hi…I’m a character added really, really late into the story

The movie looks great.  It was debated if it would be shot in color, but it was decided that the black-and-white film gave the movie more weight and visuals.  It does a great job presenting a world where you don’t know where exactly you are going, the dangers you’ll encounter, and trying to wrangle almost 10,000 heads of cattle while doing it.

Red River is a rather long film and it ends kind of abruptly.  Endings of older pictures often feel like the movie just ran out of ideas so let’s hug and Red River is kind of one of those movies.  There is so much build-up to the showdown between Dunson and Garth but it is rather quick and they get over it as you suspected they would.  It isn’t entirely satisfying and it feels anticlimactic in the sense that the accomplishment of getting the cattle to Abilene was the monumental moment.  Still, Red River is a classic and it deserves to be…any criticisms are minor.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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