Red River (1948)
John Wayne's name has become synonymous with the western. Yet his most laudable roles come when he is playing anything but the typical 'nice guy' who always finishes last. No, "Red River" is a prime example of this and would give Wayne a chance to film with John Ford in "The Searchers".
The movie begins on a trail out West. Thomas Dunson (Wayne) and his trusted buddy Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) decide that they are going to go down South and try to set up a cattle ranch of their own. Well, Dunson has decided this and Nadine is welcome to come along...which he does. Dunson's love interest throws herself in his arms and begs to be taken with him, but he tells her no. Why? Because she's a woman. duh! She tries to reason with him, but he gives her a bracelet and tells her that he will send for her when he is established.
After not too long of traveling, Groot and Dunson turn around to see that the caravan has been burned to the ground by the Indians...the go-to villain of most westerns. Dunson sulks and pouts because he realizes, like Groot does, that they should have let the lady come with them...but no use crying over spilled milk. Too soon?
The Indians attack them during the night but Dunson is prepared for them and he dispatches all of them, taking back the bracelet off one of them...this reaffirms that the woman is dead.
Dunson is a man set in his ways. The film says this many times—no one can change his mind when he's made it up.
While out and almost desolate, the two run into a young boy named Matthew who makes a strong first impression. The trio arrive at a huge expanse of land near the Rio Grande and they are told that they cannot settle here because it belongs to someone else...this someone else not making a physical appearance in the movie which is one of the weakest moments of "Red River".
Dunson decides that he will brand his cattle with a river like scar.
Fourteen years later.
Matthew (Montgomery Clift) is now in the prime of his youth and he demands to be taken seriously. Taught at the foot of Dunson he is the quickest in the...well, he's fast, that's it. Dunson is still riding on his high horse, both metaphorically and literally.
Broke and desperate for money, Dunson decides that he will take his cattle—which almost number one thousand—and travel to Missouri to sell them.
Here the film enters thinly veiled homoeroticism when it introduces Cherry Valance (John Ireland). Dueling figures, Cherry and Matthew make us think of the Ben-Hur/Messala bromance. They swap guns and shoot them off...it's kind of awkward to watch. But this is just a fun side-note compared to the madness of the movie.
As they ride on Dunson starts to become a tyrant and even the movie's clumsy book-like narration criticizes his actions. He becomes obsessed with honor and courage. Matthew doesn't share all of his sentiments which means that, naturally, the two will have to sort this out eventually.
"Red River" uses the landscape quite well, but it's a movie that reminds too much of "The Searches" which perfects all of its idiosyncrasies. The mad leader, the smaller side-kick, the quest...it's fun, but nothing stunning.
The ending is too cheerful and the love interests are introduced too quickly; but by no means is the film bad.
Posted by Micah Jones