Thursday, July 28, 2016
Based on the story Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail by Borden Chase for the Saturday Evening Post, Red River is the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas where a rancher finds himself sparring with his independent-minded adopted son. Directed by Howard Hawks and screenplay by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, the film is a fictional account about the very first cattle drive along the Chisholm trail as it also explores the dynamic between two men on the cattle drive. Starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru, Coleen Gray, John Ireland, Harry Carey, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden, Noah Beery Jr., and Paul Fix. Red River is a mesmerizing and riveting film from Howard Hawks.
Set during the aftermath of the American Civil War where the country is going through an economic depression, the film revolves around a rancher who spent 14 years creating a ranch in Texas as he decides to take the cattle to Missouri and hope to make some money. Joining him is adopted son, his longtime trail hand, and several other men trekking more than a thousand miles yet things go wrong prompting some tension between father and son as the latter realizes that going to a small town in Kansas is the way to go as it also has a railroad. It’s a film that explores a cattle drive as well as two men finding themselves at odds over what to do as a series of small incidents would drive them further. Even as many of the men who signed up for the trail find themselves dealing with the journey and how rough it’s become as they begin to rebel.
The film’s screenplay by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee doesn’t just explore the dynamic between Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) but also the former’s stubborn demeanor trying to get the cattle to Missouri thinking he will be well-paid there. The script opens with a prologue of sorts as it relates to how Dunson found the land and met Garth when he was a kid. It displays the drive and ambition that Dunson has where he is eager to make a name for himself following a moment of tragedy in an earlier cattle drive. When he spends years building the ranch with Garth and longtime friend Groot (Walter Brennan), he would succeed but becomes broke due to the aftermath of the Civil War where he makes the decision to do the cattle drive. When they’re joined by several men including a gunslinger named Cherry Valance (John Ireland), the journey from Texas to Missouri would be an arduous one.
Garth doesn’t try to argue or go against Dunson but eventually realizes that Dunson’s ideals start to get the better of him as even Groot start to question what is going on. The film’s second half isn’t just about a breakdown between Dunson and Garth but also what the latter would try to do after some men left the drive in protest. Even as some of the men would make a discovery of what they would find that would lead them to Kansas much to Dunson’s protest. For Dunson, it’s a moment where he’s humiliated as he would retaliate in such a way as Garth would anticipate it leading to a very chilling climax.
Howard Hawks’ direction is truly intoxicating in terms of the presentation he creates where he does maintain a feel of the American West where it plays into a world that is changing but also with a sense of hope. Shot in various locations around Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, California, and parts of Mexico, the film does play into this growing expansion of the West where Hawks would use a lot of wide shots for the scenery as well as in some medium shots to capture the intimacy of the group. With the aid of co-director Arthur Rosson in shooting some of the cattle drive and action sequences in the film, Hawks maintains that sense of being in the journey while knowing how rough it is as it would include a stampede scene and later a sequence involving Indians trying to go after a group of travelers. There is an element of thrill in those sequences while Hawks would also find ways to create scenes of dialogue and drama that is really key to the film in the course of the story.
Many of the scenes during the stops in the journey are very intimate where Hawks uses some close-ups and medium shots to play into the growing tension between Dunson and Garth. Even in moments where Dunson would do some very serious things to those who caused harm or tried to leave the drive as it would be some of the darkest moments in the film. Once the film goes into the third act where Garth would take control of the drive and move it towards Kansas. The eventual showdown between Dunson and Garth isn’t a traditional showdown where guns are drawn as it is more about ownership and ideals. Overall, Hawks creates a rapturous yet intense film about a cattle drive that becomes a troubling journey for a rancher and his adopted son.
Cinematographer Russell Harlan does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the look of the daytime exterior scenes as well as the look of the scenes set at night as it would also include some additional work from Allan Thompson in some of the special effects for the action sequences. Editor Christian Nyby does excellent work with the editing as it includes some stylish rhythmic cuts for some of the action scenes along with some straightforward cuts for the drama as well in some of the chilling moments in the film. Art director John Datu Arensma does fantastic work with the look of some of the buildings in the film as well as the town for the film‘s climax.
The sound work of Richard Deweese is superb for the way the cattle sounds during a stampede as well as the little moments in the film as it plays into the intimacy and suspense. The film’s music by Dimitri Tiomkin is wonderful for its orchestral-based score that is filled with lush string arrangements and some bombastic percussions where it plays into some the action in the latter as it would include a song written by Tiomkin that is in the vein of country-western music.
The film’s marvelous cast include some notable small roles from Slim Pickens as a cowboy late in the film, Shelly Winters as a dancehall girl in the wagon, Mickey Kuhn as the young Garth, William Self as a wounded wrangler from another drive that Dunson and Garth meet, Ivan Parry as a sugar-addicted wrangler named Kenneally, and Chief Yowlachie as an Indian wrangler named Two Jaw Quo. Other noteworthy roles as wrangler’s in Dunson’s cattle drive include Wally Wales, Hank Worden, and Paul Fix as a trio of men who become frustrated with Dunson’s rules while Harry Carey Jr. is terrific as a young wrangler eager to make it and bring money home to his family. Noah Beery Jr. is superb as the wrangler Buster McGee who would help Garth in rebelling against Dunson while making a key discovery in their destination.
Coleen Gray is wonderful as Fen as the love of Dunson’s life early in the film who wanted to join him on the land he had just discovered. Harry Carey Sr. is excellent as Mr. Melville in a trading company leader who would give Garth the offer of a lifetime as his small but brief appearance late in the film is fun to watch. Joanne Dru is amazing as Tess Millay as a woman Garth meets in the third act as he saves her from an Indian attack where she is this fascinating woman that is intrigued by Garth but also fascinated by who Dunson is. John Ireland is brilliant as Cherry Valance as a gunslinger who joins Dunson and Garth as he befriends the latter over their skills as he is also someone that knows more about what is out there.
Walter Brennan is incredible as Groot as a old trail hand who has been Dunson’s longtime friend as he is also the film’s conscience of sorts where he observes a lot that is happening as he becomes frustrated with Dunson’s stubbornness. Montgomery Clift is phenomenal as Matthew Garth as Dunson’s loyal stepson who does whatever he can to help his stepfather in driving the cattle to Missouri as he begins to realize what needs to be done as it’s more of an act of taking control instead of disrespecting the man who raised him. Finally, there’s John Wayne in a tremendous performance as Thomas Dunson as this man who would build and create a cattle ranch from very little as he does whatever he can to get the cattle to Missouri as it’s Wayne being a man that is quite un-likeable at times but is filled with a lot of determination no matter how foolish it is as it’s one of Wayne’s great performances.
Red River is a magnificent film from Howard Hawks that features great performances from John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Featuring an amazing supporting cast, dazzling visuals, and a gripping story, the film isn’t just one of the finest westerns ever made but it’s also a unique study into the fallacy of ambition but also what some will do to salvage morale in an ever-changing world. In the end, Red River is an outstanding film from Howard Hawks.
Howard Hawks Films: (The Road to Glory) - (Fig Leaves) - (Cradle Snatchers) - (Paid to Love) - (A Girl in Every Port (1928 film)) - (Fazil) - (The Air Circus) - (Trent’s Last Case (1929 film)) - (The Dawn Patrol (1930)) - (The Criminal Code) - Scarface (1932 film) - (The Crowd Roars (1932 film)) - (Tiger Shark) - (Today We Live) - (The Prizefighter and the Lady) - (Viva Villa!) - (Twentieth Century) - (Barbary Coast) - (Ceiling Zero) - (The Road to Glory) - (Come and Get It) - Bringing Up Baby - (Only Angels Have Wings) - (His Girl Friday) - (Sergeant York) - (Ball of Fire) - (Air Force) - (To Have and Have Not) - (The Big Sleep (1946 film)) - (The Outlaw) - (A Song is Born) - (I Was a Male War Bride) - (The Big Sky) - (Monkey Business) - (O Henry’s Full House) - (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) - (Land of the Pharaohs) - Rio Bravo - (Hatari!) - (Man’s Favorite Sport?) - (Red Line 7000) - (El Dorado) - (Rio Lobo)
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