Monday, November 1, 2010

Short Review: Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

Red River is a 1948 Western from director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep). Fueled by John Wayne's stubborn portrayal of Thomas Dunson, Red River is widely considered to be one of the finest achievements of the Western genre, and it's a remarkable accomplishment and an unforgettable experience that brilliantly captures the grandeur and hardship of the wild American West. Red River tells the fictional tale of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail and it's an adaptation by Borden Chase (in collaboration with Charles Schnee) from his own story, 'The Chisholm Trail'. Drama ensues throughout the lengthy drive to Missouri. There is mutiny within the brigade and disagreements between the tyrannical initiator, Texan rancher Dunson (John Wayne, in an excellent performance) and his ranch partner and adopted son, Matthew Garth (played by Montgomery Clift), over the management of the mission.
Working with his long-time trail-hand Groot (Walter Brennan), and having declared ownership of a stretch of Texan land equipped with only a couple of head of cattle, Dunson had transformed his ranch into a thriving success during the proceeding fourteen years. When his adopted adult son returns from war, he finds Dunson to be broke as a result of the American Civil War. With his herd now numbering at tens of thousand, and with the price of cattle not to his liking in Texas, he decides to drive his herd north to Missouri where he believes he will gather a much better price. He hires a team of men to help with the drive and they all set out. Along the way they experience many problems, including the hazardous climate, a stampede that results in the death of the one of the men and the loss of many of the herd, and a full-scale mutiny at Dunson's tyrannical methods and unsound decision-making. When he threatens to lynch two of the men for their desertion, Matt steps in and defends the men, deciding to lead the drive himself through the railroad at Abilene, a method long opposed by Dunson. With Dunson left behind and alone, he seeks out company and ammunition and begins a chase to kill Matt.

Red River features stunning cinematography and many epic adventure sequences; notably the exciting stampede that occurs early in the drive, the beautifully captured crossing of the Red River, the skirmish against the looting Indians and Dunson and Garth's final scuffle. The score is grand and uplifting, which is a fitting accompaniment to the maiden scouring of the great Western frontier and the eventual accomplishment of the drive. But this often seems out of place at times as the story, in the middle, takes a dark turn into a tale of obsessive tyranny, rivalry and lunacy. John Wayne's tortured, conflicted character draws from him an excellent performance, and Montgomery Clift and Walter Brennan are also great. Despite a tragic let-down in the film's final moments and a swift resolution, I found Red River to be a very enjoyable film, and an absolute must see, even for non-fans of the Western genre.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

No comments:

Post a Comment