Red River follows John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson as he herds cattle on the notorious Chisholm Trail, along the Rio Grande. He is aided by adopted son Matthew (Montgomery Clift), who he met following the death of his betrothed fourteen years before. The film sees their relationship deteriorate as Wayne’s character becomes obsessed with his task of herding his cattle across the country, ignoring the advice and feelings of those around him.
The great Howard Hawks is a masterful director who has tackled many genres, putting his unique stamp on them. Red River deals with the relationship between John Wayne and Montgomery Clift as they are torn apart by the blind obsession of Wayne’s character. Throughout the film, Clift is attempting to emerge from Wayne’s shadow, trying to strike out as his own man. The plot is complicated by John Ireland’s gunfighter – the infamous scene where they compare their ‘pistols’ is all about the ‘hombre action’.
Hawks’ westerns are always about men. They deal with the complex relationship between them and how they exist in a world of difficulties. Red River is no different; it’s a sprawling epic tale starring and Montgomery Clift that touches this core Hawksian theme.
This 1948 film (although shot in 1946) is epic in scope. The black and white photography soaks in the American landscape, helping define the western as an important part of the county’s culture. Wayne’s role as Dunson is a difficult one, he’s not a likeable character but he adds a movie star quality to the performance. Clift brings his mean and moody style to the role of Matthew, the son who sees that the man that he loves is running the risk of losing his reputation.
Released in 1948, Red River grossed $9 million at the US box office – a great number for its time.