Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

Laaaaammmmeeee ending, but everything else was awesome.  Sexual tension (girl taking the arrow to her shoulder and shrugging it off, then Monty Cliff nonchalantly sucking the poison out = badass, from both parties), homoerotic tension (rivalry between young gunslingers Monty Clift and John Ireland in an ‘i’ll show you my gun, you show me yours’ scene where phallic implications abound, but sadly that rivalry never really comes to fruition) and that turns out to have reflected real life, John Wayne’s best performance that out-nuances his job in The Searchers any day…starts off as typical John Wayne brave western do-gooder, subtly changes over the journey until he’s a bitter, gray haired, crazed monster…very nice and unexpected turnaround from ambitious hero to obsessed villain (hell, after he’s banished by his fellow herders, they dare not even speak his name lest he sneak up on them and blow them away).  And even old Walter Brennan does a nice job in comic relief as the old codger and longtime confidant of Wayne’s who’s constantly bickering with his Indian lackey.  He’s a silly character, but his difficulty in having to decide whether or not to continue standing by his old friend who’s descended into madness and putting his men in peril was still touching.  Overall, other westerns will say they’re epic, but this one actually felt epic, and not just because the journey that all the herders go on is vast in distance and impossibly difficult in terms of keeping 9,000 heads of cattle under control (as seen in the showstopping stampede scene, that’s begun with a scene of great and agonizingly quiet suspense and descends into all-out chaos).  It’s epic because of the Shakespearean – hell, the Biblical – relationship between John Wayne as the stubborn man who built his cattle empire from the ground up and Montgomery Clift as the kid he raises as his heir, and son, and how that deep relationship is tested when father goes mad and the son must betray him to protect the legacy that the mad father thinks is being stolen from him.  They love each other, even as Wayne vows to kill the kid, but the best thing about what transpires is that that doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t kill the kid, so you still worry that something terrible’s gonna happen, and the relationship is all the more dynamic.  Great tale of obsession and pride and tension, climaxing with one of the best lead-ups to an inevitable Western showdown I’ve seen, that’s unfortunately marred by a horrendous resolution.  Otherwise, that’s all I gotta say…umm, great cinematography?  It’s no Ford in terms of looks, but still some great wide shots and intimate, gritty closeups…you really feel like those bulls’ll trample ya.  This is going straight to my list of 100 favorite films, which was the last thing I expected to do going in.  Epic, and unexpectedly great  


4 comments so far

  1. PM on

    I think the ending gets a bad rep. It may not suit the film too well, but it has its own kind of wisdom in it. Like a well-placed slap to the face—to keep the film from getting too serious.


  2. Simon M. on

    I do think it’s probably the right call in the end for Wayne and Clift’s love for each other to win out, but for the love of god, it could’ve been done better than the way it was, with what’s-her-name nagging them Marge Simpson style and then Wayne going from an enraged, instinct-driven animal into a teddy bear at the snap of a finger…

  3. PM on


    True, true… although that wag of the finger makes for a nice metaphor about how much studio heads and [sometimes] directors have ultimate say over their films—much more say than the logic of the film itself!

  4. Charles Radeesh on

    “You’ve earned it.” A magnificent last line and a great, great ending. If you don’t feel it, watch the whole movie again. The ending rocks.

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