Got to watch three John Wayne westerns recently. Here’s my review of the epic cattle drive of Red River (1948)
What’s going down in Western town?
Red River is about a man’s journey to become one of the first big cattle traders of America. Setting up a huge cattle drive that would become known as the Chisholm Trail. He and his handpicked bunch of cowboys planned to push thousands of cattle from Texas to Kansas. Tempers, testosterone, pride and of course Indian’s will get in the way as they push on by the Red River of the south.
Who’s our righteous hero gunslinger?
Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) is a tough and determined, some say stubborn man. Having already faced grief within the first few minutes of the film, we learn Thomas is also a hardened man. He has a vision. To start a ranch in Texas, slowly building up cattle with his business branding mark. RRD, Red River Dunson. It would start with two men and a boy. Soon become three men. As the ranch rapidly grew, more cow hands were hired. Soon he would need to travel his cattle across the treacherous long journey through Indian country to sell his cattle. His troubles though, might be nearer to home than he would imagine.
Does he have a trusty side kick?
The lone orphaned survivor of an Indian attack is found and looked after by Thomas. He adopts the young Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn) as a son. Fourteen years pass. Matt (Montgomery Clift) is now a grown, sharp shooting and thoughtful second-in-command of Thomas’s ranch. Now a man with something to prove. However he’s always in the shadow of the bosses tyrannical leadership. He respects Thomas……. until he goes too far.
Cowgirl love interest?
Their cow tending and wandering herding journey comes across a wagon train of gamblers and dance hall girls. One of those girls is the tough talking no nonsense Tess Millay (Joanne Dru). Yep she gorgeous and she can stand up to these sweaty, bean eating cowboys no problem. She’s one tough cookie and she’s got her eye on our Matt.
A collection of low down and dirty bad boy cowboys?
Not really low down bad boys though they are more than likely… dirty! Not like anyone taking a bath anytime. Quick bit of beef dripping rubbed over the body takes away some of the evil smells, so they say. There’s a lot of tough cowboys with differing conflicting ideas along for the journey. More concerned with not having arrows sticking out of their bodies or losing their hair in an ambush.
Sheriff in town?
No sheriff in town this time. The law goes to JW’s Thomas Dunson and his tyrant ways. He knows best and doesn’t take to criticism or advice practically well. He’s the boss, the law and sheriff all rolled into one for this horde of cow hands.
They find themselves smack bang in the middle of hostile Comanche Indian country. It will be only a matter of time that raids and attacks will come for these trespassing folk as they impede across their lands. The Comanche’s are ruthless. Resulting in much innocent slaughter as wagon trains try and make their way across the country. John Wayne’s Thomas gets to have a knife fight with one warrior who’s wearing something he only knows to well. It’s a pretty brutal scene that shows the harshness of the time.
A rootin and tootin old fella?
“I am Groot!” This rootin and tootin old fella isn’t a tree man but the toothless and loyal trail hand, Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan). Thomas Dunson’s right hand man, cook and old friend. He’s here to lighten the mood when the testosterone levels start reaching boiling point. He banters and jokes his way along the trail and will be ready with gun in hand if tempers get too heated. He guards the food supplies and most importantly the precious sugar from wet fingers! He loves to argue with his friend and cook, the Native American Two Jaw Quo (Chief Yowlachie). The twosome have some brilliant interactions together.
One of best scenes.
By far! Ok it’s a slight spoiler. Not a spoiler on the plot at all, just that it might take away the wtf that was crazy aspect. So move on to the next bit if you don’t wanna know the best scene……… Hottie and all round bad ass Tess Millay (Joanne Dru) is fighting off an Indian attack from all angles whilst shooting and talking to Matt Garth. Then in a blink of an eye she is pinned to wagon wheel with an arrow. She doesn’t even flinch. She sits there all calm and collective as the battle ensues. It’s a brilliant little scene that makes you let out a gasp for her.
The quick-draw question shootout round.
- Shoot-out ratio.
Plenty of gun battles and pistol fisticuffs.
- Someone has to have the fastest hands?
Matt Garth has the fastest hands on the gun, well until a rival, going by the fancy name of Cherry Valance (John Ireland), joins the cattle trail. Both equal in speed and accuracy. They give each the lazy eye throughout the film!
- Saloon fight.
No saloon fights but don’t put your guard down around the camp fire! You never know what or who’s gonna kick off!
- Hang on a minute is that so-in-so?
There’s loads. I’ll pick three which becomes four!. Just in a cameo role we get the beautiful Coleen Gray who you might know from two tough noirs, The Killing (1956) and Kiss of Death (1947). Then in another blink and you’d miss her part, as a dance hall girl, is the wonderful Shelley Winters. Two reviews I’ve done with her in the cast are Winchester 73 (1950) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). The last of the three I picked became four without me realising it. I was going for Harry Carey Jr who’s well known for many a western but then I noticed his Dad Harry Carey in the line up too. Man that dude’s filmography looks like he began right at the birth of film!
Not shown but shit went down with a California bound wagon train carrying Thomas’s love Fen (Coleen Gray).
- The best little whorehouse in the west?
How dare you ask such a thing!! This is a John Wayne film you saucy hedonist!
- Bank robbery?
No bank robbing here but sweet toothed calamity bandit has his eyes and finger on the sugary prize.
- Spittoon, cactus, tumbleweed or beans!
No spittoon, possibly a tumbleweed or two but we do get a bunch of cactus and a heap of beans. Sing it – “Beans, beans good for your heart the more you eat the more you fart!” Thomas looking rather miffed “I say, what did you just say pilgrim? Don’t let me reach for my belt there boy!“.
How’s the look of the land?
Looking on the filming locations it’s apparent that Red River was filmed right across the whole of Arizona. So many places are listed. Arizona amazing vast landscapes and open spaces make this lavish western feel so real. And to make that cattle trail real they sure did make sure it was filled with cows!! Thousands of cows! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cows! The stampede scene is frantic and most of been terrifying to have filmed. It’s a wonder to see.
Red River is a Howard Hawks production and one of five John Wayne and Hawks collaborations. Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1967), Hatari! (1962) and Rio Lobo (1970) being the others.
Borden Chase is back again after my last western review being Winchester 73 (1950). He and Charles Schnee did the screenplay from his own original story he’d wrote in 1946 for the The Saturday Evening Post with the more dramatic title of “Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail“
Did I learn a factoid?
Here’s a great little factoid I’d learnt that I didn’t know anything about. To mark their work on the film Howard Hawks had a bunch of solid silver Red River D belt buckles made. Each personalized with initials in the corner. In a fine show of affection and mutual respect John Wayne was given HWH (Howard Winchester Hawks) and Hawks would have JW for his. Amazingly John Wayne would go to wear the buckle in other western movies. Sons Of Katie Elder (1965) McLintock (1963), Circus World (1964) and Rio Bravo (1959) to name a few. There’s a great article to read here at Red River Buckle.
On a sad note after John Wayne’s death his son wished to have the buckle duplicated to give as gifts for all his Dad’s children. Whilst at the silversmith’s it disappeared…… never to be seen again!
This has to be one of the most cowboy film ever made? I was staying in a hotel for the evening on my own after dropping my daughter at University. A four pack of beers and a selection of snacks which included beef jerky made me feel like one of the boys. I just needed some chewing tobacco but I’m sure the hotel wouldn’t of been best pleased with me using the bin as a spittoon!. I really enjoyed adding this western to my review list. There’s lots of great scenes but the dynamics between Wayne and Clift are excellent to watch. The stampede is an almighty and incredibly filmed scene. Plus watching John Wayne go through varying moody emotions was fun to see. Big thanks to Todd over at Cinema Monolith for the little nudge on this film.
Feel free to let me know what you thought of this one?
Hope you had/having a great weekend. Thanks as always for popping in for a read. Sorry the amount of reviews have died off. I love doing it but I find if difficult with time management at the moment and I want to enjoy doing it.
Keep those eyes TV shaped whilst watching great movies.