Monday, April 24, 2023

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift clash in Howard Hawks's "Red River"

Red River (1948) is an American western film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, and Joanne Dru. The movie is based on The Chisholm Trail, first published in The Saturday Evening Post by Borden Chase. Chase co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Schnee. The cinematography was by Russell Harlan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and the music was by Dimitri Tiomkin (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

Thomas Dunson (Wayne) wants to start his own cattle drive and establish a ranch in Texas. As he begins his journey, he learns that his girlfriend Fern (Colleen Gray) has been killed in an Indian attack. Dunson convinced Fern to remain with the wagon train to California instead of traveling with him which was her desire.

Dunson and Nadine Groot (Brennan) successfully fend off an Indian attack. Dunson finds his late mother’s bracelet on the writs of one of the Indians. The one he gave to Fern. The next day, they come across a boy named Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn) the only survivor of the wagon train, the same wagon that Fern was traveling with. Dunson adopts Matthew and the two work on the cattle drive together.

Time marches on and an older Matthew (Clift) and Dunson don’t always agree with each other and clash over their affection for Tess Millay (Dru).

Will the two men be able to come to terms with their differences and continue to work together raising cattle?

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the great directors from the classic Hollywood era. Hawks excelled in directing films in all genres. His films were famous for featuring strong women characters. These tough-talking “Hawksian women” helped to define the director’s work. Some of Hawks’ popular films include Scarface (1932) Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Sergeant York (1941) under Hawks’ direction.

John Wayne (1907 - 1979) was an American actor and filmmaker. Nicknamed Duke, Wayne was a pop culture icon and one of the most popular movie stars of all time. During the end of the silent era, Wayne worked on movie sets and played bit parts in movies. He got the chance to play the lead in director Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail (1930). The Western was an early widescreen epic and a box office disaster, which relegated Wayne to roles in a string of B Westerns. It wasn’t until his role as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach that he became a star of A films who was now paired with some of the top actresses of the day. Wayne played a variety of roles in the movies but he is most identified with the Western genre and the movies he made with director John Ford. Some of Wayne’s popular films include Red River (1948), The Quiet Man (1952), Rio Bravo (1959), The Searchers (1956), and The Longest Day (1962). Wayne won his one and only Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Tue Grit (1969).

Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966) was an American actor. He was a four-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actor. Like Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift was considered one of the original method actors. Clift got his start on the stage as a young man and starred opposite the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Frederic March, and Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Clift’s first movie role was in Howard Hawks’s Red River (1949) starring opposite John Wayne. He went on to co-star with Olivia de Havilland in William Wyler’s The Heiress (1949). He reached superstar status in the role of George Eastman in the George Stevens production of A Place in the Sun (1951) staring opposite Elizabeth Taylor. Clift would later star in Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953), and Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953). Other films followed including Raintree County (1956), The Young Lions (1958), Lonelyhearts (1958), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), and Wild River (1960).

Walter Brennan (1894 – 1974) was an American character actor and three-time Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor. Brennan is the only actor male or female to win three awards in the supporting actor category. He got his start as an extra in silent films and eventually made the transition to talking pictures. By the late-1930s, Brennan was one of Hollywood's most sought-after and highest-paid character actors. Some of Brennan’s movies include Three Godfathers (1936), Kentucky (1938), The Westerner (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), and How the West Was Won (1962).

Joanne Dru (1922 – 1996) was an American film and television actress. She was a popular leading actress in the late-1940s and early 1950s in films like Red River (1949), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), All the King’s Men, and Wagon Master (1950). Other films include The Pride of St. Louis (1952) and Thunder Bay (1953) opposite James Stewart.

Red River trivia

  • This was Montgomery Clift’s first film role although The Search (1948) was released first. Red River’s release was held up for two years.
  • Upon seeing John Wayne’s performance in this film, director John Ford supposedly said, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” Ford went on to cast Wayne in more complex roles in films like The Searchers (1956).
  • Red River was Howard Hawks’s first western film.

Burt Lancaster was offered the Clift role but had to turn it down because he was committed to star in The Killers (1946).

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on May 1, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an email with a link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions

  1. This is considered one of the best western ever made. Would you agree? Did you enjoy this western?
  2. What did you think of the performance of John Wayne? Did you think his performance was better than his performance in Stagecoach (1939)?
  3. Did you think that Wayne and Clift worked well together? 
  4. Was there an overall theme to this film? If so, what was it?
  5. What did you think of Joanne Dru’s character? Was she the typical Hawksian heroine?

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to a rewatch of this one! I never knew that it was Montgomery Clift's first role -- what a talent he was. And so beautiful!


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