Wednesday, September 2, 2009

#86 Red River 1948

I’m usually not a huge fan of westerns. There are, of course the expectations – The Magnificent Seven, Silverado – but not of the time, a duel at high noon isn’t really my thing. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Red River. The think what I liked most about it, after watching Montgomery Clift for two hours, was the fact that it was much more than a Western.

The story is about a herd of cattle being driven from Texas to Missouri, led by Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt (Montgomery Clift). Desperate to sell his cattle and salvage his ranch, Dunson soon shows that he’ll do anything to get to Missouri, including being ridiculously harsh on his men. Eventually, after realizing that Dunson is out of line, Matt chooses to take over the drive and lead the men himself.

When I think of Westerns, I usually think of cowboys fighting Indians, saloons filled with women, and men shooting one another over nothing. Well, this movie had only two, though they were two very crucial scenes, cowboy vs Native American scene. There were no saloons, and in fact only two female characters in the whole film. The movie was really about the relationship between a father and son, desperation, and what it means to become an adult. The added depth in the story, combined with the entertaining, sometimes very insightful side characters made Red Rvier much greater than your standard Western.

The main characters were played by John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Neither performed especially well, but both were excellent in their parts. Of course, Wayne can play a Western in his sleep, and was great. And Montgomery Clift had a certain naiveté that worked well for the role. The best was probably Walter Brennan, who played the sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Groot, Dunson’s loyal sidekick. He was funny slightly whimsical, playing the intermediary between Dunson and Matt wonderfully.

Additionally, with sweeping shots of the old west, the cinematography was probably the best part of the film. Rarely do we see this kind of cinematography, especially in modern movies. It was also really cool to see thousands of cattle moving as one. Seeing as I have never seen more than five cows at once, this was a new and amazing sight for me.

All told, I would give this film 3.5 stars. Great cinematography by Russell Harlan. Great direction by Howard Hawks.

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