A review the 1948 classic western “Red River”

Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, this classic western – shot in black and white – is the story of a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail and includes a series of memorable scenes created with Hawks’ famous eye-level shooting including the river crossing, the stampede, and the Indian attack. More than 5,000 head of cattle were hired for a work which today would use special effects. 

It is a western version of the road movie with the central theme being the evolving relationship between the owner of the cattle, Tom Dunstan (John Wayne), and his adopted son, Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift). Dunstan is an increasingly driven and ruthless leader which eventually leads to a revolt with echoes of “Mutiny On The Bounty”. 

For two hours, this is a wonderful film but then the last five minutes spoils it with a magical character transformation that – unlike that of the other John Wayne western “The Searchers” – simply does not work. Borden Chase, who wrote the original story on which the film is based and the screenplay for the movie itself, wanted to use his own ending, a dark but convincing finale; however, Hawks was not prepared to Wayne die, leaving us with a flawed classic.


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