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A Movie A Day: Quint on RED RIVER (1948)
One time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there. I'm gonna kill you, Matt.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] I didn’t grow up in a John Wayne household. A lot of people did, but the movies my stepdad loved were more in the Clint Eastwood and Connery James Bond style. It’s not much of an excuse for my woeful undereducation when it comes to Wayne’s movies, but it’s the truth. So it is that we jump from yesterday’s light and fluffy okay flick DAKOTA to today’s classic RED RIVER via John Wayne. Legendary Howard Hawks directs this epic and unique tale about a good man turned bad while his life’s work is on the line during a cattle drive, steering damn near 10,000 head from his Texas home to Missouri.

John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson is one for the record books, a genuinely complex characterization effortlessly pulled off by The Duke. We first meet him when he’s a younger man. He decides to branch off from a wagon train. He’s his own man, afterall, and has a definite idea of where he wants to go. He insists his wife stay with the wagon train which is safer for her (they are in injun country afterall) than going out into the open country with Wayne. He gives her his bracelet and says he’ll send for her. He’s not gone a few movie minutes before he sees fire miles away, where the wagon party would be. Shortly after he fends off a group of attacking Indians, having an awesome knife fight with one in particular who is wearing that bracelet. Wayne ends up taking in the single survivor from the wagon train, a young boy and crosses the Red River into Texas where he pretty much says, “Okay, all this land is now mine.” A couple of nice Mexican men ride up telling them that the land is already owned by a Don, a gift from the king of Spain and Wayne just tells them nope… sorry, it’s mine now and if you don’t like it I’ll just shoot you in the chest. This was my first inkling that Thomas Dunson wasn’t all that there in the head, or if he was he had a mean vicious bastard streak. I mean, his argument is that the land was stolen from the Indians, so he’s now just stealing it from the new owner and he can’t be talked about of that logic. It seems to work, though. We jump ahead almost 15 years and the boy is now grown into Montgomery Clift while Dunson’s humble cattle empire is the biggest in the state. Unfortunately the Civil War killed the cattle market in Texas and he thousands of animals just grazing away and a mountain of debt piling up.

The decision is made to make the big drive to Missouri and he doesn’t seem to give one rat fuck if the cattle he takes up are his or not, going so far as rebranding other people’s cattle and throwing them in his group. It’s rough going and Wayne gradually begins to go crazier and crazier, stricter by the minute and it gets to a boiling point about halfway through the movie, after a stampede that results in a couple of deaths, where he’s over the edge and has to be forced out of the cattle drive by his own adopted son (Clift) no less. He makes a vow here that chilled me. He looks his kid dead in the eyes and tells him that he will be coming after him and when he does, he will kill him. Wayne is absent for a good amount of the second half of the flick, a felt presence more than seen, which gives the film an almost horror movie vibe. An animal is hunting these cowboys, but it’s not a werewolf or panther or Lovecraftian creature, but a crossed John Wayne, which in a lot of ways is even scarier.

In fact, all the while watching this film I was thinking how a perfect double feature recommendation would be this and THE COWBOYS… but that started to change when this creepy vibe came into play. A troubled father hunting his son... If it had ended differently, my double feature suggestion was going to be this and THE SHINING. That’s not to say that I have any objections to the ending of the movie. It’s actually a really powerful ending, with Wayne indeed being the animalistic attack dog you think he’s going to be. It’s just the very last bit, the resolution between father and son that happens a little too fast, but it still works because I was invested in both characters. Clift really earns his place in movie history with his confident and likable introductory performance. It’s actually a very layered performance and he sells the transition the character has from loyal son to questioning his father to standing up to him, regardless of the consequences. It’s a great performance and I’m really happy we’re hitting a few Clift flicks in a row, including another of this era, shot just before RED RIVER, called THE SEARCH. Wayne’s performance is likewise fascinating. He takes his image and completely turns it on its head. He’s a very dark lead character, one tha could be interpreted many different ways. It’s a very nuanced performance and a smart dissection of his persona. If anyone argues that Wayne can’t act, I’d want to make sure they’ve seen this movie. It’s not showy work, but very subtle and very brave on Wayne’s part.

Joanne Dru plays Tess, a love interest for Clift and I really dug her in this film. She comes in rather late, as Clift and the guys save another wagon train from attacking Indians and she’s in there fighting with the best of them. She’s definitely a kind of protoype Marion Ravenwood. She doesn’t take shit from the men she’s attracted to and can throw a punch or shoot a gun without blinking. She has a rather touching scene after being left by Clift (just like Wayne did to his wife at the beginning) as Wayne and his posse come to the wagon train while on the hunt for the cattle and those he views as thieves, including his own son. Wayne sits with Dru and they talk about Clift and the love they have. It’s a really touching moment and you can see Dru getting her fingers under Wayne’s tough skin, exposing his humanity a little bit despite his every effort to fight her off. Walter Brennan again gets an MVP award for being the grouchy cook who lost a half-stake in his fake teeth with his Indian helper and spends the movie having to recover his teeth from him every time he has to eat. Brennan keeps this movie entertaining and has enough charm and charisma to do it all by himself if he’s called to do so, but thankfully everybody’s top tier here, so he doesn’t have to carry the whole thing.

Howard Hawks’ direction is top tier as well, as should be expected. His work with the actors is what shines here. The camerawork isn’t bad, but it isn’t breathtaking. The real pleasure of this movie is the smart script by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee and precise direction by Hawks. Final Thoughts: A classic that deserves its title, something new, something different and something fresh even today. I’d go so far as to say this is the John Wayne movie for people who don’t like John Wayne movies. If you can’t find something to enjoy in his performance here, then you’re just a lost cause and should just consider you and John Wayne aren’t ever going to mix well together.

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Sunday, September 21st: INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE/TERMINAL STATION (1954) Monday, September 22nd: THE SEARCH (1948) Tuesday, September 23rd: ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Wednesday, September 24th: HOUDINI (1953) Thursday, September 25th: MONEY FROM HOME (1953) Friday, September 26th: PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION (1963) Saturday, September 27th: DILLINGER (1945) Got a nice little Clift run coming up. And I have to state now that there’s a good chance I’ve seen 1945’s DILLINGER, coming next Saturday, but I’m not positive, so I’ve included it in this column. We’ll see when I revisit it. See you tomorrow for more Clift, this time under the direction of Vittorio De Sica! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 21, 2008, 1:35 a.m. CST

    One of Wayne's best

    by liljuniorbrown

    I perfer The Coyboys, but then again that was the first real western I watched as a kid.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 2:45 a.m. CST

    by Clio

    My favorite John Wayne movie is The Searchers, where you also see some of the dark side exhibited here in Red River. Red River would be my second favorite, Stagecoach close behind, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon coming next. I once read something to the effect (correct me if you know the exact quote) that Stagecoach made the Duke a leading man, but Red River made him a star. The Duke's westerns from about 1939 to around 1954 are his best--I come back to them over and over. Oh, and Noah Berry, Jr. is also in Red River. He was Rockford's Dad in the Rockford Files, but I remember him from the late fifties Sat. morning show: Circus Boy. You go, Quint!!

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 3:19 a.m. CST

    Love Red River

    by Continentalop

    Luckily I grew up in a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood/Sean Connery household (plus my dad loved Burt Lancaster, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum and Gene Hackman) I have been fortunate enough to see all the great Wayne westerns already. I agree with Clio that this and the Searcher's are Wayne's best performances. I am reminded of the story of John Ford, who directed Wayne already in several films already such as "Stage Coach" and "The Long Voyage Home", when he saw John Wayne in this film: "I didn't know the son of a bitch could act".

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 3:56 a.m. CST


    by Dr Eric Vornoff

    Not much more to say. Hawks would be my choice for greatest American director ever. If there's ANY of his movies you've yet to see then make sure they're on your list. My favourites: Rio Bravo (which I know you've already done), The Big Sleep, Bringing Up Baby and Only Angels Have Wings. It don't get any better than those

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 4:38 a.m. CST

    Let's just declare now...

    by depalma25

    ...John Wayne's three best film, in no particular order are... Red River, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and The Searchers.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 7:42 a.m. CST

    Also see Wayne in "The Searchers"

    by catinhat114

    ...for another classic anti-hero role. If gave me new-found respect for an actor I thought only played the "good guy in white."

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 8:20 a.m. CST

    You can see a real

    by papabendi

    deconstruction of the westerner through Wayne's films from The Searchers through to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Red River has atmosphere to burn.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 11:50 a.m. CST

    Double feature with Mutiny on the Bounty

    by Tycho Anomaly

    Also gets a nice shout out in The Last Picture Show, which shows the "Take 'em to Missouri" scene.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 12:30 p.m. CST

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

    by Die_Hardest

    Unbelievable to see John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Lee Marvin in the same movie. Just fantastic. Other good Wayne movies, The Searchers, Stage Coach, Rio Bravo, etc etc. I'm also partial to True Grit.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 1:33 p.m. CST

    Wayne was a great actor

    by Lukecash

    The problem is that his "Good guy roles" were shown more on TV than his more subtle Anti-Hero roles or downright villain roles. A lot of us "youngsters" don't realize that during the Golden Age of hollywood, there were many films that looked to the dark side, had dark plots. Actors that took the risky roles such as Wayne. Television only plays "the best of" movies...which were normally lighter and more family friendly fare.<P> Wayne was one of my dad's favorite movie stars. He loved Waynes westerns, but he ADORED Waynes War movies. There is an excellent John Wayne and John Ford collection of movies out there.They had a stormy relationship-They put out some EXCELLENT movies together. Most particularly For Apache. There he cast the liberal Henry Fonda as the conservative hard ass commander, and John Wayne as a the liberal rebellious soldier.<p> John Ford thought Wayne was a coward for not joining the military in WWII. Ford himself was a spy for the Navy. Ford was also an FDR man who chided Wayne for his conservatism.<p>

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 1:47 p.m. CST


    by Mr Gorilla

    Sorry to disagree but I just saw this again a week ago. The camerawork IS breathtaking. Me and my missus kept on remarking on it.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 1:47 p.m. CST

    Red River is an awesome movie

    by Gungan Slayer

    Certainly one of Wayne's best performances, and in many ways his character has many similarities with the one in "The Searchers," which to me is Wayne's best film.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 3:59 p.m. CST

    You know...

    by Knuckleduster

    ... I simply refuse to believe that there is no longer a market for this kind of movie. These days we are so flooded with effects-driven blockbusters (some great, some shite) that it almost seems as if this kind of film/story can't find an audience anymore. It's a sad thought. Luckily, every now and then, something great like There Will Be Blood shows up and restores my faith. Still, I miss having "epic" films that consist of more than just a sea of CG soldiers.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 4:11 p.m. CST

    Monty was great

    by DrX

    Thanks for the review. One of my favourites. I'll be interested to see how you get on with Stazione Termini. I'm not a great fan. Still worth seeing for the old station and Monty in full heart throb mode. A better film is The Search which is fantastic - a tear jerker. Great watching Clift, all bright eyed and bushy tailed before the guilt and drugs took him, creating something new and fresh before Brando. I would recommend The Heiress, I Confess (just for the confessional scene), A Place in the Sun (just to gawp at Monty and Elizabeth Taylor and From Here to Eternity (Playing Taps).

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 6:11 p.m. CST


    by Continentalop

    Funny how you mentioned your dad enjoyed the Duke's war movies, my father hated them. He was a vet (which I imagine your dad was as well), having served in Korea with the 1st cav. He loved Wayne on a horse, but could never buy him as a soldier (most likely because he could never stay low or crawl in the dirt like a real grunt). I do agree with you about how much darker the Golden Age of film is than people realize. I mean, look at Ace in the Hole, The Naked Spur, The Fury, The Ox-Bow Incident, or the upcoming Act of Violence.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 6:50 p.m. CST

    Hell Yeah

    by Liberty Valance

    Masterful fuckin movie. What more needs to be said?

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 7:56 p.m. CST

    I too felt the ending was soft.

    by jim

    For me it somewhat negated the great film that came before it. It made it seem as if the rift between Wayne & Clift wasn't as serious as I had thought. But other than that, a great film.

  • Sept. 21, 2008, 9:29 p.m. CST

    Red River's 2 flaws

    by Strelnikov!

    This is my favorite John Wayne western, and that's coming from a guy who worships the near perfect masterpiece that is The Searchers. (I say John Wayne western because I have a big soft spot for The Quiet Man.) That said, the movie has two big flaws. 1) The ending is fluff. Yeah I know in the '40s a movie can't end with your lead killing his son (or vice versa), but by the time Tom Dunson catches Matt Garth I'm expecting the apocalypse. 2) Joanne Dru. This chick played it like she was in a noir detective movie rather than a western. In the middle of an indian attack she gets shot in the shoulder with an arrow and stays so cool that she keeps casually flirting?!? But like I said, all in all an amazing flick. Isn't it cool when gunman Cherry Valance brings in those two theiving cow pokes and Dunson, sitting there like some kind of insane unholy king (because the "amount of sleep he's had in the last four days wouldn't fill a mouse's ear"), looks up at 'em and says "I'm gunna hang ya." Awesome.

  • Sept. 23, 2008, 7:09 a.m. CST

    John Wayne Ducked Out Of Military Service In World War II

    by Red Dawn Don

    John Wayne Ducked Out Of Military Service In World War II. He claimed the family man exemption. Jimmy Stewart and many others had families but they served and fought. World War II was an absolute righteous cause. That being said, I still like Wayne movies, although Green Berets is a bit too patriotic by a non-server actor. IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THANK A TEACHER. IF YOU CAN READ THIS IN ENGLISH, THANK A MILITARY VETERAN.