Red River


Red River

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 28


Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,504
User image

Red River Photos

Movie Info

Director Howard Hawks' second western was also his first collaboration with John Wayne. Officially based on Borden Chase's novel The Chisholm Trail, the film also owes a great deal to Mutiny on the Bounty, both structurally and in the adversarial relationship between the two leading characters. Wayne stars as headstrong frontiersman Tom Dunson, who is taking his leave of a westbound wagon train to seek his fortune in Texas. This impulsive act loses him the love of his fiancée Fen (Colleen Gray) but gains him a lifelong friend in the person of (occasionally) toothless old camp cook Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan). Not long afterward, Dunson discovers that Fen was killed in an Indian raid, a fact that leaves him an emotionless cipher. The only survivor of the tragedy is a young orphan named Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn), whom Dunson unofficially adopts as his son. As the years pass, the tactiturn Dunson becomes the most powerful and feared cattle baron in the territory, but the grown-up Garth (now played by Montgomery Clift, in his first film appearance) eventually rebels against Dunson's stubbornness and autocratic behavior, striking out on his own as his surrogate father growls: "Some day you'll turn around and I'll be there; I'm gonna kill ya, Matt." As time passes, Garth, leading his own cattle drive, becomes Dunson's most formidable rival. The huge cast includes John Ireland in perhaps his best role as the enigmatic gunman Cherry Valance; both Harry Carey, Sr. and Harry Carey, Jr.; and an uncredited Shelley Winters as a dance hall girl. Except for the sappy scenes with love interest Joanne Dru, everything works in Red River, from the stirring Dmitri Tiomkin score to Russell Harlan's brooding black-and-white cinematography. In his quest for perfection, Hawks went $1 million overbudget and several months over schedule, but the end result was a $4 million hit. Essential viewing for western buffs in particular and film buffs in general, Red River currently exists in two release versions: the preferable 133-minute directors' cut, and a 125-minute studio cut, narrated by Walter Brennan.

Watch it now


John Wayne
as Tom Dunson
Montgomery Clift
as Matthew Garth
Joanne Dru
as Tess Millay
John Ireland
as Cherry Valance
Harry Carey
as Mr. Millville
Harry Carey Jr.
as Dan Latimer
Paul Fix
as Teeler Yacy
Mickey Kuhn
as Matt as a Boy
Ivan Parry
as Bunk Kenneally
Noah Beery Jr.
as Buster McGee
Ray Hyke
as Walt Jergens
Dan White
as Laredo
Paul Fierro
as Fernandez
Bill Self
as Wounded Wrangler
William Self
as Wounded Wrangler
Hal Taliaferro
as Old Leather
Tom Tyler
as A Quitter
Shelley Winters
as Dance-Hall Girl
Lee Phelps
as Gambler
George Lloyd
as Gambler
View All

News & Interviews for Red River

Critic Reviews for Red River

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (28)

  • Red River contains everything a western should have and throws in a few things more.

    Jun 19, 2019 | Full Review…
  • It is a rattling good outdoor adventure movie.

    Feb 27, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The staging of physical conflict is deadly, equalling anything yet seen on the screen.

    May 13, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Immaculately shot by Russell Harlan, perfectly performed by a host of Hawks regulars, and shot through with dark comedy, it's probably the finest Western of the '40s.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Even despite a big let-down, which fortunately comes near the end, it stands sixteen hands above the level of routine horse opera these days. So strap on your trusty six-shooters and race to the wind-swept Capitol, you lovers of good old Western fiction.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…
  • It's a sign of the movie's complexity that John Wayne, often typecast, is given a tortured, conflicted character to play.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Red River

  • Aug 06, 2015
    Great story, great cast, great acting, great score. Basically characteristics of any film with the Duke. If you're a John Wayne fan you'll love it.
    Ian I Super Reviewer
  • Jun 05, 2015
    There's not much of a story here: cowboys drive a herd of cattle from the Rio Grande to Abilene, so the characters and their motivations become nearly the whole magilla, the reason to watch this. Now while the whole cast does pretty okay with the material (particularly Walter Brennan as the sidekick) its Wayne that carries this motion picture as a man gone bad because one stupid moment of pride costs the woman he loves her life. The rest of the picture is how everyone he knows tries to deal with him seen through that tragedy. Years later George Lucas will try to assign his chief claim to fame (Darth Vader) a similar rationale for evil but, believe you me, its done a 100 times better here. And good guy Wayne's take on twisted is only a warm-up for what comes later in John Ford's The Searchers.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jun 22, 2014
    "Red river, red river, send John Wayne right hither". Hey, it's a little less cheesy than making a clichéd reference to "Moon River", although maybe I should have gone that route in order to avoid some confusion, because without a tune that peaceful, one might think this would be a horror film or something, based on the title. Shoot, I don't know why I had to go through all of that trouble, because once you see that this stars John Wayne, oh boy, you better believe that it is a western if there ever was one. Ladies and gentlemen, before "Rio Bravo", Howard Hawks, John Wayne and Walter Brennan joined forces to bring you this, which you still might get confused with "Rio Grande", seeing as how this film is set around a river, and has some stereotypical Mexicans. Well, it's a while before those Mexicans come into play, so if no other stereotype gets you confused about the difference between this and, well, most every other western of the mid-20th century, it is, again, John Wayne in a starring role. I just like how this film let you know just how old Wayne was by 1948, alone, by having a grown Montgomery Clift play his son (Adopted; but still), and still predating "Rio Bravo" and "Rio Grande"... I think. If nothing else distinguishes this film from "Rio Gra-I mean, "Rio Bravo", it's this film's actually being better, but not exactly by a long shot, thanks to certain shortcomings. I don't really know if this film has the pretense of being all that refreshing as a ranch adventure western, but that doesn't make the conventions much less notable for building a formulaic plot whose character aspects are still not quite as familiar as they probably should be. The films open up just in time for the adventure to begin, with the bare minimum, if not some holds to background development, then proceeds to be surprisingly limited with extensive expository depth throughout the body of this ostensibly intimate drama. In all fairness, expository superficiality might stem from general superficiality, for although there's more grace with this film than the usual western of this type and time, there's not much to subtlety, whose lapses get to be cheesy at times, at least with their manufacturing certain melodramatic conflicts that try to make up for a lack of meat to the basic idea behind this plot. The adventurous narrative is certainly conceptually intriguing enough for a rewarding final product to be crafted, though not easily, because outside of the manufactured, a sense of conflict is a little lacking, and it doesn't exactly get too much meatier the more the film drags along. The film is not as long as something like "Rio Bravo", and is certainly not as [u]over[/u]long, considering its story concept's being of greater consequence, but there is still something excessive about the plotting in a lot of ways that, before too long, get to be rather repetitious, if not aimless. They film sometimes says too much, and other times, it doesn't say enough, and while there is enough control to the meandering chatter of flawed storytelling, there is nonetheless plenty of issues to storytelling. These issues really do stand a solid chance of making an underwhelming film, but in the end, the effort rewards the patient, largely because of storytelling that, even then, would be nothing without compelling ides. They have to work hard - perhaps a little too hard - to beef up this story, but to say that this narrative of limited natural conflict is rather inconsequential would feel inaccurate, because the dramatics are reasonably gripping, and the sheer adventure, if nothing else, really holds ones interesting, and is particularly done justice, even by John Datu's art direction. The production value is neither especially extensive nor original in this formulaic studying on plains trekking, but it's still rich and dynamic enough to compliment the aforementioned important sense of adventure. Borden Chase's and Charles Schnee's script further draws upon the scope of the film, because what it lacks in dialogue flare it makes up for in set piece color, which also does a little to compensate for expository lapses, until they go challenged by some surprisingly extensive characterization, sold by unsurprisingly charismatic performances. Most everyone charms about as much as you might expect, and their chemistry augments that, yet there are some dramatic layers which, while too dated to really stand out, breathe some life into the character depths which define much of the grace to this drama. So much is superficial to the storytelling, but when inspiration in storytelling is hit, themes regarding the relationships, betrayals and other trials of rancher men of the Old West are brought to life. This thematic depth is, of course, dramatically anchored by Howard Hawks' directorial storytelling, which, for all its superficialities, never loses a solid deal of entertaining color, punctuated by revelations in dramatic storytelling that, while hardly ever anything especially stirring, utilizes grand style and thoughtful atmospherics to engross. With all of my praise, if there are quality highlights in this drama, they take their time to come into play, but they get here, along a consistently endearing path that entertains and compels enough to genuinely reward. When the river finally runs dry, conventions, expository and natural shortcomings, superficialities, and a somewhat excessive length run the risk of the rendering the final product underwhelming, but it is through a juicy story, immersive art direction, well-rounded writing, charismatic acting and entertaining direction that Howard Hawks' "Red River" emerges as a genuinely rewarding western classic. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 15, 2012
    "Red River" is outrageously dated, uneventful and also pretty boring. Despite good performances from John Wayne and Walter Brennan, I couldn't find much about that I actually liked. Sure, I can understand why many call "Red River" one of the greatest Westerns ever made because it has that classic charm and feel, but it doesn't hold a candle to films like "High Noon" and "Stagecoach." It's just so average.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

Red River Quotes

News & Features