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View All Red River News
All Critics (26)
| Top Critics (5)
| Fresh (26)
| Rotten (0)
| DVD (1)
It is a rattling good outdoor adventure movie.
The staging of physical conflict is deadly, equalling anything yet seen on the screen.
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.
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.
It's a sign of the movie's complexity that John Wayne, often typecast, is given a tortured, conflicted character to play.
The best westerns always undercut their own myths, and few are more gorgeously conflicted than Red River.
Wayne is an offbeat presence in River. His longish hair and loose gait - the latter usually indicating a relaxed sense of power - now imply a man out of his place, and a kind of restlessness.
Just when loyalty seems to be an entirely perverse and oppressive force in this world of might makes right, the film (shows) there are limits decent men won't cross.
inaugurated the second, more intriguing half of John Wayne's career, enabling him to be cast in roles that were more than just macho posturing and gruff heroism
It was Hawks' genius to recognize a kinship between his leads, and to understand that the 'naturalism' of the Wayne persona was as deep and complex as the more intellectualized approach of the neurotic young New York stage actor, Clift.
Hawks directs the film with his typical assurance and seeming lack of fuss, letting scenes play out in long takes, and framing the action against vistas that often dwarf the actors.
[VIDEO ESSAY] The homosexual subtext in Howard Hawkes's 1948 western is a widely overlooked, yet unmistakable element, to one of the most popular examples of the genre.
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.
There can be no denying this film must have been a staggeringly expensive production, and a ton of hard work to put together. But jeez, did people in 1948 have a tremendous tolerance for what would certainly be instantly labeled "boredom" in our ADHD empire of today. Slow and conventional, Red River is saved mostly by John Wayne's pathos-filled performance and the authenticity of its craft.
John Wayne stars as Dunson, a self-made cattleman on his way to Texas with his friend Groot (Walter Brennan) and an abandoned boy named Matt (Montgomery Clift). After ten years in Texas, and a herd that's grown to 10,000 head of steer, Dunson must face the fact that he's broke, there's simply no money left in the south after the war. Desperate, he decides to drive his herd of north to Missouri, where they pay top dollar for beef. There at his side is Matt, who's just come home from the war after being gone so long. Matt seems a lot cooler as an adult than he was as a kid, reluctant to fight unless provoked (he is however, just as deadly and efficient with a gun as Dunson). They begin their long journey north, and events unfold along the way that may drive a permanent wedge between the two, perhaps even leading to their doom.
John Wayne's Dunson isn't a terribly heroic figure: he steals the land he settles, out-muscling and out-gunning anyone who comes to challenge his claim of ownership. His drive north goes from a cooperative, employee/employer relationship with his men to one of dictatorship, where anyone who speaks out of line is given the whip. Much like Captain Bligh, Dunson inspires only fear in his men, not respect. Montgomery Clift's portrayal of Matt is understated and somewhat soft spoken, it's the kind of subtle performance that changes the feel of both the character and the movie as a whole. Director Howard Hawks takes all the explosive elements at work here and renders them to their fullest conclusions. Add to that the logistics of filming the herding of 9000 head of real cattle (no computer effects back then, folks) and you have quite a mammoth undertaking. The story is top notch western drama and deservedly one of the top westerns of all time.
John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. That's a whole lotta beef, partner!
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