Red River (1948)

Passed   |    |  Action, Adventure, Romance

Red River (1948) Poster

Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.

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  • Montgomery Clift and Joanne Dru in Red River (1948)
  • Montgomery Clift and Harry Carey in Red River (1948)
  • Noah Beery Jr. and Montgomery Clift in Red River (1948)
  • Walter Brennan and Chief Yowlachie in Red River (1948)
  • John Wayne and Joanne Dru in Red River (1948)
  • John Wayne in Red River (1948)

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

19 July 2006 | Lechuguilla
| Epic Cattle Drive
Dimitri Tiomkin's thunderous score sets the tone for this rousing story of cowboy ranchers in nineteenth century Texas headed north, with a thunderous herd of cattle in tow. It's the archetypal story of the American West, with its strong, ethical male leader, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne), and his pursuit of a big dream, set in an era when men were men, times were tough, hardships were inevitable, guns ruled, and Native Americans were the bad guys. What a saga ...

What makes "Red River" such a grand adventure is its high quality. Its story is simple, direct, exciting, and well told, with complex characters, interesting and sympathetic because they show weakness as well as strength. Dunson is a good man, but he's stubborn and headstrong. His semi-adopted son, Matt (Montgomery Clift), is good with a gun but a little softhearted. Dunson's chief sidekick is Groot (Walter Brennan), a cantankerous old buzzard who has problems with his teeth.

It's the relationship between these three men that is the heart and soul of "Red River". Trouble ensues along the way, you can be sure. And how that trouble unfolds and plays out presents viewers with engaging human drama, and humor, centered on these three main characters. The lonesome High Plains, with all its inherent risks, adds grandeur to the epic story.

At strategic points in the film, the page of a book appears on screen with text that briefly summarizes upcoming events. It's like we, the viewers, are reading a book about some long ago trailblazers. It's a technique that could have been intrusive. But here, it is handled with such finesse that it actually helps the narrative, by functioning as a transition from one sequence to the next.

The acting is fine. John Wayne is more than convincing as Dunson. Walter Brennan is characteristically funny. And Montgomery Clift is terrific. Had he maintained his looks, and if real-life circumstances not intervened, Monty could have been one of the truly top actors through at least the 50s and 60s.

If the film has a weakness, it might be the cinematography. Not often, but at times, the actors appear to be standing in front of a canvas, an effect that renders a shallow depth of field. Maybe this was the result of technical limitations of photography at the time the film was made.

There are few film westerns that can compare in quality with "Red River". And I don't know of any other cinematic cattle drives that are this good. So, the next time you herd your cattle to market, this is the film to watch. Even if you have no cattle, "Red River" is still a wonderfully entertaining cinematic experience.

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Did You Know?


Reportedly, upon completing this movie Howard Hawks gave John Wayne a belt buckle that featured the Red River D logo (Wayne later wore this as part of his costume in several other films including El Dorado (1967)). According to this story, Wayne later returned the favor and gave Hawks a twin buckle. However, Hank Worden, who played Sims Reeves, claimed that he had liked the Red River D brand and had had a local silversmith make him a small buckle with the brand (which he also wore in several later films). According to Worden, Wayne saw his buckle, admired it, and asked for the name of the silversmith. Wayne then had matching (larger) buckles made for himself and Hawks.


Fernandez: Others have thought as you, señor. Others have tried.
Thomas Dunson: And you've always been good enough to stop them?
Fernandez: Amigo, it is my work.
Thomas Dunson: Pretty unhealthy job.


Near the end of the film, when Tom walks toward Matt, his shadow changes repeatedly from one shot to another.

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: Among the annals of the great state of Texas may be found the story of the first drive on the famous Chisholm Trail. A story of one of the great cattle herds of the world, of a man and a boy--Thomas Dunson and Matthew Garth, the story of the Red River D.

Alternate Versions

According to Peter Bogdanovich, the shorter version is in fact the Director's Cut. Howard Hawks was unhappy with the pacing of the longer, 133 minute cut.


Turkey in the Straw


Plot Summary

Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Action | Adventure | Romance | Western

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