Headstrong Thomas Dunson starts a thriving Texas cattle ranch with the help of his faithful trail hand, Groot, and his protégé, Matthew Garth, an orphan Dunson took under his wing when Matt was a boy. In need of money following the Civil War, Dunson and Matt lead a cattle drive to Missouri, where they will get a better price than locally, but the crotchety older man and his willful young partner begin to butt heads on the exhausting journey.
Tom Dunson is a self made cattle baron, he will do what ever it takes to protect the life he has made for himself. The constant fall in the value of livestock means that Tom, and his adopted son Matthew, must drive the gathered herd through the perilous Chisholm Trail, and then hope to get good value for the beef. With their assembled group of hands they head off North, but many problems will come their way, not least, a fallout due to Dunson's tyrannical ways, meaning there could well be mutiny on the range.
Without a shadow of doubt, Red River is one of the greatest Westerns ever made, boasting incredible performances from the cast, directed with sumptuous skill by Howard Hawks and photographed as good as any film in the genre. Based on the novel The Chisholm Trail written by Borden Chase (also co writing duties for the film), Red River is a sweeping spectacle that doesn't have a frame that's wasted. Hawks (this his first Western) frames his wonderfully vivid characters in lush expansive landscapes, fleshing them out amongst the constant stream of drama and action. Though Chase would be annoyed at the changes Hawks made to the story, he surely would have marvelled at the finished product, with Harlan's photography in and around the Arizona's locales capturing a cowboys terrain expertly, while Dimitri Tiomkin's score stirs the blood and pumps the viewer with Cowboy adrenaline.
If anyone doubts John Wayne as an actor of note then they need look no further than his performance here as Dunson. Tough and durable in essence the character is for sure, but Wayne manages to fuse those traits with a believable earthy determination that layers the character perfectly. With Wayne all the way, matching him stride for stride is Montgomery Clift as Matthew Garth, sensitive without being overly so, it's the perfect foil to Wayne's machismo barnstorming. Walter Brennan and John Ireland also shine bright in support, while a special mention has to go to a wonderful turn from Joanne Dru as Tess Millay, for Howard Hawks' CV shows a ream of strong female characters, and here Dru firmly puts herself in amongst the best of them - check out her first appearance alongside Clift, it's precious.
Red River made a fortune upon its release, it was revered by the critics back then, and it's still being revered today. Rightly so, because it is quite simply magic cinema, a case where everything comes together perfectly, it's in short, a film that even none Western fans should be able to marvel at as entertainment. Or? at the very least give credit to the Tech accomplishments on offer. 10/10