Red River (1948) - Rotten Tomatoes

Red River1948

Red River (1948)



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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.

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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
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News & Interviews for Red River

Critic Reviews for Red River

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (8)

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

June 19, 2019 | Full Review…

It is a rattling good outdoor adventure movie.

February 27, 2018 | Full Review…

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.

June 2, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

The staging of physical conflict is deadly, equalling anything yet seen on the screen.

May 13, 2008 | Full Review…

Howard Hawks stages the definitive cow opera with beautiful, lyrical, exciting sequences of stampeding, rough weather, cowboying and Indian skirmishes.

May 13, 2008 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
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.

February 9, 2006 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Red River


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. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

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.

Sam Barnett
Sam Barnett

Super Reviewer

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.

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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