Masters Of Cinema #68 - Red River - Blu-ray Review

It is difficult to come to the conclusion that I am anywhere near in love with Red River, because I am categorically not in love with John Wayne. In fact, during an unnecessary prologue, which bloats the film a little past two hours, Wayne's wooden machismo posturing was enough to nearly turn me off from Red River all together. In an opening speech to the lead of a caravan he has been travelling with, the actor is wooden not just of delivery, but of body. Watch his movements: he simultaneously both hardly shifts and manages to give off the impression that he doesn't want to be there.

A good thing though, that Wayne stuck around, and also a good thing that it's easy not to like him. His rancher Thomas Dunson is developed expertly by director Howard Hawks, from a gruff hard worker to borderline sociopath, bent on the destruction of his livelihood and family, on an ambitious cattle drive from Texas to Missouri.

Hawks, never one to pass up on the opportunity of a grand set piece, pock-marks the drive with a stampede and, late on, an Indian attack, but it's not in these moments that Red River excels; instead it is the quiet character-led ones, as Dunson moves to position himself against his employees and his adoptive son, Matt (Montgomery Clift). In the film's finale, when Dunson relents and brings Matt further into the fold, you get the impression that the 'thing' Matt has done is not to drive the cattle across the nation, but to succeed in standing up to the older man.

That finale is a large part of the reason why Red River is revered by so many. In a film which has told various women at various points that things are 'too much for them' and that to correct grievous slights of misogynist character-bashing they can hit the wrong-doer, 'if it would help any', what happens at the end is borderline shocking, as Tess (Joanne Dru) comes out of the shadows she was barely hiding in.

There's also so much of interest going on here that Hawks manages to make the long journey-led narrative, which progresses through familiar countryside at a mere ten miles a day, almost always interesting. When Matt and Dunson are being by turns spectacularly moody and spectacularly surly, Hawks has an ace up his sleeve in the guise of John Ireland's Cherry Valance. Crushingly given an unclear conclusion, Ireland keeps his gifted charge in charming wildcard mode, a near-invincible superhero, ready with a line and a gunshot. He's the heart and soul of the film when the heart and soul of the film are too busy arguing and he takes Red River towards greatness the majority of time he is on the screen.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Red River is released in the UK on Monday 28th October 2013

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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