- on Sunday, 08 June 2014 07:41
- by Loron Hays
Directed and produced by Howard Hawks, Red River is proof that, if pushed by the demands of a well-written script, John Wayne could actually act. I am not a Wayne fan by any means but my father raised me on a steady diet of Sunday westerns and I’ve seen more than enough of Wayne to last two lifetimes. Throughout the years, two of Wayne’s films have stuck out as classics of the genre. The first is The Searchers and the second, Red River, gets the Criterion Collection treatment this month in a deluxe re-release that includes the book it was inspired by.
Red River is, hands down, one of the ten greatest westerns ever made and Criterion celebrates that fact with an impeccable handling of the film. This is an epic film that saddles viewers alongside one of the greatest cattle drives – the Chisholm Trail – in our American history. The film is almost biblical in its handling of themes as a young Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his traveling companion Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan) break away from their group to head South toward cattle-friendly Texas to start his own cattle herd with a bull and a couple of cows.
They meet up with a young boy named Matt (Micky Kuhn), who has survived a Comanche attack and is somewhat dazed. He is taken under Tom’s wing and reared to learn the business and Tom’s way as the whole group of men dream of a cattle dynasty. Tom buries the fact that he left the woman who loved him behind and doesn’t want to deal with the fact that she probably died in the attack that spared Matt; he hardens and devotes his life to his business.
Many years later, the beef industry in Texas is barren and Tom – upon a grown up Matt’s return to the ranch (now played by Montgomery Clift in his first film appearance) – decides to take his herd to Abilene, Kansas where profit awaits. They disagree on the route and that’s when Matt notices the change in his foster father. Somewhere between the years of struggle and sacrifice while carving his empire between 1851 and the end of the Civil War, Tom has gone astray.
It’s this change that drives the film and places a wedge between the two men; one nearing the end of his and the other in his prime. Hawks filmed on location in Arizona and parts of Mexico and scored some many great shots along the way. The shoot was tough and so is the look of the film as sunsets fill the screen and gigantic clouds swirl over the faces of hills and mountains. Nothing about the film is weak. Danger is, quite literally, at every turn as allegiances are tested and mutiny is performed all for the sake of one man’s sanity and another man’s soul.
Wayne goes from hero in the beginning to a ruthless hellfire-obsessed dictator and the recovery of his soul is at the very central of Red River. Wayne turns believably ugly and you almost don’t notice the change in character until it is too late; you are either on his side or you are his enemy. And he becomes increasingly hard to defend as the exodus develops. This was his first film (of five) for Hawks and, in my opinion, it his best performance for the director. Hawks toned down Clift’s own method acting a bit but Clift does turn out a solid performance that assists Wayne in harnessing his own. These are two strong-willed men who respect each other but their conflicts with each other come to a head during this odyssey.
While the book had a more fierce (and better) ending, Red River – proving to be Hawks’ most ambitious film in cost and production – does deliver an interesting finale in which Tess (Joanne Dru) stops the two men from killing each other. This is a complex western and was pretty much undervalued upon its release. Criterion attempts to undue that wrong with this excellent blu-ray release.
Watch director Howard Hawks play by his own rules and dare to cross the Red River.
MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 133 mins
Director: Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson
Cast: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru
Genre: Action | Adventure | Western
Tagline: In 25 Years, Only Three! "The Covered Wagon", "Cimarron" and now Howard Hawks' "Red River"
Memorable Movie Quote: "Well, I don't like to see things goin' good or bad. I like 'em in between."
Distributor: United Artists
Release Date: September 17, 1948
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: May 27, 2014
Synopsis: Dunson is driving his cattle to Red River when his adopted son, Matthew, turns against him.
Available on Blu-ray - May 27, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio:English: LPCM Mono; English: LPCM Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Four-disc set (2 BDs, 2 DVDs); DVD copy
Region Encoding: Locked to region A
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"Because of the film's complicated postproduction schedule and logistics -- as partially detailed on page 16, in the interview with editor Christian Nyby -- film elements for the director's preferred version of the film, the final 127-minute theatrical release from 1948, proved rarer than those for the now more common 133-minute prerelease version, a cut of the film assembled sometime before its official premiere. This new digital transfer of the prerelease version of Red River was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from a 35mm duplicate negative. To reconstruct the theatrical cut, we used a 35mm print from MGM's archives as a visual reference; this was not viable as a master source, however, because of film frame damage. With that print as a guide, we assembled the majority of the theatrical version from the 2K scans made for the prerelease cut. There are a number of sections in the theatrical version, though, that do not exist in the prerelease one, such as the different optical sequences that accompany the voice-over narration. After much searching, a French 35mm composite print was located at Cinematheque francaise. Digital transfers of remaining sections of the theatrical version were created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the preserved print. Thousands of instances of debris, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small flicker, scratches, and grain management and Pixel Farm's PFClean for jitter. Because of the difficulty of acquiring complete source material for the opening and closing credits of the theatrical version, which differ from those of the prerelease one, we used a standard-definition PAL DigiBeta provided by MGM for those two segments. The original film used for that transfer could not be located.
Assembling the soundtrack for the theatrical version presented similar problems. For the prerelease version, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack. This was then used as the primary source for the reconstruction of the theatrical soundtrack. While the two versions diverged -- for example, in the theatrical version's inclusion of voice-over and somewhat different music my Dimitri Tiomkin -- an alternate 35mm optical element was used. Whenever possible, minute audio dropouts in the theatrical soundtrack were corrected through careful mixing with isolated prerelease sections. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
Transfer supervisors: Lee Kline, Russell Smith.
Colorist: Lee Kline.
Theatrical version reconstruction: Gabriel Chavez.
Scanning: Colorworks, Culver City, CA.
Scanning and film preparation: Alex Hernandez/Colorworks, Culver City, CA.
On disc one, the "Original Theatrical" version we get a new 17-minute interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about Red River and the two versions. He also shares his memories of Hawks. There is also an audio excerpt from a 1972 conversation between Hawks and Bogdanovich as they sat together in Palm Springs. This disc also has a trailer.
On the "Pre-Release" Blu-ray we have a new (2014), 16-minute, interview with critic Molly Haskell. The long-time champion of Howard Hawks discusses Red River in relation to the western genre and gender politics and expresses her appreciation for the filmmaker. There is also a new 13-minute interview with film scholar Lee Clark Mitchell delving into the cultural history and trademarks of the western genre literature and film.
There are 10-minutes of audio excerpts from a 1970 interview with novelist and screenwriter Borden Chase and an hour-long Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red River from 1949, featuring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Walter Brennan. The package contains the two DVDs with all the contents of the Blu-rays and a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a 1991 interview with Hawks’ longtime editor Christian Nyby plus a new paperback edition of Chase’s original novel, previously out of print.
- Bogdanovich on Red River (17 min)
- Hawks and Bogdanovich (16 min)
- Lux Radio Theatre (59 min)
- Molly Haskell (16 min)
- Lee Clark Mitchell (14 min)
- Borden Chase (11 min)