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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Red River (1948) ft. Keith Techmeier

Guest: Keith Techmeier


  • Howard Hawks, Director

  • Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, Screenplay

  • John Wayne as Thomas Dunson

  • Montgomery Clift as Matthew "Matt" Garth

  • Walter Brennan as Nadine Groot

  • Joanne Dru as Tess Millay

  • Coleen Gray as Fen

  • Harry Carey as Mr. Melville

  • John Ireland as Cherry Valance

  • Noah Beery Jr. as Buster McGee

  • Harry Carey Jr. as Dan Latimer

  • Chief Yowlachie as Two Jaw Quo

  • Paul Fix as Teeler Yacey

  • Hank Worden as Sims Reeves

  • Ray Hyke as Walt Jergens


  • Based on The Chisholm Trail 1946 The Saturday Evening Post by Borden Chase, Red River opened on August 26, 1948.

  • While two different cuts of the movie exist, the movie still gained widespread critical acclaim, and would go on to gross roughly $9 million on a budget of $2.7 million earning it the second highest gross of 1948 just behind The Snake Pit and just ahead of Key Largo.

  • Roger Ebert considered Red River one of the greatest Western films of all time.

  • Red River was selected by the American Film Institute as the 5th greatest Western of all time in the AFI's 10 Top 10 list in 2008.

  • In 1990, Red River was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress.

  • Red River currently holds a 100% among critics on RT, a 96 score on Metacritic, and a 3.9/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: The good and bad examples of leadership, and how familial love can foster out of unusual relationships.

Plot Summary: "Red River" (1948) is a thrilling Western epic directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. The film tells the story of Tom Dunson (Wayne), a tough rancher who leads a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri along with his adopted son, Matthew Garth (Clift). As they make their way across the dangerous and unforgiving terrain, tensions rise between Dunson and Garth, as Dunson's harsh methods clash with Garth's more humane approach. Matters come to a head when Dunson becomes increasingly tyrannical and even violent, and Garth must decide whether to stay loyal to his adopted father or stand up against him for the sake of their fellow cowboys.

With stunning cinematography capturing the majestic landscapes of the American West, "Red River" is a classic tale of loyalty, betrayal, and the struggle for survival in a harsh and unforgiving world. Wayne and Clift both deliver powerful performances, with Wayne in particular showcasing his trademark blend of toughness and vulnerability. A true masterpiece of the Western genre, "Red River" is a must-see for fans of classic cinema and anyone who loves a gripping and unforgettable story of adventure and redemption.

Did You Know:

  • Film debut of Montgomery Clift. NOTE: However, this film was shelved for two years, so the first film the public saw of Clift was The Search (1948), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

  • Montgomery Clift was nervous about standing up to John Wayne but gained confidence when Howard Hawks told him to play his scenes like David against Goliath. He also urged the young actor to underplay in his scenes with Wayne, particularly the scene in which his character challenges Dunson for the first time. Wayne was also not sure Clift could be convincing as a rugged cowboy, but after that first confrontation scene he told Hawks his doubts were gone and "he's going to be okay."

  • There was some concern that John Wayne and Montgomery Clift would not get along, since they were diametrically opposed on all political issues, and both were outspoken on their views. According to legend they agreed not to discuss politics and the shooting went smoothly. However, both Wayne and Walter Brennan would not get along with Clift, and they stayed away from the young actor when not filming. Clift later turned down Dean Martin's role in Rio Bravo (1959) because he did not want to be reunited with those two actors.

  • After seeing John Wayne's performance in the film, directed by rival director Howard Hawks, John Ford is quoted as saying, "I never knew the big son of a bitch could act." This led to Ford casting Wayne in more complex, multi-layered, and dramatic roles in films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

  • Filmed in 1946 but held for release for two years, in part due to legal problems with Howard Hughes who claimed it was similar to his The Outlaw (1943). That is the primary reason that the 127-minute and 133-minute cuts both exist.

  • The film spent nearly two years in editing. The first cuts proved to be all wrong so, in desperation, Howard Hawks reached out to Christian Nyby, his friend and a respected editor, who was working at Warner Brothers editing Fighter Squadron (1948) at the time. Nyby agreed with Hawks that the film wasn't working but told him he couldn't help him as he was contracted to Warners. Hawks got around that by contacting Warners chief Jack L. Warner who was aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary on the way to Europe, and secured his permission to use Nyby. So the editor would cut Fighter Squadron (1948) by day and then, after hours, get to work on this film.

  • Writer Borden Chase readily admitted that the storyline was Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with saddles and stirrups.

  • Howard Hawks was distressed by what he considered John Ireland's unprofessional and lecherous behavior during filming, which were partially due to the actor's alcoholism. This contributed to Ireland's part, "Cherry Valance", being drastically reduced in the finished film. However, others on the film--notably writer Borden Chase--have said that Hawks' main problem with Ireland was that that they were both competing for the affections of Joanne Dru and Hawks found himself on the losing end (Ireland and Dru were married a year later) and took out his resentment at his loss on Ireland. Hawks later called Chase "an idiot," a heavy drinker and philanderer who didn't know what he was talking about, adding that the real reason he cut Ireland's scenes was because the actor was always getting drunk, stoned on marijuana, and losing his hat and gun.

  • The theme song, "Settle Down" was later adapted by the score's author, Dimitri Tiomkin, and sung by Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson under the title "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" in Rio Bravo (1959), another John Wayne western directed by Howard Hawks.

Best Performance: Montgomery Clift (Matt)

Best Secondary Performance: John Wayne (Dunson)/Howard Hawks (Director)

Most Charismatic Award: John Wayne (Dunson)/Walter Brennan (Groot)/Joanne Dru (Tess)

Best Scene:

  • Cold Open

  • Dunson settles in Texas

  • Poker

  • Stampede

  • Revolt

  • Indian Attack

  • Matt and Tess

  • Tess and Dunson

  • Abilene

  • Matt and Dunson Fistfight

Favorite Scene: Abilene/Matt and Tess-Tess and Dunson

Most Indelible Moment: Matt and Dunson Fistfight/The New Brand

In Memorium:

  • N/A

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Mr. Melville: There's three times in a man's life when he has a right to yell at the moon: when he marries, when his children come, and... and when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start.

Thomas Dunson: We brought nothing into this world and it's certain we can carry nothing out.

Nadine Groot: Never liked seeing strangers. Maybe it's because no stranger ever good newsed me.

Thomas Dunson: Cherry was right. You're soft, you should have let 'em kill me, 'cause I'm gonna kill you. I'll catch up with ya. I don't know when, but I'll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me, 'cause one time you'll turn around and I'll be there. I'm gonna kill ya, Matt.

Thomas Dunson: I don't like quitters, especially when they're not good enough to finish what they start.

Cherry: There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good... Swiss watch?

Sims Reeves: Well, I don't like to see things goin' good or bad. I like 'em in between.

Cherry Valance: You're fast with that gun, Matt. Awful fast. But your heart's soft. Too soft. Might get you hurt some day.

Matt Garth: Could be. I wouldn't count on it.

Matt, as a boy: How did you know when he was gonna draw?

Thomas Dunson: By watching his eyes. Remember that.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.83

Impact/Significance: 7.5

Novelty: 4.67

Classic-ness: 7.17

Rewatchability: 4

Audience Score: 8.15 (76% Google, 87% RT)

Total: 37.32

Remaining Questions:

  • Did Cherry die?

  • Why does Tess love Matt?

  • Why would Melville sit in a closed room with Matt?

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