Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
a great film shot with real depth of field
on 24 March 2015
It has been said that this is a Western for people who don't like Westerns - as well as being one of the greatest for those that do - and it would indeed be hard not to be swept along by this epic road movie before roads were part of the US landscape. Into the story of how 9000 cattle were driven from Texas to Abilene, Kansas, there to be sold to a beef merchant, Howard Hawks has woven a tale of a group of men, of two women left behind who continue to affect the action in the most fundamental ways, of a surrogate father-son relationship. It all gels fantastically, bringing in episodes including a stampede, attack by Indians, desertion, shootings, mutiny, falling in love - it's all in there. John Wayne is very well cast as Tom Dunson, a man who spent 14 years building his cattle stock only to discover no one will buy beef in Texas following the American Civil War. His adopted son Matt, whom he took under his wing as a teenager, has come back from fighting for the Southern cause, and with Groot, his commonsensical right-hand man, they hire a number of other local men, including Cherry Valance, the best shot this side of San Diego, it seems. The banter between the two younger men is fairly electric and hints at certain ambiguities, starting with the famous scene where they compare guns. Given that both actors are very good-looking (Montgomery Clift and John Ireland), this is very effective. When Joanne Dru appears, and immediately gets an arrow through her shoulder (which she takes in her stride), who is also quite a looker, you feel all the archetypes are somehow in place, and we could be in some kind of myth.
The heart of the film, though, is the rapport between Wayne and Clift. It has touches of Abraham and Isaac, I felt, with the proud, unbending father sure of his rightness and lacking all sense of proportion. But it can very plausibly be given a Freudian reading also, suggesting that it can be read at different levels. At all events, it makes it a rollicking yarn where the depths are stirred. All along the cattle go forward like the Red River itself, the swirls of dust being like so much psychological fallout from these incredibly charged and vivid interactions. In addition it has some fantastic scenery, even shot in 4:3, and the music is very effective, both energised and plaintive as needed, and very American in feel.