Red River and Comparison With Other Westerner Movies Term Paper

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Red River 1948

A classic Western from the 1940s, Red River showcases an exceptional, sound performance by John Wayne; his character is well-rounded. The movie hit cinemas in the year 1948, following a delay of a couple of years due to legal problems with filmmaker, Howard Hughes, who claimed that Red River was too similar to his own film, The Outlaw. Despite the movie being more than half a century old, it seems good except for some unavoidable dust spots and tramlines. If one is able to stand the tale's lawlessness, the narrative is quite fine. Cinematic icon, Wayne personified America of the forties in the movie -- it can conveniently be regarded as his best performance ever. Red River showed Montgomery Clift, making his debut as an actor (however, the previously-mentioned 24-month delay in release meant that he was first seen on-screen by moviegoers in Fred Zinnemann's The Search, a role for which Clift became an Oscar-nominee). His remarkable physical nature and acting style set Clift at the farthest end of John Wayne; this, however, worked extremely well for Red River (Cineoutsider). The expansive Western, set in post-Civil War USA, saw Clift and cowboy movie legend, Wayne heading an enormous cattle herd as they strive to attain wealth and glory (S and J).

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Red River portrays only 2 female characters, one of whom is Fen, Dunson's fiancee (played by Coleen Gray). Gray has limited screen time in the movie to convince her fiance to let her tag along; however, masculine ethics force him to view her as nothing, but a weakness tied to him. Dunson states that his belief that a woman cannot cope. Fen errs by pointing out that he is mistaken in his view, offending Dunson who turns tail and goes without her. He fears he would have allowed her to go with him, since she represents a reminder that "half the day is night" (a rather subtle way of advertising her sexuality and warmth) (Cineoutsider).

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Term Paper on Red River and Comparison With Other Westerner Movies Assignment

The real cattle driving bits in the movie are quite incredible. The filmmaker has capably lent a sort of elemental power to even the little things, such as the crossing of a river. This power indeed comes together during the stampede scene -- a genuinely frightening, wild shot that, without doubt, led to actual injuries and death among the cattle. The fact that this section commences with cattle and not the characters tells quite a lot regarding the movie (S and J).

The movie, Red River, though quite promising, never appears to deliver entirely -- chiefly on account of some of its clumsy character moments. The supporting actors are largely to blame for these moments. It is hard to find much fault with the two leads, Wayne and Clift, who did a splendid job throughout the movie (except in the end where they are let down by the script itself). Wayne's roles are often characterized by an irritable streak. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see his grumpy, trigger-happy demeanor take off to a much more obsessive and darker place. One strong point, in particular, is the initial portrayal of Wayne as the typical war hero; the film basically takes these qualities to their rational conclusion: If one usurps others' land and perpetrates violence for defending one's claim, one isn't a 'settler', but a thug. This marked a fine revisionist change to the nonsensical 'Manifest Destiny' principal underlying much of American heroism (though the film doesn't have anything good to say in regard to native American) (S and J).

Lying at the root of all else is the attitude that moviemakers of the age must have missed: the implicit assumption that Whites can lay their claim on whatever they want. Dunson shoots at a Mexican man who tells him the land is owned by "Don Diego," gifted to him by none other than the Spanish crown. Dunson states that he understands Diego usurped it from Indians, probably, and now, he's going to take it away from Diego. In throwaway conversations, audiences learn that no less than seven other men were killed by Dunson for property. Grim humor is portrayed as Dunson kills, then reads Biblical verses over his victims. He's a law unto himself, till Matt prevents a hanging, effectively ending Dunson's reign. If every Western revolves around the civilization's inevitable encroachment, it appears to be a rather good idea in case of Red River (Ebert, Great Movie Red River).

Critical Evaluation

Topical Representation

Red River's theme is a classic tragedy: the son's symbolic or literal need to exterminate the father, for clearing the path to his own dominance, as well as the father's wish to acquire immortality through the birth of a child (in the movie, the one instance with a female when that works is Dunson asking Tess (Matt's love interest) to bear Matt a son). The movie captures the cattle drive's majesty, and portrays expert details concerning grasping the point of keeping ranchers happy and well-fed.


The movie has a fine script. The lead female character, Tess Millay (Joanne Dru) appears to be the sole character that makes sense, in the laconic, male-dominated setting. Tess is saved from Indians, armed with arrows, by Dunson's men with Matt at the head. Tess and Matt meet, and the former's Hawksian qualification is secured when an arrow pierces her shoulder, and she hardly smarts, even going so far as to complete her sentence. A frame-by-frame investigation fails to shed light on how she got struck. Tess is crucial to both Dunson's and Matt's maturity. She has her own dominant moment with the two, when she grills them to their emotional core. She understands that if the two remain bent on the paths chosen by them, their only destination will be death (Cineoutsider).

Characterization and Narrative

The fact that a tough fighter paled, with the progress of events, into a rather sad figure, was pretty satisfying. The bullying devices by which Thomas Dunson won his success initially lost their impact in the face of Matt Garth, the boy he adopts. Matt takes a stand against him. Two great themes in the film are the evolving shift in authority and Matt's anguish when he understands he has to openly challenge Dunson, despite the fact that they weren't used to their complete potential. Clift as well as Wayne played their roles well to breathe life into their assigned characters. The clever, gloomy and thoughtful Matt appeared to grow up, rather naturally, into a young man who would one day confront the entitled, ruthless Dunson. The discovery of faithfulness as an encumbrance instead of an indication of sound character was intriguing; however, unfortunately, this particular aspect also appeared to be slightly under-developed. The most disappointing element, however, is not that the conflict between protagonists wasn't realized to its complete potential. The root cause of an unenthusiastic response to the movie is the appalling depiction of native Americans and the intense and crazy female roles blended (ineffectively) into the narrative, making viewers feel rather out of sync with the world portrayed in the movie (S and J).

A piece of silver jewelry -- a bracelet belonging to Dunson's mother -- tracks the changing emotional attachments within the film. Dunson gives the bracelet to his fiancee Fen, before departing. A little later into the movie, it is seen on a slain Indian's wrist. Dunson subsequently gives the bracelet to his son, Matt, who finally presents it to his love interest, the woman he saves -- Tess Millay. The only three scenes in the movie that portray Tess can be considered the low points of Red River, partly owing to her prattle (audiences can recall how she distracts Matt with her chatter during an attack by Indians), and partly because she, quite obviously, represents the movie's deus ex-machina -- required for avoiding an unhappy end to the tale. The weakest scene in the movie is undoubtedly its closing shot. Writer Borden Chase reported that he himself hated it: Two headstrong men enact a ferocious psychological competition for a couple of hours, but cave in instantaneously to the shallow tongue-lashing of a woman (Ebert, Great Movie Red River).

The close of the film appears to be a total mess. The film should have actually culminate in the scene when the endless herds of cattle gush through town and Matt looks on with mingled disbelief and fatigue, that Abilene, in fact, exists and he, together with his enormous stock of cattle, has successfully reached it, at last. The row with his adoptive father, Dunson, appeared insipid, overstressing an argument which had, long before, been made. The overemotional intervention by Matt's love interest, Tess, was bad enough to make audiences cringe. It was revolting to see the quarreling men bonding over the reflection that Tess was crazy, yet hot, and undoubtedly kind and good-natured (S and J).

However, as far as cinematic exhibition is concerned, the film delivers in spades. At the time, there was no advanced computer software[END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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