Sunday, May 1, 2016
19th century. After losing the woman he loved in an Indian attack, cowboy Dunson and his friend, cook Groot, start a ranch in Texas with only a one cow and one bull. 14 years later, the civil war left the American south bankrupt, and thus Dunson decides to migrate his 9,000 head of cattle to Missouri to sell them for a better prize. The journey is 1,000 miles long, and he uses help from his adopted son Matt, as well as over a dozen cowboys who oversee the cattle column. During their long trip through the desert, Dunson proves to be an autocratic, harsh leader, who punishes deserters with killing, which culminates in a mutiny in which Matt takes over and re-directs the column towards the west, to Kanzas. There, Matt sells the heard and earns a fortune, but Dunson shows up to kill him for disobedience. However, thanks to Matt's girlfriend, Tess, Dunson forgives him.
Howard Hawk's first excursion into the western waters proved to be a lucky strike, since the director would helm four further westerns and collaborate with one of his favorite actors, John Wayne, more frequently. Even though the first 10-15 minutes could have been easily cut (Dunson just simply arrives at a piece of land and decides to annex it all for his cattle, and take it away from the owner, which seems ruffian), western-road movie "Red River" gains momentum once the main plot sets in, the long, 1,000 miles march of cowboys who are trying to transport their 9,000 cattle heard to Missouri, and this 'cattle Anabasis' really is a sight to behold at times in which Hawks uses his unobtrusive directing skills to conjure up a sense of adventure and awe, not only through the logistical challenges (the critics rightfully praised the dangerous sequence of cowboys trying to stop a cow stampede at night as a highlight) but also through character development of the migrating cowboys (Groot, who loses his false teeth in a poker game, for instance), who start to clash over the leadership of the rigid, stubborn Dunson, who's draconian methods alienate the workers since he wants everything to be done the 'hard way', ignoring the easy route. Some of Hawks' classic dialogues stand out ("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... when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start."), and it was noteworthy that he demolished the 'John Wayne myth' by giving the actor a very complex role, very close to a bad guy - but, alas, "Red River" is ruined partially through a badly written role of Matt's love interest, Tess, and an ending which is no good, since it used a potential clash of Ford-ian tragedy and turned it into a strained, happy ending - resulting in a very good film, but a one which is still not one of Hawks' best.