The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River (1948)

Watch as John Wayne and Montgomery Clift try to steal this movie from each other

Film Add a comment

Driving cattle across Texas at the close of the Civil War, a tyrannical John Wayne vows revenge when he is relieved of his herd by the younger Montgomery Clift who he all but adopted as a child. In the 1940s Hollywood took its most tried and true genre and made it less about gunplay than character conflict, roughing up tried and true archetypes like Wayne and Clift in the process. Director Howard Hawks was the movies’ great contradiction, a pro and subversive at the same time, and when it came to the film’s troubled production, financing the herd alone made this a Western with which to be reckoned.

Wayne and Clift had the peculiar chemistry that comes from being completely different and not liking each other much. They had different ideas about acting, about politics, about what it means to be a man: The forerunner for Brando and Dean, Clift in his first movie (though it would be released second) turned the cowpoke into a silently defiant brooder, while Red River remains for Wayne—the testosteronosaurus who swats steers from his path like flies when they get in his way—a landmark wherein he began locating the complexities of his image, ever aging and ever darker in the subsequent She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Shootist. Neither of them able to steal the movie from the other, the stars settled on the same uneasy peace that graces a conclusion which seems false the first time you see it and becomes truer as you make your way in life from Clift’s age to Wayne’s.

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

Related Content