“Wayne was trying too hard in Red River, and I said, wait until I tell you and then you try. Because if you do two good scenes in the picture and don’t annoy the audience the rest of the time, you’ll be good. If I can do five good scenes in the picture and not annoy the audience, I’ll have done my job as a director.” - Howard Hawks on Red River
Scene from Red River (1948)
Red River - 1948 (Original Poster)
Released: September 30, 1948 Running time 133 minutes
Contrary to popular belief, the much acclaimed “Red River” was not the first Western that Howard Hawks directed; it was, however, the first western that Hawks completed.
Back in 1933, he directed Wallace Beery in an on-location shoot in Mexico for the movie “Viva Villa!” Due to numerous difficulties, ranging from gun-toting extras to various illnesses among the cast and crew, tensions were running high during this directing stint. Hawks finally lost this job during an argument with studio head Louis B. Mayer in which he gave the MGM head man a fat lip.
It perhaps comes as no surprise to learn that this marks the last time Howard Hawks worked for MGM.
To the best of my knowledge, an older, wiser Howard Hawks threw no punches during the making of 1948’s “Red River.” All he did was help craft a movie which is still regarded as one of the best Westerns ever made.
This was the first time Hawks directed John Wayne. Wayne’s portrayal of the complex, conflicted, and driven rancher Thomas Dunson demonstrated that he had a far wider range of acting skills than even those who knew him well had guessed.
John Ford, who had directed Wayne in “Stagecoach,” “They Were Expendable.” and other major films at this point was moved to remark after watching this debut performance in a Howard Hawks film, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.”
John Wayne’s work was complemented by sterling performances by veteran character actor Walter Brennan, virtual newcomer Joanne Dru, and in his first feature film, Montgomery Clift. Because the film took so long in post production, Clift’s second film,“The Search,” had already been released.
The part of gunslinger Cherry Valance, played by John Ireland, was originally offered to one of Hawks’ favorite actors, Cary Grant. It might have been a more substantial role had Grant accepted the part. Hawks became so distressed by Ireland’s lecherous and unprofessional behavior on the set that he significantly trimmed Cherry Valance’s screen time in the final cut.
The classic tragedy motif of the father-“son” conflict combines with the majestic sweep of the cattle drive and exceptional pacing to make this Howard Hawks fictional account of the blazing of the Chisholm Trail a powerful movie that sticks in your mind long after the final credits have rolled.
John Wayne as Thomas Dunson
“Give me ten years, and I'll have that brand on the gates of the greatest ranch in Texas. The big house will be down by the river, and the corrals and the barns behind it. It'll be a good place to live in. Ten years and I'll have the Red River D on more cattle than you've looked at anywhere. I'll have that brand on enough beef to feed the whole country. Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make 'em strong, make 'em grow. But it takes work, and it takes sweat, and it takes time, lots of time. It takes years.” - Thomas Dunson
Director: Howard Hawks Arthur Rosson (co-director)
Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Borden Chase and Charles Schnee(based on the novel The Chrisholm Trail by Borden Chase) Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Russell Harlan Editor: Christian Nyby Art Director: John Datu Arensma
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.