Saturday, June 12, 2004

Due to the generosity of my brother, we received a copy of the John Wayne film, Red River, and do to the gentle but repeated prodding of said brother, we decided to watch it last night.

Like the old Gary Cooper movie we also saw recently, Fighting Caravans, Red River is a rather unromantic look at the "old west." Wayne plays the very determined and very violent Thomas Dunson, a man who builds the first big cattle ranch in Texas with his "own two hands". A rather young Montgomery Clift plays his protege, Matt Garth. Together with their team of ranchers they move their now large heard northward to sell in Missouri. Most of the film takes place on this journey.

Wayne's character knows there is a railroad in Missouri and is determined to head there at any cost. He signs the men up, telling those at the ranch that if they any reservations they may stay home, but he won't put up with any quitters. A few stay behind to tend to their families. Not long after the group heads north, some dissension breaks out over whether it would be better and safer and perhaps quicker to take the cattle to Abilene, Kansas. Since neither Mr Dunson nor any of the men present have seen the railroad in Kansas with their own eyes, Dunson refuses to credit the existence of a railroad there and annouinces that they will go to MO as planned. The dissension leads to Dunson shooting three of the dissenters.

Wayne's continued hard headedness eventually leads to a sort of mutiny with all of the men and catlle heading to KS, leaving Dunson with a couple of horses and the promise of revenge. The spectre of this revenge haunts the men all the way to Abilene. In the climax of the film the cattle are sold and at the very end Dunson and Garth are reconciled through the intercession of a woman who has fallen for Garth. Dunson acknowledges that Garth is the son and heir he never had and is unable to kill him.

The ending, while being sensible and "happy", seemed somewhat out of character with the dark tone of the rest of the film. About half way though I realized that this movie was essentially a political story of the most basic, Hobbesian sort. What is it that holds men together in society with each other? Is it personal loyalty? Fear of violence? Fear of outsiders? (Indians in this case) Working together to acheive some goal? All of these were shown and tested in this story in rather vivid ways.

Go watch it for yourself and let me know what you think of it.

No comments: