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"Red River" (1948): Overrated as Hell


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I think "Red River" (1948) is the most overrated "famous" Western movie I've ever seen. Aside from its impressive cattle-drive production values, it stinks.


Plot/storyline: uninspired; yawn-inducing. The script also is littered with merciless, undercutting jabs at human happiness (e.g. Harry Carey Jr's good guy can dream sweet dreams, but so what; kill him--and do so roughly, in a stampede) as well as capitalism (i.e. property rights can be violated if you feel like it).


Dialogue: god-awful dumb.


Direction: plodding. Hawks proves once again--and he often does--that he's one of classic cinema's most aggravatingly self-indulgent directors.


Characterization/character development/casting/acting: overwhelmingly unconvincing--especially, and horribly, so for Joanne Dru's character (e.g. her romantic interaction with Clift's character is completely implausible.) Thomas Dunson is also one of Duke Wayne's least appealing and convincing roles. Casting of Montgomery Clift resulted in yet another unconvincing portrayal: he lacks a prepossessing presence necessary for his role and seems transparently insecure. Walter Brennan's performance as "bitching, but lovable" side-kick is one-note, hackneyed, and routine (compare his more inspired version of the same in "Rio Bravo").


To all enthusiastic fans of the Western movie genre who regard "Red River" as one of the "all-time greats": are you kiddin'? Your standards must carry the following brand: L-O-W.

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Here follows my list of Westerns (with significant merits) that I think are either underrated or unsung:


Kit Carson (1940) w/Jon Hall, Lynn Bari

Northwest Stampede (1948) w/James Craig, Joan Leslie

Along the Great Divide (1951) w/Kirk Douglas, Walter Brennan

Golden Girl (1951) w/Dale Robertson, Mitzi Gaynor

Man from the Alamo, The (1953) w/Glenn Ford, Julia Adams

Far Horizons, The (1955) w/Charlton Heston, Donna Reed

Last Frontier, The (1955) w/Victor Mature, Anne Bancroft

Man Without a Star (1955) w/Kirk Douglas, Jeanne Crain

Many Rivers to Cross (1955) w/Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker

Fastest Gun Alive, The (1956) w/Glenn Ford, Jeanne Crain

Law and Jake Wade, The (1958) w/Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark

Stalking Moon, The (1968) w/Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Saint

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I've only seen about half the list but I agree with those. "The Man From The Alamo" I thought gave an interesting turn on the main character. Been awhile but I've seen it listed on the Westerns channel recently.


"The Law and Jake Wade" is one I'm looking forward to later this month. Really like Widmark.


My favorite of your list is "The Fastest Gun Alive." I think Ford is quite good in this one. He gives unusual depth to his character. The only problem I have is with Crawford's obsession about the whole thing. All in all it is a terrific movie.

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Given my pseudonym, I feel obligated to respond. I love this movie. But you have a point. It has glaring flaws that I overlook in favor of the good points. An appealing atmosphere, well drawn characters, the most beautiful cinematography I've ever seen. Hawks loved the "interacting in the work place" scenario, and he depicted it expertly. In HIS GIRL FRIDAY, THE THING, and most notably, RED RIVER. Wayne, Clift, and especially the supporting players, bring life and nuance to a likeable bunch of cowpokes.


The cattle scenes have an intensity that makes me feel the pressure and the excitement intended. I don't dispute that the love interest is obligatory and incredible. But it adds a level to the story, and provides yet another complication. I can live with it.


****************SPOILER ALERT******************


The big problem is the "kiss and make up" ending. Two tough guys, one of them consumed with resentment, undergo a change of heart because a pretty girl yells at them. It's silly and insulting. Almost certainly tagged on at the insistence of studio executives. Detractors of this otherwise great western get no challenge from me on this point. But I like the rest of it so much, I pretend I didn't see it.


If there's a difference between a great movie and a perfect one, RED RIVER is a great one. Flaws and all, it's as entertaining as anything out there.



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