Watching Red River During The Pandemic
During the quarantine, I have been watching several classic American westerns. When I turned to watch "Red River", the famous 1948 western directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, I was surprised to find my choice supported by an unusual source. I found an online article in "The Atlantic" dated March 30, 2020 by David Sims titled "Escape from Quarantine with a Western Movie: The best genre for the age of social distancing is one full of gorgeous scenes of the great outdoors." Sims recommends "Red River" because it is shot almost entirely outdoors with broad spacious scenery on a 1000 mile cattle drive from Texas to Abilene, Kansas -- a fictitious account of the first cattle drive on the storied Chisolm Trail. Sims writes on the sheer value of seeing the broad expanse of the United States while most people are cooped up inside. He notes the wonderful opportunity afforded to move from our "hermetic homes to a landscapes that are wild, exposed, and boundless." Sims also discusses briefly the story of "Red River" with "the extreme mentality required on the American frontier." I was glad to see an article in the national media praising the Western and "Red River" in particular as a proper antidote to the quarantine.
"Red River" is a masterful film that appears on virtually every list of best westerns and best films. The film tells of Thomas Dunston, an ambitious and stubborn individual leaving a wagon train and his true love to take his chances establishing a ranch in Texas. When hs leaves and is out of range to help, Indians attack the wagon train, killing his love. Dunston moves on without looking back. He takes a young boy, a survivor from the attack, under his wing, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift in his first film role). Fourteen years later, with 10000 cattle but no money, Dunston takes his cattle on a long drive to Missouri. Matt Garth has grown up and returned from the Civil War and has also, apparently, received an education. The movie describes the long, eventful cattle drive north and the tensions that develop between Dunston, set in his ways, and his adopted son.
The film portrays the tension that develops between father and son as Dunston becomes tyrannical, endangering his men, the cattle and himself. Garth eventually mutinies and wrests control of the journey from his father. There is ultimately a fearful but defused reunion between father and son as the cattle are sold, the west is developed, and the United States grows and prospers through the initiative and courage of its people.
As "The Atlantic" article suggests, this film is inspiring for the setting and scenery alone, with the crags, large plains, and rivers to be crossed, physically and symbolically. The film is also a story of the conflict between generations, the development and nature of America and much more. The movie includes a ravishing musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin which brings out the best in the scenery, acting, and story.
I have been interested in the western genre of film and novels for some time and am glad to have the opportunity to explore "Red River" and other classic western films. The best western films show a complexity in character development and a thoughtful portrayal of the United States and its promise that belie stereotypes of the genre. They offer material for thought and encourage understanding of our country. In addition, they show the majesty and varied character of our land and people. A great deal has been written about "Red River" and about other classic westerns, and, in addition to watching the movies themselves, I have been enjoying reading and learning about the many different interpretations and ideas these films inspire.