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Howard Hawks
John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru
Writing Credits:
Borden Chase and Charles Schnee

Greatest Spectacle Ever!

Dunson is driving his cattle to Red River when his adopted son, Matthew, turns against him.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English PCM Monaural
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 5/27/2014

• Both Theatrical and Pre-Release Versions of the Film
• “Bogdanovich on Red River” Featurette
• “Hawks and Bogdanovich” Audio Segment
• Interview with Critic Molly Haskell
• Interview with Scholar Lee Clark Mitchell
• Audio Interview with Novelist/Screenwriter Borden Chase
• “Lux Radio Theatre” Adaptation of Red River
• DVD Copy
• Paperback Edition of Source Novel
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Red River: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1948)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 9, 2014)

Though probably better known for his collaborations with John Ford, John Wayne paired with Howard Hawks five times across their careers. With 1948’s Red River, we get the first of those efforts.

Based on a work by Borden Chase, River takes us to the old west and introduces us to cattle man Tom Dunson (Wayne) on a wagon train from Missouri to California. He abandons this effort so he can settle in Texas.

During his first night away from it, Indians attack the wagon train. Tom and his right-hand man Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) survive, but the members of the train don’t fare as well – and this leaves Tom’s girlfriend Fen (Colleen Gray) dead. Teenaged Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn) survives, though, and Tom takes him in as his adopted son.

Eventually Tom founds his cattle ranch near the Rio Grande. 15 years later, we find Tom with Nadine and Matt (Montgomery Clift) as they prepare for a cattle drive to earn much-needed money. They plan to take the animals from Texas to Missouri, but problems ensue when Matt tries to go his own way. This doesn’t sit well with Tom, and conflicts follow between the pair.

I suspect most viewers think of Wayne as the true blue Western hero, but as was the case in 1956’s The Searchers, River finds Wayne in darker territory. Tom comes across as much more morally ambiguous than usual for our lead, a notion depicted from the movie’s start. When Tom abandons the wagon train, he seems to do so for wholly selfish reasons and he appears disinterested in the common good; even the fate of his girlfriend doesn’t seem to be a big deal to him.

Though that makes Tom somewhat against type, Wayne plays the role quite well. He manages a consistent moral ambivalence and shows no need/desire to be liked. Wayne’s Tom stands as his own man; love him, hate him, he doesn’t seem to care.

Clift delivers a typically nuanced performance as well. He makes Matt sympathetic and likable without pandering, and he gives the character just enough toughness for us to believe him as someone who can stand up to Wayne. Clift offers the appropriate notes as he makes Matt a worthwhile son/rival with Tom.

It’s that depth that helps make River special. It tends to lack truly sympathetic characters, as even Groot – our nominal comic relief - seems hard-bitten. The roles come across with the level of weariness and edge that makes sense given their life circumstances, and the actors execute the parts well.

Unfortunately, River loses steam when it introduces Tess (Joanne Dru) in the film’s third act. She becomes a love interest for both Matt and Tom, and she feels like an artificial plot device. To that point, the movie offers a solid Mutiny on the Bounty feel, but it goes a bit off the rails once Tess appears.

And Tess’s presence leads to a wholly unsatisfying ending. I won’t spoil the finale, but I will say that a dark, hard-bitten movie suddenly becomes peppy ‘n’ cheerful at the finish. This feels entirely out of place and threatens to ruin a very good flick.

Happily, the rest of Red River works well enough that not even the awful ending can sink it. Yeah, I wish the movie delivered a third act that better matched the first two, but it still gives us a moody, compelling Western.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Red River appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This Blu-ray offered generally positive visuals.

Overall, sharpness seemed good with only a few sporadic instances of softness. The movie occasionally became ill-defined, but not with much frequency. Most of the movie exhibited satisfactory to strong definition. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not a problem, and edge enhancement remained absent. A smattering of print flaws appeared, as we got some small specks and vertical lines. These weren’t substantial, though.

Black levels were usually quite good. Occasionally they seemed a little inky, but for the most part, they were pretty deep and dark. Shadows were also satisfying the majority of the time, as only a few shots looked a bit thick. Some parts of the transfer showed their age, but I thought the film usually appeared attractive.

I felt largely pleased with the movie's monaural audio. I don't expect a whole lot from old soundtracks, and Red River didn't give me much, but it worked fine for a film of its era. Dialogue seemed clear and reasonably natural.

Both effects and music seemed decent but lacked great range; they offered adequate clarity and that’s about it. The track displayed a little noise at times but not enough to become a distraction. While not a great mix, the audio was more than acceptable for its age.

Among the set’s extras, the biggest attraction likely comes from the two versions of Red River on display here. Disc One provides a theatrical cut (2:07:09), while Disc Two includes a pre-release edition (2:13:25). These differ in a number of ways, but the most substantial change comes from the addition of narration to the theatrical release, and the pre-release film delivers a longer/slightly alternate ending. I like the fact that fans can check out both cuts.

On Disc One, we find the film’s trailer as well as two additional components. Bogdanovich on Red River offers filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s thoughts about the movie. The piece lasts 17 minutes, one second and gives us notes about the cast and crew as well as insights into the story/characters, cinematography and the two versions of the movie. Bogdanovich’s audio commentaries tend to bore, but when taken in smaller doses, he can offer good thoughts, and that proves to be the case in this reasonably informative chat.

We get more from the filmmaker in the 15-minute, 32-second Hawks and Bogdanovich. An audio-only segment, it gives us excerpts from Bogdanovich’s 1972 interview with director Howard Hawks. They discuss changes from the novel to the movie, locations, working with the actors, the movie’s ending, the two versions, and scene specifics. Hawks provides a nice collection of memories in this tight and compelling session.

On Disc Two, a few more components appear. First comes an interview with critic Molly Haskell. This goes for 15 minutes, 42 seconds and offers Haskell’s thoughts about story/character/themes, reflections on Hawks and the cast, and some insights. Haskell delivers some decent thoughts about the film but doesn’t make this one of the disc’s more interesting pieces.

Next comes an interview with scholar Lee Clark Mitchell. It runs 13 minutes, six seconds and delivers comments about the history of the Western and its development over the years. He offers a nice overview and creates an enjoyable chat.

From 1969, we find an audio-only interview with novelist/screenwriter Borden Chase. In this 10-minute, 16-second piece, Chase talks about the novel’s inspirations as well as his thoughts about its adaptation to the screen. It’s another informative little extra.

From March 7, 1949, we get a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red River. It fills 59 minutes, 10 seconds and features John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Joanne Dru in their film roles. As expected, the radio version streamlines the movie’s narrative, but it doesn’t omit as many plot points as usual. It becomes a fun way to experience the tale.

Two non-disc-based elements finish the package. We get a paperback edition of Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, the source novel on which the movie was based, as well as a 28-page booklet. The latter includes an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien and excerpts from a 1991 interview with editor Christian Nyby. Both components add nice value to the set.

In Red River, John Wayne plays somewhat against type with satisfying results. The movie offers a darker than usual Western that provides a solid character tale and only suffers during a flawed third act. The Blu-ray delivers generally positive picture and audio along with a good set of supplements. Even with a problematic ending, this becomes a better than average Western.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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