I watch the 1001 movies list with my long-suffering wife. She normally enjoys the good ones (some of them more than I do) and sits through the strange, foreign or noir ones with long-practiced stoicism. Mainly, she is an enthusiastic participant in the project and often asks for a film if we’re not too tired when our day ends.
But there is one exception: westerns. She hates them and usually falls asleep in the middle, with clear instructions that I should watch the thing myself and not bug her. She even abandoned My Darling Clementine halfway through.
Red River, however, was another story entirely. After a couple of false starts we watched the entire movie until the end, even though I wanted to go to sleep and finish it the following day.
I think the answer lies in the unrelenting tension and the huge number of actual cows onscreen… and those two things are related. Let me explain.
The tension is, to a certain degree, driven by the plot. You have some guys trying to drive a herd a long way against all odds in an unforgiving land where both the elements and groups of bandits and indians are out to get them. Then, in the middle of it, one of the main characters abandons the group in order to follow them and try to get revenge by killing he group’s leader.
I think what makes the whole thing seem real, though is that the cows are on screen a good chunk of the time. There are lots of them, and they are really there. They’re big, they’re constantly moving and, somehow, they make everything seem real. There’s a stampede scene which is probably the most memorable scene in the film.
The acting is superb and, of course, John Wayne is the ultimate tough guy who hides his deepest feelings from outside scrutiny. It works spectacularly well, and there’s little question as to why the film was beloved from the word go. It is most definitely the opposite of a chick flick, and all the stronger for it.
Of course, if you’re the kind of person who is offended by either John Wayne or the attitudes prevalent in the 1940s, this one will shock you to the core – Westerns of this era are not for the socially sensitive. The rest of you should go out and find this film as soon as you can.
And enjoy what might just be The Duke’s best performance in a film so good even my wife approves.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who has never written a western. However he has recently launched a collection of short SF and Fantasy stories which you can check out here.