I'll give it this - I could see that there were many challenges that happened filming the movie. It looked to be shot on location, and there was a pretty huge amount of cattle to heard during the film. There is a scene where the cattle ford a river, and I'm sure it was difficult to shoot. At one point a horse visibly begins pooping in the river as it walks, and clearly, there was not time or patience for retakes. The scenery is beautiful and well-shot. The landscapes are impressive, the herding of the actors and animals a true feat. I know that I have been spoiled by the often snubbed Roger Deakins and his eye for the west - I feel like all westerns should look that graceful and stunning, and everything else pales in comparison, I guess. But the movie did feel really big and grand, and I could see that maybe was appealing. It just...didn't work for me.
Ebert likes the plot as well, which I didn't understand. He writes, "The theme of ``Red River'' is from classical tragedy: the need of the son to slay the father, literally or symbolically, in order to clear the way for his own ascendancy. And the father's desire to gain immortality through a child (the one moment with a woman that does work is when Dunson asks Tess to bear a son for him). The majesty of the cattle drive, and all of its expert details about ``taking the point'' and keeping the cowhands fed and happy, is atmosphere surrounding these themes" (The Great Movies, 394). I guess I didn't understand these things being woman, maybe? I thought the scene where John Wayne awkwardly asks Tess to have his son is really creepy and wrong. I would have shot him, had he asked me that, or had anyone asked me that question, ever. I just felt out of place here, like there wasn't a single character I could relate to or care about.
In the end, I just don't like these kind of movies. I understand they had a lot of effort and time put into them, but for me, they just fall flat. I can't understand the characters or empathize with them. I didn't like the kitschy soundtrack, nor the bad mumbling acting. Maybe it was more complex than other American westerns, but I guess I don't have enough experience with them to understand or care. Personally, I can't recommend this movie just based on my own personal feelings. I just felt bored by the whole movie, like I needed a few strong drinks to get through it. Since it's not streaming anywhere, it's not even worth the small effort it might take to watch it. I've watched a lot better movies for this project, and personally, I think your time could be better spent on one of those. But if you love John Wayne, you love him, and you might like his more complicated character in this movie. I really just don't...understand.
Have any of you seen Red River? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Red River
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