Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Red River (1948)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Red River (1948)

In Howard Hawks' great western classic similar to the story of Mutiny on the Bounty, regarding feuding, generational rivalry and rebellion between an adopted son and his hard-headed ruthless father, spanning a time period of fifteen years, during a three month cattle drive - the first one north from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail:

  • a scrolling prologue opened the film: "Among the annals of the great state of Texas may be found the story of the first drive on the famous Chisholm Trail. A story of one of the great cattle herds of the world, of a man and a boy - - Thomas Dunson and Matthew Garth, the story of the Red River D"
  • in an early scene in 1851, future cattle rancher Tom Dunson (John Wayne) (bound for Texas from St. Louis) parted from his young, pretty sweetheart Fen (Coleen Gray); she begged Tom to let her come along so she wouldn't be deserted, but he stubbornly refused her pleas, thinking that the arduous drive would be "too much for a woman"; when she kissed him, she asked if she really appeared weak: ("Hold me, feel me in your arms. Do I feel weak, Tom? I don't, do I?"), and then pleaded with him to balance his human actions by listening with his heart as well as his head: "Oh, you'll need me. You'll need a woman. You need what a woman can give you to do what you have to do"; but he resisted
A Fateful Final Goodbye: Fen and Tom
  • shortly afterwards, during a Comanche Indian attack that night against Tom and his sidekick Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan), they found Fen's bracelet on the wrist of one of the killed natives (Tom had given his mother's snake bracelet to her when they parted) - that meant that Fen had fatefully died during an earlier Indian attack on her California-bound wagon train
  • the next day, the two discovered young orphaned boy Matt (Mickey Kuhn as a young boy) wandering aimlessly and leading a cow behind him - he was the sole survivor of the wagon train massacre
  • after crossing the Red River and traveling many miles in deep South Texas, all the way to the Rio Grande, Dunson declared the land his own - a claim to all the sweeping grazing lands north of the Rio Grande, to raise large herds of cattle: "And I'll put a mark, a brand on 'em, to show they're mine too....There'll be two lines, like this, like the banks of a river. It'll be the Red River brand"; he traced a distinctive Red River brand (the Red River D) for the bull and cow - his initial D (for Dunson) and two lines (a double S to show the two banks of the river), and then promised Matt that his initial would be added to balance the design - once he earned it:: "I'll put an 'M' on it when you earn it"

Young Orphaned Matt

Tom Surveying His Land with Groot and Young Matt

The First Red River D Brand
  • they were confronted by two Mexican wranglers who claimed the land was already owned by their boss Don Diego - a Spanish grantee whose family held the land by patent from the King of Spain; in a quick draw shootout, Dunson killed one of the men, and sent the second one back to his boss as a messenger with a warning that the land had a new owner
  • the scene dissolved (with a montage) to about 15 years later in the year 1865 - Dunson was now the owner of a sizable cattle enterprise - he boasted (in voice-over): "I'll have that brand on enough beef to feed the whole country. Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make 'em strong and make 'em grow. But it takes work and it takes sweat and it takes time. Lots of time. It takes years" - but he confided in Matt and Groot that he had to round up the entire herd and transport it away from the South - north across the Red River on an untested trail-trek to Sedalia, Missouri: "Unless we can move 'em, I'm broke...I'm not gonna take it haunch-backed like the rest around here. There's no market for cattle in Texas...Then I'll take 'em where there is a market, if it means drivin' them a thousand miles"
  • there was a homosexual-tinged scene between notorious gunman Cherry Valance (John Ireland), who was hired for Dunson's cattle drive, and Tom's grown-up foster son Matthew Garth/Dunson (Montgomery Clift as adult, in his debut film role) when they compared each other's guns and competed in shooting abilities; Cherry made covert advances toward Matt, while they both exhibited much symbolic macho posturing and sexual innuendo about their respective guns: (Cherry: "That's a good looking gun you were about to use back there. Can I see it? (Matt handed it over) Maybe you'd like to see mine! (Cherry reacting to Matt's gun) Nice! Awful nice. You know, there are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. You ever had a good Swiss watch?"); the scene was followed by their target practice session with a tin can to demonstrate their shooting skills
  • in a momentous scene, Tom Dunson delivered a tough challenge and statement of ground rules to his recalcitrant cowhands the night before a treacherous, near-suicidal cattle drive up to Missouri: ("Well, we start tomorrow. We're goin' to Missouri with ten thousand head. Most of you men have come back to Texas from the war. You came back to nothing. You find your homes gone, your cattle scattered, and your land stolen by carpetbaggers. Well there's no money and no work because there's no market for beef in the South. But there is in Missouri. So we're goin' to Missouri... Cumberland didn't make it. No one else has. That's the reason I'm here. I want you all to know what you're up against. You probably already know, but I want to make sure you do. We got a thousand miles to go. Ten miles a day'll be good. Fifteen will be luck. It'll be dry country, dry wells when we get to 'em. There'll be wind, rain. There's gonna be Indian Territory - how bad I don't know. When we get to Missouri, there'll be border gangs. It's gonna be a fight all the way. But we'll get there. Nobody has to come along. We'll still have a job for ya when we get back. Now remember this! Every man who signs on for this drive agrees to finish it. There'll be no quittin' along the way, not by me and not by you! There's no hard feelings if you don't want to go. But just let me know now")
  • at sun-up on the morning of the start of the epic cattle drive, the camera impressively panned 360 degrees around to view the herd and the cowboys, followed by Dunson's order to Matthew to begin the trek - "Take 'em to Missouri, Matt!" - and the quick-cutting montage of each of the cowboys crying out to get the doggies movin' ("Yee-Hah!")
  • in a stupendous sequence one night, a cattle stampede was caused by Bunk Kenneally (Ivan Parry) who inadvertently sent the herd into an out-of-control stampede when he again selfishly reached to steal a dab of sugar in the chuckwagon - the third time - and upset all the pots and pans; one of the drovers-cowhands Dan Latimer (Harry Carey Jr.) died as a result of the stampede
  • a simple funeral ceremony was held for Dan Latimer, during which a cloud passed over the sun and cast a shadow on the distant mountain while Dunson delivered a eulogy: ( "You brought nothing into this world and it's certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen")
  • immediately after the service, Dunson threatened to deliver a public bull-whipping to Bunk for the loss of several hundred head of cattle and a man's life; Matt intervened (when Bunk reached for his gun to defend himself against Dunson) by only wounding Bunk, knowing that his father would have killed him ("You'd have shot him right between the eyes")
  • there were the stirrings of mutinous talk among the cowboys, including Naylor (Glenn Strange) and Fernandez (Paul Fierro) who challenged Dunson and wanted to take a different route - to Kansas; Cherry, Groot and Matt helped to defend the unarmed Dunson and cold-bloodedly executed the three "quitters"; afterwards, the tyrannical Dunson turned and defiantly asked the rest of the men: "All right. Anybody else? Say it now, 'cause I don't want ever to hear it again. I don't like quitters, especially when they're not good enough to finish what they start. Now go on! Speak up! Say it and you can join your friends here..."; although Matt assisted in the killing, he questioned his father's judgment and dictatorial rule and declared his behavior "wrong"

Dunson's Show-Down Against Three "Quitters"

Dunson's Warning Against the Others

Matt Blamed His Father's Tyranny for the Revolt
  • one of the film's most marvelous scenes depicted the crossing of the Red River
  • soon, three others deserted during the night - Teeler, Kelsey and Laredo (Dan White), stealing beans, flour, and cartridges during their sneaky getaway, but two of the three rebellious deserters were caught by Cherry and brought back to camp and tried for thievery and desertion
  • in a dramatic scene, Matt finally led a mutinous attack against his mad, enraged and arrogant father and refused to hang the two men for desertion when ordered to - Matt openly defied his hard, inflexible father, forcibly assumed control, and decided to reroute the herd on a different, shorter route to the railroad terminus in Abilene, Kansas
  • during a short farewell scene, Matt had a few final words with the cold-blooded, outnumbered Dunson, who verbally threatened to hunt Matt down and kill him: "...I'm gonna kill you. I'll catch up with ya! I don't know when, but I'll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me. 'Cause one time you'll turn around and I'll be there. I'll kill ya, Matt"

Two of Three Deserters Brought Back by Cherry

Matt Was Again Defiant Against His Father

Dunson's Threat Toward His Son: "I'll kill ya, Matt!"
  • Matt rescued a wagon train (of dance hall girls and gamblers) from an Apache Indian attack - and made the acquaintance with Tess Millay (Joanne Dru), one of the pioneer women (and would soon establish a solid romantic relationship with her) although they went separate ways when he pushed on to Abilene

Matt Defending Wagon Train From Indians
Tess Millay (Joanne Dru)
Matt's Romance with Tess
  • during his relentless pursuit of Matt, Dunson came upon Tess' wagon-train days later, and after a few moments realized that she was the link between him and Matt - she offered him a chance for redemption and peace-making after the two men had grown to defy each other; he asked for her to provide him with a son: ("What would you say if, if I offered ya half of everything I own for a son?") - but she responded with a tough caveat: "I'll have your son, Mr. Dunson, if you'll stop now. Stop now and go back where you came from. I'll have your son" - he refused to give up his murderous quest for Matt
  • a final savage confrontation occurred between father and son at sun-up, when Dunson saw Matt in the distance in Abilene (where Matt's team had already arrived - the first cattle drive to cross over the Chisholm Trail! - the cattle had streamed through the streets); the camera tracked with Dunson as he rode forward, dismounted and strode through the stray cows (actually plowed or waded through them like water in a river), and drew his gun on Matt - and challenged Matt: ("Go on, draw. I said 'DRAW'! (Long pause) Then I'll make ya"); when Matt refused to draw, they got into a lengthy, fist-fight brawl after Dunson taunted: "You're soft! Won't anything make a man out of ya?...You yellow-bellied, cotton-livered..."
  • the fight was interrupted by Tess's intervention into the senseless fighting - she fired a gun close to them to get their attention and then commanded them to end their fighting and quit destroying each other ("Stop it. Stop it. Stop makin' a holy...Stop it I said. I'm mad, good and mad. And who wouldn't be. (To Dunson) You Dunson, pretendin' you're gonna kill him. Why, it's the last thing in the world you... Stay still. I'm mad I told ya. (To Matt) And you Matthew Garth, gettin' your face all beat up and all bloody. You oughta see how, you oughta see how silly you look, like, like somethin' the cat dragged - STAY STILL - What a fool I've been, expectin' trouble for days when, when anybody with half a mind would know you two love each other....Then stay still. No, don't stay still. I changed my mind. Go ahead. Beat each other crazy. Maybe it will put some sense in both of ya. Go ahead. Go on. Do it!") - she marched off; they obeyed her by ultimately reconciling after Tom told Matt that he should marry Tess ("You'd better marry that girl, Matt")

Dunson's Arrival at the Rail Head in Abilene, KS

Vicious Fight-Brawl Between Father and Son

Tess' Arbitration of the Fighting
  • in the last lines of the film, Dunson ordered one last thing, promising to add Matt's initial to the Red River D cattle brand (as a new branding iron) to make him a full partner in his cattle business - he drew the new brand in the dirt - a close-up of the brand ended the film as he announced that Matt had "earned" his manhood and had become a full partner of his adoptive father; the first name initial, 'M', symmetrically balanced out the surname, 'D', on the other side of the wavy, parallel lines that represented the Red River: (Dunson: "When we get back to the ranch, I want ya to change the brand. It'll be like this, the Red River 'D' and we'll add an 'M' to it. You don't mind that do ya?...You earned it")

Scrolling Prologue

Tom Dunson (John Wayne)

Fen's Bracelet (on Dead Indian's Wrist)

Montage: The Development of Dunson's Red River D Ranch

15 Years Later - The Necessity of a Cattle Drive

Matt (Montgomery Clift): Hints of Conflict Between Father and Foster Son

Showing Off Guns:
Cherry (John Ireland)
and Matt

Dunson's Challenge to Ranchhands About the Cattle Drive

Part of 360 Degree Panning View of Herd

Dunson: "Take 'em to Missouri, Matt"

Cowhands Cry: "Yee-Hah!"

Cattle Stampede

Dunson: "STAMPEDE!"

Dan Latimer's Funeral Service

Matt Shot and Wounded Bunk Before Dunson Could Kill Him

Crossing the Red River

Dunson's Discussion with Tess About Having a Son

After the Fight - Dunson to Matt: "You'd better marry that girl, Matt"

The New Red River D Brand


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