Red River ★★★★½

Comedy and tragedy are inseparable in Howard Hawks's bovine-thriller Red River. Boasting a cast of seasoned Hollywood veterans (John "That'll Be The" Wayne, perpetual old coot Walt Brennan, Harry Carey Sr.) and then-new whippersnappers (a cherubic Monty Clift in his first major role), Hawks's film—his first Western—immediately convinces the viewer that its odd mélange of characters and lost souls have been on-the-trail for decades. There is a number of quite audacious time-jumps Hawks pulls off magnificently, and his deadpan camera pans guide us through the march of time with the efficiency of a fast-producing printing-press. It's a wonderfully told story, without any put-ons or flowery ornaments that other overrated Western tripe (Shane, High Noon) slabs on like excess fat. It's a specific brand of lean—Hawksian leanness—that gains added poignancy through its bold characterization of John Wayne's character as a obsessed, Aguirre-like colonial who attempts to subjugate the land (and his party of cow-breeders) to his iron will. It's a scary role, and one Wayne proves he was ready to handle.

Some may be perturbed by the film's "sudden" ending, finding they want a conventional conclusion to a most unconventional film. To those nitpickers, I say: "You don't know Hawks!" Of course, it makes PERFECT sense that the woman furiously chastises the men and the men eagerly listen. It's the one true moment of high comedy in the film (one could make a case for the equally-hilarious scene where Tess takes an arrow to her soldier like a goddam champ) and it's a moment that perfectly reflects Hawks' life philosophy. The men claim they can exist on their own, but they fail tremendously in their ventures. The women have no such pretentions, and because of that clarity of mind, they can easily take control of any given situation with or without manipulation.

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