The Hollywood western mythologizes America’s perceived threats and virtues through sweeping landscapes and music that underscores the struggles and triumphs of the characters. On these fronts, Red River (1948) is exceptional. The film follows Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift) on an arduous journey from Texas to Missouri to sell 10,000 head of cattle after the fall of the South in the Civil War. Shot by veteran cinematographer Russell Harlan (who cut his teeth on Hopalong Cassidy films and would go on to earn six Oscar nominations), the film is accompanied by a lush Dimitri Tiomkin score that features a traditional western chorus. Together, the elements of Red River articulate a battle for control over the land, the future, and what it means to be a man.
The seminar will address the production of Red River, contextualizing its contribution to the western as well as its place in the oeuvre of the film’s incredibly versatile director, Howard Hawks. Although he was wildly creative in his manipulation of genre form, working in the gangster, screwball comedy, film noir, and western, Hawks’s films show a sustained interest in gender types. His men display a surprising array of vulnerabilities, while the women of Red River, limited though their roles may be, nonetheless harken back to the moral fortitude and level-headedness of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Although it is a key entry in a genre typically associated with masculinity, Red River is as much about relationships as it is about conquest.