Saturday, June 09, 2007


Last night I saw two movies at AFI's Silver Theater* in Maryland. The first was Howard Hawk's Red River (1948),* a lavish epic of heroic Americana, for all its focused staginess. The movie begins as Thomas Dunson (immortalized by John Wayne), opts to leave the protection of his westbound wagon train and settle the fertile lands south of the Red River in Texas. Within the day, the rest of that convoy, along with Dunson's girlfriend, is burned by Indians. The next morning he's surprised by a boy leading a cow, lone survivors of the Indian massacre. They strike up a business partnership and ersatz father-son relationship on the spot. Of course there are other problems: luckily Dunson thinks nothing of shooting those other men who think they have a claim to the land he's declared his own. Over the following fourteen years, we discover through varied screen exposition methods, an enormous herd develops from the sole bovine couple, the boy develops into Montgomery Clift (neatly stealing the movie from Wayne), and a ranch develops around the seven-plot graveyard of previous landowners. Now the problem is that cattle are a dime-a-dozen in Texas where they wonder around freely. These cattle need to be driven to the nearest rail depot for distribution across the country at a fair price. Which will it be: Missouri or Kansas? The rest of the movie dramatizes this awesome cattle drive, the boy's coming-of-age, and Dunson's dark slide into complete megalomaniacal entitlement. It's fun to see a western like this, played to the tune of its own dramas, rather than the kind of smug deconstructionist versions I grew up with. Hawk's direction seems stilted in the talking scenes, possibly due to ingrained soundstage processes rendered ludicrous before the movie's well-documented expanses of the wild west. [Cavin]

Then, a 0 sided conversation ensued...

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