I usually don’t care for Westerns, but Red River (1948) with John Wayne is a new exception. In Red River, Wayne goes against type and plays a character who’s hard to like. Tom Dunson goes out west to seek a fortune from ranching. Early on he splits from his wagon train and leaves behind his lady love. To no avail, she pleads for him to take her with him.
Nope, she’ll be safer with the group and Tom’ll send for her. Unfortunately, Comanches attack the wagon train killing everyone but Matt, a boy who manages to escape with a cow. Tom adopts Matt and apparently sent him to school.
Fourteen years later, after the Civil War, the 10,000 cattle, Tom’s raised are worthless since Southerners can’t afford beef. He must get his cattle to Missouri in spite of danger from Indians and terrible trail conditions. He lays down the law with the men who agree to go with him. If you start, you must finish. You’ll get $100, big money for going.
As they proceed, times are tough. They must fight Indians, put up with meagre rations and with Tom, who grows more obsessed and stubborn refusing to change his route when it’s clear that his plan is too dangerous. Men rebel and Matt’s caught in the middle against his adoptive father. Wayne plays a complex man and with most actors he’d be completely unlikeable. Clift’s Matt is natural and every move is simple, yet absorbing. According to the Criterion supplements, Clift, who’s films I hadn’t seen, was the first “Method” actor to become a star.