Is “Red River” the best John Wayne film?

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in 'Red River.'Any discussion about which John Wayne film is the best must include “Red  River,” the classic 1948 western, which airs on the Encore Western Channel,  Saturday, April 17th, at 8 pm. Directed by Howard Hawks, “Red River” marked the  screen debut of Montgomery Clift, and also includes Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru,  Harry Carey and John Ireland. Shot in back and white, “Red River” incorporated  great location footage depicting the rugged landscape the principle characters  needed to battle while attempting the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas  along the Chisholm Trail.

“Red River” begins in 1851 Texas, where Tom Dunson (Wayne) shortly after  losing his girl in an Indian massacre, comes upon the only survivor of the  attack, a 14 years old boy named Matthew Garth, who Dunson adopts. Along with  Tom’s companion Groot (Brennan), the three cross the Red River, and establish a  cattle ranch in that remote section of Texas. The movie jumps ahead to 1866.  Although Dunson now owns 9,000 head of cattle, the economy in post-Civil Texas  is too poor to support a decent price for beef. Believing their herd could fetch  top dollar in Missouri, Dunson, Groot and Matt (played as an adult by Montgomery  Clift) hire on a group of extra men, and set out on what proves to be a grueling  journey up the Chisholm Trail. Dunson drives his men very hard, deals out harsh  punishment for indiscretions, and will not allow any man to quit the drive.  Finally, as Dunson looks to hang two would be deserters, Matt rebels, takes  control of the operation, and changes the course of the drive towards Abilene,  Kansas, leaving Dunson behind. Matt knows that completing the cattle drive won’t  be half as difficult as having to deal with Dunson when his adoptive father  eventually catches up with him.

“Red River,” with its gunfights, cattle stampedes, Indian attacks, hangings  and fistfights, has all one could want from a classic western, in addition to  wonderful performances delivered by an outstanding cast. After viewing “Red  River,” John Ford, who directed John Wayne in several of the Duke’s finest  films, reportedly said of Wayne that “I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could  act.” In 1990, “Red River” was selected for preservation in the National Film  Registry by the Library of Congress, and is acknowledged by the American Film  Institute as the fifth best film in the western genre.