Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his friend Groot (Walter Brennan) join a wagon train headed to California, but along the way, they decide to leave in Texas to start up a cattle ranch. It means Tom has to leave behind Fen, the woman he loves, but Tom has always dreamed of having his own cattle ranch. He promises that he will send for her someday, but not long after leaving the train, Tom and Groot see that the train they were part of was attacked by Indians and Fen was killed. The only survivor of the attack was Matthew (Mickey Kuhn as a child, Montgomery Clift as an adult), who finds his way to Tom and Groot and brings a cow with him.
Tom takes Matt and his cow along with them and begins to treat Matt like a son. Nothing stands in Tom’s way of making his ranch a success and 14 years later, Tom’s herd has grown to over ten thousand. But after the South loses the Civil War, not very many people can afford to buy his beef anymore so Tom decides the best thing to do would take all the cattle north to Missouri. It would be a massive undertaking and Tom has to hire extra help to make it happen. He knows it’s going to be hard and that people will want to quit along the way, but he tells everyone right off that he won’t tolerate anybody quitting. As soon as he’s got a good crew ready, they set out for Missouri.
Just as Tom predicted, things start getting hard and very dangerous. There’s a stampede and one of their wagons carrying food is destroyed. Food has to be rationed tightly, Tom doesn’t have the money to get more supplies, and when some of the men find out that it might be easier to go to Albilene, Kansas than Missouri, they’re not happy when Tom insists on going ahead to Missouri instead. Some try to desert, but Tom has them brought back, which pushes Matt to the breaking point. Matt shoots Tom in the hand and takes control of the cattle drive, leaving Tom behind. But Tom vows to catch up to them someday and when he does, he’s going to kill Matt. Matt leads the way to Albilene, but they stop to help another wagon train being attacked by Indians, which is where Matt meets Tess (Joanne Dru). Matt and Tess fall in love with each other, but he leaves her behind just like Tom left Fen behind all those years ago. After he leaves, Tom ends up meeting Tess, who begs him to not kill Matt. Tom doesn’t want to back off, but his meeting with Tess gives him a lot to consider.
I figured I’d start Blogging Under the Stars 2012 off with a movie that’s been on my “To Watch” list for a long time now. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I can safely say that I wish I had seen Red River sooner. I certainly never thought John Wayne was a bad actor, but his performance in this really blew me away. His acting in the scene where Tom meets with Tess is definitely my favorite scene of any John Wayne movie that I’ve seen. Red River was also the first film Montgomery Clift made. Costarring with someone like John Wayne for your first movie has got to be pretty daunting task, but Clift managed to really hold his own against Wayne. There were plenty of exciting moments to keep me entertained, like the stampede scene and the scene where Tom makes his way into Albilene to have his match with Matt. Overall, I was very impressed with it and that’s a big compliment coming from someone who isn’t too fond of Westerns.