Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Take 'em to Missouri, Matt.

Over the weekend I saw Howard Hawks's Red River for the first time and, kids, it's the real deal.
I often find myself dreading THE WESTERN, as it reminds me of duller than dull childhood movie-watching experiences chez Grandparents. It's a dumb prejudice to hold onto and Red River might've cured me. It's an epic, but one that Hawks unspools in a supremely controlled, intimate manner.
The film follows Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son, Matt (Montgomery Clift), as they lead a crew of cowboys on an enormous cattle drive from Texas to Missouri* back in old timey days. It was Clift's debut performance and it's raw and method-y without being obvious and dated (like a lot of early Brando and most of James Dean). I'm guessing its Clift's A-Game that pushed John Wayne into really delivering, because, surprise of all surprises, the Duke digs in and gives a strong, sympathetic performance.
Of course, the film winds up being largely about the power struggle between father and son. What's impressive is Hawks takes it to Shakespearean heights, without it ever feeling histrionic and overdone. Likewise, the film is visually grand but never seems to go for the cliche vistas. Hawks definitely reminds you that he's got thousands of real cows and that he's often shooting on location, but it always seems to be directly in service of the story.
Also of note: it's, er, kinda gay. Hawks, Monty and co. totally beat Ang Lee and Gyllenhaal to that whole gay cowboy thing. Most obvious: Cherry Valance (John Ireland) shows up to join the cattle drive. He and (cough cough) Monty Clift get into a discussion/display of (wink wink) who's got the bigger/better gun. The scene concludes with Cherry stating: "There are only two things more beautiful than a gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good Swiss watch?" The only thing missing: pudding.
So, dear reader(s), what's next? I'm thinking The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Darling Clementine, and a revisiting of Stagecoach. Any suggestions for my crash course in Western appreciation are greatly appreciated.

* Pronounced "Missoura," obviously.


At 5:55 PM, Blogger girish said...

[Sound of hands rubbing with glee]...Love those westerns. Some recommendations:
FORD: Clementine (would be a great next choice), Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Stagecoach.
HAWKS: Rio Bravo.
MANN: Man From Laramie, The Far Country.
and good old Shane, which gets me every time.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger girish said...

Oh, and this is funny. ALL of Hawks' films have a gay subtext in the form of incredibly strong male friendships (starting with his silents in the 20s!).

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Dashiell said...

once you get through the older hawks, ford stuff, move on to the spaghetti westerns and cap it all off with "Once upon a time in the west".

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Dashiell said...

oh, and the professionals is awesome w/ lee marvin and burt lancaster.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Bad Girls starring Madeline Stowe and Drew Barrymore. Wait. Sorry. Forget that.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Daniel Silliman said...

My favorite is The Searchers. If I were just gonna watch one.

At 3:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooh, you must watch High Noon, of course. And my personal favorite is El Dorado. I mean, shit. It's got James Caan in a funny hat!

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Girish-- Must check out those Mann films. As for Hawks and his subtext-- I am woefully unlearned in the ways of Hawks. I've only seen Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday, and Red River. I need to play catch up badly.

Dash-- Once Upon... is in the pile. (As is The Searchers, Daniel.)

Tim-- No.

Anon.-- Jimmy Caan in a funny hat? Done.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

Ever'body done mentioned all the good ones 'cept . Divine's in that one. And it's sweet.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

Goddamn it, bitches fucked up my shit. The name of the movie is "Lust In The Dusth"

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Nayiri said...

Dammit, I'm "Anonymous"! Stupid Blogger.


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