Blu-Ray Review- Red River
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Street Date: May 27th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Black & White, 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio, Mono Audio
Runtime: 127 Minutes (Theatrical)
When you look back at Howard Hawks’ filmography, it’s amazing how many different genres he was able to tackle so masterfully. From Scarface and His Girl Friday to The Big Sleep and The Thing from Another World, he was able to weave captivating stories for audiences of all kinds. With 1948’s Red River, Hawks fashioned a Western masterpiece that remains a definitive film of the genre, and one that will continue to influence filmmakers for years to come.
In Red River, John Wayne plays the gruff and stubborn Thomas Dunson, a cattle driver who decides to leave the wagon train he’s on to start his own cattle ranch in Texas. Leaving his true love behind, he and Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) set off on their journey. Not long after, Thomas discovers the wagon train he had left behind were overpowered by Native Americans, and that his love was killed in the massacre. A sole boy survivor, Matt, happens upon Thomas and Nadine, whom Thomas adopts as his own son.
Their party eventually settles near the Rio Grande, and after a showdown determining their ownership of the land, Thomas prevails, and fourteen years pass by. Their promising dream has hit a rough patch, as the poverty following the Civil War has crippled local families, unable to purchase Thomas’ beef from his now ten thousand strong cattle herd. Thomas, Groot, and Matt set out to drive the cattle north to Missouri where they believe they can make a fortune on their herd, and settle into a life of comfort. Along the way, there are several missteps and accidents that affect the crew, and Thomas’ own stubbornness and hard edge gets him into trouble with his men. Believed to be no longer capable of making decisions on their behalf, Matt leads the men in a mutiny of sorts against his father, resulting in a new direction for the cattle drive, and Thomas’ pursuit of his son across the country.
Red River is an American film masterpiece with beautiful cinematography, a rousing musical score, and edited to perfection with Howard Hawks’ masterful eye. This truly is the epitome of Western filmmaking, with what many consider to be John Wayne’s best performance. Stories of this epic scope just aren’t made anymore by Hollywood, and when they are, they certainly don’t hold the dynamic brilliance of Hawks’ vision. Red River remains one of the best films ever conceived, and it was an absolute delight to revisit it in High Definition.
This Blu-Ray Dual Format edition from The Criterion Collection boasts a truly beautiful black and white image, with authentic natural film grain, surprisingly good fine object detail, and very little scratches or other anomalies. There are the occasional soft spots, which must be inherent in the original source elements, but they are few and far between. It’s stunning to behold the detail in a film from this age, and Red River has simply never looked better on home video. Outstanding!
This uncompressed mono track retains the authenticity of the time period and is surprisingly dynamic on this Blu-Ray release. The utterly breathtaking score for the film is dispersed appropriately across your channels, and dialogue always comes through clean and clear. Background noise and sound effects (cattle, whips, stampedes) sound authentic on this track as well.
The Criterion Collection has provided fans of Red River with some fantastic bonus features to accompany this High Definition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
Disc One: (Theatrical Version)
- About the Versions- This short text provides some insight into the main differences between the theatrical version and prerelease cut of the film (both included).
- A Film of Firsts: Peter Bogdanovich on Red River– This interview with Director Peter Bogdanovich was filmed in 2013 in High Definition and runs approximately seventeen minutes long. The film has remained one of Peter’s favorite films since the age of 10, and he discusses his appreciation for Red River in great detail. From Wayne’s hard-edged performance to John Ford’s directing style and the epic scope of the film, there is much to admire about this extended interview. Great stuff!
- Hawks and Bogdanovich- This seven part audio interview from 1972 has Peter Bogdanovich sitting down with Director Howard Hawks to discuss various aspects of Red River, from the screenwriting process to filming locations, the actors involved to the ending, again, there is much to admire about their discussion.
- Theatrical Trailer- This vintage trailer is presented in standard definition and runs nearly two minutes.
Disc Two: (Prerelease Cut)
- Tensions and Traditions: Molly Haskell on Red River- Over fifteen minutes of interview footage featuring Molly Haskell discussing the film and it’s director, spliced with footage from the film and behind the scenes photos.
- Modes of Masculinity: The Western and Red River– Author Lee Clark Mitchell discusses the cultural history behind the film and it’s impact on the western genre.
- Borden Chase- These audio excerpts from a 1969 interview with the author of the source material in which Red River is based on are tons of fun. The author doesn’t shy away from revealing his opinion on the film and issues with the screenwriting process associated with his novel.
- Lux Radio Theatre- One of the best special features on any release this year, this is the actual radio broadcast from the Lux Radio Theatre from their adaptation of Red River, and features John Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Walter Brennan reprising their roles from the film. Turn off the lights, close your eyes, and give this a listen. Fantastic!
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Dual Format release from The Criterion Collection features a great retro cover art design. This is spine number 709 from Criterion, and housed in the newer-style dual format slip-box. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis for Red River, a list of the special features included, technical specifications, and cast and crew credits. Inside of the case they have included a digi-pack to house the discs that features sepia-toned production stills, the source material novel for the film titled Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail (by Borden Chase), and a stunning booklet with an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien. The passion and care from this company is evident in every facet of this release, which is a downright gorgeous edition to add to your home video collection.
Red River remains an American film masterpiece with beautiful cinematography, a rousing musical score, and one of John Wayne’s most iconic performances with Howard Hawks’ masterful eye at the helm. This truly is the epitome of Western filmmaking. This Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection features breathtaking video quality that features authentic grain, incredible clarity and detail, and very few anomalies. The audio quality is surprisingly dynamic, and remains authentic to the time period. The special features that have been provided by The Criterion Collection will entertain fans of the genre for hours, with many scholars discussing the film at length through various interviews and featurettes. Red River is one of the best Blu-Ray editions of 2014 thus far, and receives my highest recommendation.
Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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