By Nicholas Stix
Slightly revised on Monday, February 22, 2016, at 9:10 p.m.
Red River is considered one of the three or four greatest Westerns ever made. It is a fictional telling of the first cattle drive using the Chisholm Trail.
The time is 1871 or ’72. Ruthless cattle baron Thomas Dunson has built the biggest cattle ranch in Texas out of virtually nothing, helped by his old friend, Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) and the orphan he adopted, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift), when the boy’s family was wiped out by the same Commanche band that slaughtered Dunson’s betrothed, and which tried to kill him and Groot.
The dazed, shocked boy has one cow, the bitter but unbowed Dunson has one bull, and that is how the “D Red River” brand is born.
After the war, the Union declares economic and political war on the South, which destroys the market for beeves. Dunson will have to either move his herd to market in Missouri, die trying, at the hands of cut-throat border gangs or Indians, or lose everything.
Dunson is a murderous psychopath. I first saw this picture 42 years ago, and I vaguely recalled that aspect of his personality, but not the particulars. It’s a miracle the picture got past the censors, but this came at a steep price.
There is a conflict during the cattle drive. The men think they ought to change direction, and head towards Abilene, Kansas, where a couple of them heard tell of a railroad line, rather than Missouri, which is a much longer, more dangerous trail. The problem is, the railroad is just a rumor; no one’s actually seen it.
As far as Dunson is concerned, disagreement is a capital offense.
John Ford and Wayne were supposedly best friends, and yet for several years, Ford had been artistically inhibiting Wayne. In the face of Wayne’s revelatory performance for Hawks as Tom Dunson, Ford legendarily exclaimed, “I didn’t know the big son-of-a-bitch could act!”
The influence that this picture had on the Western cannot be exaggerated. I am thinking especially of the epic Larry McMurtry novel, 30 years later, Lonesome Dove, and the magnificent miniseries 1989 made out of it. Capt. Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) is a kinder, gentler, Thomas Dunson.
At the time, Dimitri Tiomkin’s music was the boldest, most ambitious score ever written for a Western. He weaves his own, original themes together with the most famous cowboy music ever composed, as well as 19th century standards by Stephen Foster.
The Two Main Themes
Published on Oct 24, 2013
Track 1 of the original soundtrack of the classic Western film Red River, composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Track 2 - Dunson Heads South
Track 3 - Red River Camp
Track 4 - The Red Menace Strikes
Track 5 - The Lone Survivor
Track 6 - Birth of Red River D
Track 7 - Mexican Burial
Track 8 - Growth of the Dunson Empire
Track 9 - Roundup
Track 10 - Suspense at Dawn
Track 11 - On to Missouri
Track 12 - The Drive Moves North
Track 13 - The Brazos Trail
Track 14 - Stampede
Track 15 - The Missing Cowboy
See if you recognize the most famous cowboy music ever composed, which Tiomkin wove into this passage at two different intervals.
Track 16 - Latimer Burial
Track 17 - Thunder on the Trail
Track 18 - Red River Ahead
Track 19 - Red River Crossing
Track 20 - Cottonwood Justice
Track 21 - Dunson Swears Vengeance
Track 22 - Comanche Arrows
Track 23 - In Wait
Track 24 - Fight for Life
Track 25 - Vigil in the Night
Track 26 - Foggy Night Surrender
Track 27 - The Spectre Takes Form
Track 28 - Interlude
Track 29 - Out of the Past
Track 30 - Memory of Love
Track 31 - A Joyous Meeting
Track 32 - Approach to Abilene
Track 33 - A Big Day for Abilene
Track 34 - The Spectre Closes in
Track 35 - A Message for Matt
Track 36 - The Challenge
Track 37 - The New Brand