Red River: Original trailer for 1948 film
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Back in 1946, John Wayne shot the first of a number of Westerns with director Howard Hawks. Red River was a fictional telling of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. The story followed a growing feud between Duke’s Texas rancher Thomas and his adopted adult son Matt played by Montgomery Clift in his film debut. It turns out that in real life the two Hollywood stars did not get on either. Burt Lancaster had originally been considered for the role of Matt in Red River. However, Clift ended up being offered $60,000 for the film, but had to be talked into doing it as he was concerned about a climactic fight between the bigger and taller Wayne.
There was also concern that the two stars would feud on set as they were both outspoken politically from opposite viewpoints. It’s rumoured they both agreed not to talk about such matters so that the shoot would go smoothly.
Regardless, Duke and co-star Walter Brennan didn’t get on with “arrogant little bastard” Clift and so kept away when not shooting together. The young actor would later turn down Dean Martin’s role in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo over a decade later to avoid the two actors. He also didn’t really get on with the director, who he remembered having nightly poker games with Wayne.
The 26-year-old later said of the two political conservatives: “They laughed and drank and told dirty jokes and slapped each other on the back. They tried to draw me into their circle but I couldn’t go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me because it seemed so forced and unnecessary.”
When filming began, Wayne had serious concerns over Clift being manly enough to play a rugged cowboy character who could stand up to him.
The young actor, who was considered one of Hollywood’s original method actors alongside Marlon Brando and James Dean, burned himself on the thigh with a blank cartridge while practising quick draws on the first day.
He was also nervous about standing up to Wayne, but was spurred on by Hawks, who encouraged him to see his scenes with Duke as David and Goliath. The director told Clift to underplay his scenes with Wayne before their first on-screen confrontation.
In fact, Clift ended up impressing Wayne who, although he did not personally like his co-star, thought he was very effective in Red River in the end. However, the Matt actor was disappointed with the end result when he saw a rough-cut screening of the picture before its delayed release in 1948.
The rising star thought the ending was ludicrous “because Joanne Dru settles it and it makes the showdown between me and John Wayne a farce.”
Despite finding his own performance in the film mediocre he later said: “I watched myself in Red River and knew I was going to be famous, so I decided I would get drunk anonymously one last time.”
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