Latest Review – Red River (Blu-ray) (Eureka! Entertainment) (Masters of Cinema)

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Red River

Masters of Cinema: #68 (Blu-ray)

Eureka! Entertainment / Howard Hawks / 1948 / USA

Genre: Western

Running Time: 133 minutes (2:12:42)

Region Code: Region B (Locked)

Certificate: U

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Codec: AVC

Image: B&W

Video: 1080p High Definition 

Audio: English Linear PCM 1.0 (48kHz / 24-bit) (Dialogue track) / Linear PCM 1.0 (48kHz / 24-bit) (Music and Effects Track)

Language: English

Subtitles: Optional English SDH (On/Off)

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Arguably the finest and most beautiful western of the 1940’s, Eureka! Entertainment’s fine new Blu-ray release of Howard Hawks’ two-time Academy Award-nominated ‘Red River’ marks the undisputed cinematic icon’s long overdue debut appearance on their acclaimed Masters of Cinema label.

Co-written by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, and adapted from Chase’s Academy Award-nominated (Best Writing, Motion Picture Story) original 1946 story (first serialised in The Saturday Evening Post under the title of ‘Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail’), the film presents a fictional and often darkly comic account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail.

After the Civil War, ranch owner Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) leaves behind his love interest (Coleen Gray) and begins his journey to Texas in the hope of starting up a successful cattle ranch alongside his old trail hand, Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan). Following and Indian attack, the men are approached by the young, orphaned, Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn), the sole survivor of the wagon train, whom Dunson invites along on their search for cattle land.

Fourteen year then pass by, in which time Dunson has established himself as the most successful cattle rancher in the area, with the help of Groot and his now adopted grown-up son, Matthew (Montgomery Clift), with a herd of over nine-thousand cattle.

Due to the widespread poverty following the Civil War the south can no longer afford Dunson’s beef, and struggling financially to maintain operation of his ranch, Dunson ambitiously decides to drive his vast 9000-strong herd hundreds of miles north, from an impoverished Texas to the booming markets of Missouri, assited and protected by a group of newly hired cowboys.

Though initially optimistic of the epic task in hand, the men soon begin to question Dunson’s leadership, and as the conditions along the journey worsen, and Dunson’s tyrannical control over his cattlemen grows increasingly more severe, a rebellion soon begins to grow within the group.

Sprawling in its scope and incredibly ambitious in its overall composition, Howard Hawks’ alluring, atmospheric film is a far cry from the majority of run of the mill westerns produced around the time, fused with an intelligence, a brooding psychology and an intense, and ultimately quite profound father and son relationship drama which elevates Red River to the top tier of mid-Twentieth Century American westerns.

Yes there are intimate scenes interspersed throughout the piece, but on the whole this is a classic American adventure story produced on a vast, epic scale, enhanced by a sweeping score from the twenty-two time Academy Award-nominated master composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, the stylish Academy Award-nominated editing of Christian Nyby and the astonishing black and white, location cinematography from the great Russell Harlan, perfectly balancing the arresting panoramas of the Arizona landscape with a more tender, observant quality for the quieter and more intimate scenes.

Performances are generally excellent, led by the great central pairing of John Wayne, in one of his most powerful roles, and Montgomery Clift, in his debut movie role, and with a fine supporting cast featuring the likes of such character acting greats as: Joanne Dru, Coleen Gray, Harry Carey, John Ireland, Hank Worden, Noah Beery, Jr., Harry Carey, Jr., Paul Fix and the great three-time Academy Award-winning Walter Brennan (Best Supporting Actor: Come and Get It,1936; Kentucky, 1938; The Westerner, 1940 – and still the only actor to date to have won three Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards) as Groot.

When we compare this work to many of Hawks’ previous films, for instance: Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Big Sleep (1946), to name just a few, Red River is incredibly different in tone, composition and pacing, not to mention the fact that it is his first western, having previously served as an uncredited co-director on Howard Hughes’ ‘The Outlaw’ (1943), so it is just further testament to Hawks’ reputation as a cinematic master that he was able to turn his hand to so many different genres, and deliver them all to such an incredibly high standard.

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Presented in the original Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1, Eureka! Entertainment’s new AVC encoded 1080p High Definition presentation delivers mostly impressive results, and although far from a perfect transfer, delivers significant improvements upon previous releases of the film.

Despite some mild contrast issues, the original monochrome image is very well reproduced. There are a few issues with image softness now and then (due to the condition of the source materials) but on the whole we are presented with generally strong levels of clarity, fine detail and image depth. The daylight scenes are particularly impressive, though there are some minor instances of contrast wavering in the darkest scenes.

Thankfully there are no major image artefacts to report and, apart from some light scratches, vertical lines and very mild flickering now and then, the image appears very clean indeed.

Finally, there are no distinct signs of any digital manipulation, sharpening or enhancement, leaving a very authentic and organic feeling presentation of the film with a strong layer of consistent grain present throughout.

For a film that is now sixty-five years old the English Linear PCM 1.0 audio mix is in great condition. There is some light intermittent background hiss present, but aside from that the audio track is excellent, presenting strong levels of dialogue clarity, depth and, surprisingly, dynamic range, with no signs of any distortions, crackling or dropouts.

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Special Features:

Dan Sallitt & Jaime N. Christley –  Video conversation about the film’s themes and the legacy of Hawks between filmmaker Dan Sallitt and film critic Jaime N. Christley, filmed exclusively for The Masters of Cinema Series in 2013 (0:45:32)

Lux Radio Theater – Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Red River, originally broadcast on March 7, 1949, featuring John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Joanne Dru, reprising their roles from the film (0:58:54)

56-page Illustrated Booklet – Featuring a lecture on Hawks by Andrew Sarris; an excerpt from Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues’ BFI monograph of Red River; an interview with editor, Christian Nyby; an excerpt from the infamous Film Comment interview with screenwriter Borden Chase; Hawks’ own response to Chase’s interview; an article on the two versions of the film; and rare archival imagery.

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Overall:

A long overdue Blu-ray release of Hawks’ superb western. An authentic and very nicely restored presentation, accompanied by an array of interesting special features and articles, render this another essential addition to the great Masters of Cinema series.

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Release Date: 28 October, 2013

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