Red River

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Details At A Glance

Category Western Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating g.gif (1187 bytes) Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1948 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 127:31 Minutes
(Not 133 Minutes as per packaging)
Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Howard Hawks
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Fox Home Video
Starring John Wayne
Montgomery Clift
Walter Brennan
Joanne Dru
Harry Carey, Sr.
Coleen Gray
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Dimitri Tiomkin
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    When I think of fifty-something year old films that I would like to see given a restoration and transfer to our beloved format, I think of the Marx Brothers and their illustrious comedies. Still, now that Columbia Tristar have given us such ageing classics as Dr. Strangelove and Jason And The Argonauts, I guess it is only fitting that Metro Goldwyn-Mayer and Fox have decided to take a film of similar vintage and use it to demonstrate what they are capable of producing on our beloved discs. The first, and elder, of two efforts I received today is the ageing classic Red River, one of John Wayne's many "classic" Westerns. I must admit that I was rather curious to find out what the big deal with this man was about, and now I think I would have preferred to remain ignorant. Having previously experienced the slightly more recent Spaghetti Westerns of the early sixties, I can now see why the American Westerns began imitating them instead of vice versa. Not that this is necessarily a bad film, but the glorified presentation of the American Colonists does not sit well with me, especially the habit of portraying the natives as a mob of lunatics who will simply attack the Colonists for the sake of it.

    The film begins with Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his young adopted son by the name of Matthew Garth (Mickey Kuhn) picking out a piece of land to raise their cattle on, and killing some rivals in the process. Once Dunson is finished dealing with other claimants to his land and espousing his dream of making a fortune as a cattle trader, we move forward an indeterminate number of years until Matthew is a young man, now played by Montgomery Clift in his cinematic debut. Due to the economic changes brought about by the Civil War, the bottom falls out of the beef market in the Southern States, leaving Thomas with no option but to take his numerous cattle and his employees on a long, dangerous trek to Missouri. Along the way, a dispute ensues between Thomas and Matthew, mainly owing to Thomas' tyrannical ways of dealing with his business, and Matthew takes off with the herd for Kansas on the basis of information given to him by Cherry Valance (John Ireland). Thomas, swearing to take vengeance for the betrayal, sets off in pursuit of his young ward and the cattle, with the inevitable Western showdown guaranteed in the chapter listing.

    According to information I read on the Internet Movie Database, this is an accurate film about the life of a cattle herder during the post-Civil War days, but I still prefer the Westerns produced in Italy by the likes of Sergio Leone to this film. Obviously, this is purely personal taste, so bigger fans of the traditional Western will probably find this to be a perfectly satisfying film. One interesting thing to note is that Leonard Maltin is quoted as rating the film at four stars (out of how many, I do not know), and describing it as "an absolute must". What makes this so interesting is the fact that his surname is actually spelt Moltin on this cover, which leads me to believe that MGM have caught the nasty packaging-error bug from Warner Brothers.

Transfer Quality


    Fifty-two years is a long time in the life of a human being, and for celluloid, it is getting close to three lifetimes. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the transfer of a film made in the late 1940s, and it is a credit to those responsible for the transfer process that this film looks as good as it does. The transfer is presented in the Full Frame format, which is more or less the same ratio as the film was presented in during its theatrical exhibition, the ratio of 1.37:1, which reflects the vintage of the film.  The transfer is surprisingly sharp considering its age, with most of the details being perfectly clear and easy to make out when they are close to the camera. Obviously, the sharpness cannot compare to that of a film that was shot in the last ten years, but this transfer is something of a pleasant surprise. Shadow detail is reasonable for a film of this age, but it is also somewhat limited in a lot of sequences with little discernible in the darker areas of the picture. The brightness level occasionally varies up and down at some inopportune moments, but this is a reasonably well-controlled problem compared to transfers of more recent films such as Rob Roy. Low-level noise was not noticed at any point in the transfer, but film grain was an obvious problem during some portions of the transfer.

    Being a black and white film, there was no real colour saturation to speak of in this transfer, but thankfully all of the objects in this film are well defined against one another, in contrast to other black and white films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space. MPEG artefacts were not noticed at any point in the transfer, but they had plenty of chances considering that the transfer rate consistently falls below three Mb/s in order to fit all of the film onto one layer. Interestingly, the parts of the film that show the biggest problems with grain are those where the film is the most tightly compressed. Film-to-video artefacts were mostly absent, but consisted of some small amounts of telecine wobble in the credits that was more likely introduced by the camera used to shoot them. Film artefacts were constantly present, with all sorts of scratches, flakes, and dirt becoming apparent in the picture.

    Interestingly, the subtitles encoded on this disc are given a slightly transparent grey background to separate them from the rest of the picture, a practise I would like to see more of with black and white films.


    Just as the age of the film is reflected to some degree in the video transfer, it is also reflected to a degree in the audio transfer. The audio transfer is presented with a single soundtrack, the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Some will lament the lack of a foreign language dub or a new 5.1 remix, but what we are presented with is perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. The dialogue is very clear and easy to make out, although the occasional word fell below the surface of intelligibility, more because of the recording techniques used in the film's production than anything else. The lack of distortion or low-frequency fuzz in the transfer strongly suggests that some restoration work has been performed upon the soundtrack, although the original version would not leave much room for any sort of enhancement. Audio sync was only a problem when some sound effects were dubbed in, but you would be hard-pressed to notice any serious troubles with the dialogue.

    The music in this film is credited to one Dimitri Tiomkin, with Jester Hairston as the uncredited choral director and Vinton Vernon as the music recordist. It is fairly typical of the style and era. It is not a bad effort for the style that it employs, with abundant use of horns, guitars, banjos, and chanting men all present and accounted for. I cannot help but think of the Psycho Dad theme from Married With Children when I hear most of the music in this film, however. If you can imagine me giggling hysterically while listening to Western themes, then I'm sure you can understand just how comical the music tends to sound, if only by association. In any case, the music is nicely married to the on-screen action and perfectly suited to its purposes.

    Being that this is a two-channel mono soundtrack, there was no surround presence to speak of. The centre and rear speakers basically yawned quietly and played cards with the subwoofer, which didn't even get any redirected signal to have some fun with. The lack of surround channel usage is a disappointment, but no real surprise in the context of the rest of the film.



    The menu is static and vaguely themed around the film. It is not 16x9 enhanced.


    A four-page booklet with some brief anecdotes about the production of the film. Worth reading once.

R4 vs R1

    The two versions of this disc are, for all intents and purposes, identical.


    Red River is an interesting, but ultimately clichéd film presented on a good DVD.

    The video quality is very good for a fifty-year-old film.

    The audio quality is also very good for fifty-year-old film.

    The extras are almost non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
June 15, 2000. 
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer