Howard Hughes Tried (and Failed) to Get This John Wayne Western Shelved


The big picture

  • John Wayne's role as a villain a
    Red River
    it was a stark contrast to his other roles at the time and showed Howard Hawks' darker intentions.
  • The dispute between Hawks and Howard Hughes led to a change in the film's iconic ending, simplifying the story and removing some complex elements.
  • Despite the legal battle,
    Red River
    became a classic western, standing out for its emotional resolution and exploration of toxic masculinity.

Although John Wayne starred in many of the greatest westerns of all time, Howard Hawks1948 epic Red River is chief among them. Although Red River presented impressive visuals that made it aesthetically fascinating, the film was significant for its darker analysis of capitalist greed, toxic masculinity and the violence inherent in the American West. Red River it allowed Wayne to play a villain, which was a stark contrast to his other roles at the time. while Red River still enjoyable as a traditional western adventure, Hawks' darker intentions become clear as the film reaches its conclusion. Despite this, Red RiverThe now-iconic ending was the result of a dispute between Hawks and Howard Hughes.

Red River

Dunson directs a round of cattle, the culmination of more than 14 years of work, to their destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.

Publication date
September 7, 1948

Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson

John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan, Coleen Gray

Execution time
133 minutes

Main genre

Borden Chase, Charles Schnee

Monterey Productions, Charles K. Feldman Group

Howard Hughes accused Howard Hawks of plagiarism

Hawks is one of the most significant Western directors, and Red River challenged preconceived notions of heroism with his subversive depiction of a major historical event. The film examines America's first cattle drive through the perspective of Texas rancher Thomas Dunson (Wayne) and trail hand Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan), who launched an ambitious plan to travel from Texas to Kansas on the Chisholm Trail. Although Dunson's lover, Fen (Coleen Gray) is killed during a conflict with Native Americans during the trip, he discovers a young orphan named Matthew Garth whom he decides to raise as his own. An adult Garth (Montgomery Clift) accompanies his adoptive father and Groot on their mission, but problems begin to arise when Dunson is corrupted by greed.

Dunson becomes the antagonist of the story when the cattle-passing dispute turns violentputting him at odds with Groot and Matt. The conflict between Dunson and Matt reaches its climax in the final moments of the film, when they engage in a violent punching fight. However, Matt's love interest, Tess Millay (Joanne Drew) forces the two men to admit that they really love each other in a scene with strong Oedipal allusions. In what turns out to be an oddly upbeat conclusion, Dunson advises Matt to marry Tess and absolves any conflict between them. Although it serves as a perfectly ironic ending to a darker story, the scene caused a conflict with Hughes.

Hughes felt that the ending was too similar to the 1943 Western film The outlaw, which he and Hawks had worked on together. The original cut of the film had included an ongoing subplot involving Matt's conflict with shooter Cherry Valance (John Ireland), which added tension before his duel with Dunson. Hughes harbored his own animosity toward the director for leaving the set The outlawi sued Hawks for plagiarizing the ending Red River, even threatening to delay the film indefinitely. While Hughes' complaints failed to bury Hawks' career as intended, they did force him to rethink the film's final moments. The new ending removed some of the subplots and included a narration of Brennan's character that happened in the final duel. While the narration facilitated the translation Red River in overseas markets, he also simplified the story and removed some of its more complex elements.

The 'Red River' director's cut changed the ending

Hawks had prepared a 133-minute version Red River which included moments of transition meant to look like pages from a book. Although Hawkes also prepared a 127-minute cut to appease Hughes' complaints, editor Christian Nyby retained the pre-release version, which was used for television broadcasts and the film's eventual home video release. Although he was considered lost, the original theatrical cut of Red River was restored by Janus Films for its Criterion release in 2014. While some directors' cuts are much longer than their original versions, the differences between the two versions of Red River it just boils down to a few scenes.


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Although Hawks indicated in a 1972 interview that he preferred the theatrical cut to the pre-release version, the revamped ending has some logical errors. The narrative included by Brennan summarized events that he had not witnessed. In comparison, the book inserts provided an objective perspective of what actually happened. While the precursor to the final battle may have been a letdown given the film's realistic approach up to that point, it didn't hinder Red River to become a classic. The film was named one of the greatest westerns of all time by the AFI and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture Editing and Best Screenplay, Motion Picture Story.

Regardless of the events leading up to the ending, the emotional resolution of the final conflict betweenDunson and Matt differ Red River of other westerns. The ending shows that even someone as ruthless as Dunson is capable of redemption, and he acknowledges the affection he has for Matt. Instead of treating the two characters' recent tranquility as a gag, Hawks shows both men regretting exemplifying toxic traits. The sincere conclusion made Red River stand out compared to the westerns Wayne made with the director John Fordwhich took a considerably darker approach to the material.

“Red River” wasn't Howard Hawks' only classic western

John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance and Ricky Nelson as Colorado Ryan in a prison in Rio Bravo
Image via Warner Bros.

While the legal battle with Hughes was completed Red River a challenge, fortunately it did not deter Hawks from continuing his work within the western genre. Hawks became one of Wayne's most frequent collaborators and directed him to a career-defining performance in the classic hangout western Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo was made in direct response to the Gary Cooper western midday and has been cited as a favorite by filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, i Kenneth Branagh.

Although Hawks would go on to direct Wayne in the 1966 western The Golden and its 1970 sequel The Wolf, Red River remains the most emblematic of his collaborations. Although Wayne and Ford had revitalized the Western genre with their 1939 film Diligence, Red River showed that Westerners could engage with the darker aspects of American history. Although the film would have been shelved entirely if Hughes had his way, Red River it has earned its reputation as a classic that still stands today.

Red River is streaming on Prime Video in the US



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