Sunday, August 21, 2016

American Ranching & Red River DM

American Ranching
Red River DM
New Brand(s)
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            It was epic.
The description should be esoteric western. With the exception of incorrect era saddles, the technical aspect of the work is commendable. The nuances are there as are the unwritten and largely unspoken deferment to order and hierarchy. The cowboys are models of originality. Better yet, they could ride.
The title should have started as Red River D, but that would have been too complicated. That was the brand that evolved from the one drawn the dirt the day they crossed the Red River into Texas, but Red River was not just a movie title. It remains an honest depiction of the emotional and substantive history of American ranching.
American Ranching
 The scene of cattle stampeding from a hill had to be captured somewhere in Comancheria. It was not south Texas at Cardwell’s Flat, the trailhead of the Chisholm Trail. The stampede took place in a sea of grass, the big empty that helped perfect the image of the cowboy. By no means did it approach civility. It was a domain of risk of death and destruction. It was the essence of what Westerns attempted to portray.
 The backdrop was Indian country, and the home of the greatest light cavalry the world has ever known. It was there the Comanches couldn’t alter their historic course of unmitigated linear existence and the modern rancher arose. If director Howard Hawks could have pulled it off without the failed attempt at creating a credible heroine, it would have been the greatest of all Westerns.
John Wayne was both the hero and the villain in his role as Tom Dunson. Montgomery Clift was very convincing as the boy who became the man, Matt Garth, and the future steward of Dunson country as the story expanded. The fact that this was Clift’s first screen role makes it even more impressive. Around them were the cowboys that became legendary in a score of John Wayne movies. Noah Berry, John Ireland, Harry Carey, Jr., Walter Brennan, and my favorite of all, slow talking Adam’s apple bobbing Hank Worden, interjected the character and the credibility of what cowboy logic and personalities really were.
Yes, they could ride!
They could also act the part because they were close enough to the old rock that their actions weren’t foreign to them or their generation. They were largely cowboys that just hit a big lick. They got paid to act the part without having to live in a line camp, ride the rough string, and subsist on $30 per month. They could sleep inside, parade around in shop made boots, and wake up to warm mornings.
‘Yessiree, Bob’, the boys back home wouldn’t believe their luck.
New Brand(s)
 The age old conflict of succession was always part of great Westerns.
It was the immoveable presence of the old man’s pride and the need for someone in the next generation to step forward to prove his worth. There were many story lines to shape the idea, but that theme remained standard. The highlight of Red River, what set it apart, was how the conclusion was drawn.
In fact, that drawing was literal. It took place as Dunson and Matt sat in the dirt after their epic fist fight. Amends had been made and it was time to reveal dreams. Dunson exposed his hand. He drew a new brand, D\\M, the Red River DM with a stick in the Kansas dirt.
I will suggest many an old cowman was glad the theater lights were still down when that took place.
It would have been uncomfortable to explain why handkerchiefs were retrieved or a subtle swipe of an open palm across the eyes and bridge of a nose was necessary. There it was on the ground. The M for Matt Garth was added to the future of Texas and the expanding West.
Nothing could have been more powerful and nothing has ever been more effectively explained on the big screen. The emotion is fundamental. There is not a committed rancher that ever lived that didn’t feel it many times. To be part of something permanent has little parallel especially when it is tied to the great mosaic of land and livestock. To apply your brand to something offers a sense of permanence that transcends mortality. It cannot be explained in any literary translation of this way of life.
 I fear for the plight of future ranchers, and, yet, like Tom Dunson, I want desperately for hearts to beat openly for ranching futures. The chasms between the invading progressive forces and the modern ranching community, living its own version of unmitigated linear existence, have all the characteristics of catastrophic collision.
The numbers are alarming.
The trend is downward in the recruitment of young stewards and the playing field is treacherous. There is nothing that has come from government or the consensus of the mobs that suggests that conditions for stability are in the pipeline. What remains is the individual, but therein lays the real hope.
Red River portrayed that, too.
When Dunson crossed the Red, he had a sidekick, a bull, and a kid with a cow. What he really had was a limitless constitution, God given resources on the horizons, and freedom. He prevailed through hard work and an unwavering commitment to his life’s work.
Those things cannot be created or manufactured. Certainly they are difficult and the deck is heavily stacked against the individual, but the path and its unexpected success will likely only come from that person. That is the future that cannot be mapped or predicted. That is the real story line of this old movie. It is a powerful. It is the continuing story of future ranchers that are undefined and unexpected.
I hope they emerge and … their brand(s) revealed.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Like reading Tom Sawyer, every time I have watched Red River I find it more appealing.”

A beautifully written review of a wonderful movie. This was Howard Hawk's first western and he originally offered the Tom Dunson part to Gary Cooper. When Cooper declined, Wayne visited the set and said he would take the part, but only if Hawks agreed to fire the amateurs he had hired, and replace them with real cowboys. It was also the first movie where the critics and industry folks took notice of Wayne's acting ability. After seeing Wayne in Red River, his frequent director John Ford said, "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act." Some of the acting wasn't too hard for Wayne, who really didn't like Montgomery Clift, telling Life Magazine that Clift was "an arrogant little bastard." Clift's sexual orientation probably didn't help things either.

In  Borden Chase's original story Matt kills Dunson.  The ending was changed by Hawks, over the objections of Chase and Clift.  But that's what gave us the great scene described by Wilmeth.

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