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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
7:00 p.m. Red River
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1948)

Following a band of men and a river of cattle on the first great drive along the Chisholm Trail, Hawks creates a work of vastness and detail, attuned to the rhythms of the journey and of male relationships. John Wayne plays a cattleman of driving ambition and casual brutality who becomes a surrogate father to orphan Montgomery Clift. The saga of their bond and the dangerous rift that develops in it could be called Oedipal, but that would give short shrift to the film’s easy humor; gags about phallic guns and branded rumps make it hard to keep a straight Freudian face. Walter Brennan provides a cross-talking counterpoint, a font of querulous wisdom who “knows more about men than anyone else.” But, as usual, it takes a woman to show the men some sense—with a gun.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Borden Chase, Charles Schnee, from the novel The Chisholm Trail by Chase. Photographed by Russell Harlan. With John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, John Ireland. (133 mins, B&W, 35mm, From MGM)