JOHN WAYNE :A guy can kill, he can be mean and vicious–and he could still hold an audience but let him show a yellow streak and he will lose them
Red River actor John Wayne made his share of duds over the course of his career, but he also made numerous strides. As a result, he became one of the biggest movie stars to ever go through the Hollywood machine. Wayne was immensely proud of the work that he put into Red River, but he refused some direction from legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks. The actor refused to cringe on camera.
Wayne played characters whose ages varied from his own, but he always had a distinct understanding of the type of role he played. The movie star had a commanding presence on the screen, especially due to his booming voice and tall stature. Wayne brought that to Red River, but the character arc had some intricacies that weren’t so common in his other features.
The plot follows Thomas Dunson (Wayne), who is an immensely stubborn man with a successful Texas cattle ranch. He has a trusty trailhand in Groot (Walter Brennan) and his successor, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift), to work alongside him. However, the Civil War left them hurting for cash, so they decide to take the trip to Missouri to get better prices for their sales. Along the way, Thomas and Matt begin to butt heads.
Maurice Zolotow wrote about Red River in Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne, where he discussed some of the speed bumps that he hit along the way. Many of his reported on-set difficulties were with his mentor, John Ford, but he had some more minor squabbles with Hawks, as well.
The filmmaker wanted him to play the role “shufflin’ and totterin’. And Mumblin’.” However, the movie star thought it was impossible to make the character “tough and hard” when he can’t “stand tall.” They had a few fights regarding how the character should come across, but the actor ultimately got his way. Afterward, they didn’t have any more trouble regarding the overall presentation of the character.
Nevertheless, Wayne recalled one Red River scene where he once again refused to back down. Matt leads the men that Thomas hired against him, asserting that they plan on taking a different route to their destination. Thomas remains stubborn, refusing to change the plan.
Hawks told Wayne that he wanted him to “cringe–just slightly,” but he refused to do so. Wayne responded, “A guy can kill, he can be mean and vicious–and he could still hold an audience. But let him show a yellow streak and he will lose them. I’m not about to cringe. I agree with the audience.”