American actor John Wayne on the set of Red River, directed by Howard Hawks and Arthur Rosson. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Movies - TV
Red River Was The First Time John Wayne Felt Like A 'Real Actor'
After John Wayne got his breakthrough role with John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” the actor quickly began filling seats with his performances from Raoul Walsh’s “Dark Command" to John Ford’s “They Were Expendable.” Yet despite his immense popularity, it would be several years before the star was cast in a role that made him feel like a ‘real actor.’
Wayne's Western persona is now iconic, but in early films, the actor was so pigeonholed that his performances were almost all variations of the same drawling character. It wasn’t until Howard Hawk’s “Red River,” that Wayne could show his range by playing Thomas Dunson, a hard-nosed rancher, by turns harsh and maniacal, who challenged audience sympathies.
Of the movie, the Duke said, “It was the first time I felt like a real actor. We were walking a tightrope in telling a story like that. Are you still going to like Wayne or not?” As it happened, audiences loved the film, and film scholar Gerald Mast opined of Wayne’s performance, “no star […] other than John Wayne could play [his] role in ‘Red River’ and make it mean what it does.”