Red River appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This Blu-ray offered generally positive visuals.
Overall, sharpness seemed good with only a few sporadic instances of softness. The movie occasionally became ill-defined, but not with much frequency. Most of the movie exhibited satisfactory to strong definition. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not a problem, and edge enhancement remained absent. A smattering of print flaws appeared, as we got some small specks and vertical lines. These weren’t substantial, though.
Black levels were usually quite good. Occasionally they seemed a little inky, but for the most part, they were pretty deep and dark. Shadows were also satisfying the majority of the time, as only a few shots looked a bit thick. Some parts of the transfer showed their age, but I thought the film usually appeared attractive.
I felt largely pleased with the movie's monaural audio. I don't expect a whole lot from old soundtracks, and Red River didn't give me much, but it worked fine for a film of its era. Dialogue seemed clear and reasonably natural.
Both effects and music seemed decent but lacked great range; they offered adequate clarity and that’s about it. The track displayed a little noise at times but not enough to become a distraction. While not a great mix, the audio was more than acceptable for its age.
Among the set’s extras, the biggest attraction likely comes from the two versions of Red River on display here. Disc One provides a theatrical cut (2:07:09), while Disc Two includes a pre-release edition (2:13:25). These differ in a number of ways, but the most substantial change comes from the addition of narration to the theatrical release, and the pre-release film delivers a longer/slightly alternate ending. I like the fact that fans can check out both cuts.
On Disc One, we find the film’s trailer as well as two additional components. Bogdanovich on Red River offers filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s thoughts about the movie. The piece lasts 17 minutes, one second and gives us notes about the cast and crew as well as insights into the story/characters, cinematography and the two versions of the movie. Bogdanovich’s audio commentaries tend to bore, but when taken in smaller doses, he can offer good thoughts, and that proves to be the case in this reasonably informative chat.
We get more from the filmmaker in the 15-minute, 32-second Hawks and Bogdanovich. An audio-only segment, it gives us excerpts from Bogdanovich’s 1972 interview with director Howard Hawks. They discuss changes from the novel to the movie, locations, working with the actors, the movie’s ending, the two versions, and scene specifics. Hawks provides a nice collection of memories in this tight and compelling session.
On Disc Two, a few more components appear. First comes an interview with critic Molly Haskell. This goes for 15 minutes, 42 seconds and offers Haskell’s thoughts about story/character/themes, reflections on Hawks and the cast, and some insights. Haskell delivers some decent thoughts about the film but doesn’t make this one of the disc’s more interesting pieces.
Next comes an interview with scholar Lee Clark Mitchell. It runs 13 minutes, six seconds and delivers comments about the history of the Western and its development over the years. He offers a nice overview and creates an enjoyable chat.
From 1969, we find an audio-only interview with novelist/screenwriter Borden Chase. In this 10-minute, 16-second piece, Chase talks about the novel’s inspirations as well as his thoughts about its adaptation to the screen. It’s another informative little extra.
From March 7, 1949, we get a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red River. It fills 59 minutes, 10 seconds and features John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Joanne Dru in their film roles. As expected, the radio version streamlines the movie’s narrative, but it doesn’t omit as many plot points as usual. It becomes a fun way to experience the tale.
Two non-disc-based elements finish the package. We get a paperback edition of Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, the source novel on which the movie was based, as well as a 28-page booklet. The latter includes an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien and excerpts from a 1991 interview with editor Christian Nyby. Both components add nice value to the set.
In Red River, John Wayne plays somewhat against type with satisfying results. The movie offers a darker than usual Western that provides a solid character tale and only suffers during a flawed third act. The Blu-ray delivers generally positive picture and audio along with a good set of supplements. Even with a problematic ending, this becomes a better than average Western.