June is Pride Month and, like always, celebrations abound here at the Garden. And while I’ve already talked about some of the big ones, like Morocco (1930), Hell’s Highway (1932) and Some Like It Hot (1959), as well as the more obscure stuff like Young Man With a Horn (1950), there is no shortage of LGBT-related content in Classic Hollywood films, however brief. And because I’m in a Westerns mood lately, I’ve decided to go with the precursor to Brokeback Mountain, Red River (1948, dir. Howard Hawks).
Now, while the homoerotic undertones are just that rather than the plot of the film – no kidding, thanks a lot, Joseph Breen… – it is quite wonderful and something everybody always talks about when Red River comes up. Especially when it’s up against the intense masculinity of the film: Tom Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift in his debut film) lead a cattle drive to Missouri over a period of fourteen years until Dunson’s obsessive behavior becomes too much for everyone, leading to a war between the two men. Among the cattle ranch is Cherry Valance (John Ireland), a gunslinger who immediately strikes up a rather intense friendship with Garth. Right away, we know exactly where we are with these two: Valance asks to see Garth’s gun, after which they compare each other’s weapons, quip about Swiss watches and women, before having a shootout between them to show each other their skills. Their sizzling chemistry isn’t lost on anyone, least of all Groot (Walter Brennan), whose assessment of the whole situation is almost as erotic as the scene itself… Their subsequent conversations, which include Valance claiming Garth initially ‘turned him down’ when he asked to join the ranch, are equally charged with undertones that are impossible to overlook in 2021. They say this might have been the reason for why Valance’s part was gradually cut from the film, as Howard Hawks realized what was going on while in the editing room. This is, of course, surprising, considering the undertones of some of the characters in his biggest films: Cary Grant wearing a robe, saying he ‘went gay’ in Bringing up Baby (1938), the relationship between Geiger and Lundgren in The Big Sleep (1946) – as far as anybody can tell in that madness of a plot -, Cary Grant, again, in drag in I Was a Male War Bride (1949), among many others. Either way, it’s hot, it’s grand and it leaves you wanting more.