One of my favourite films is Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948), which pitted John Wayne against Montgomery Clift. I came across an insightful review of the movie by Roderick Heath, here. The one aspect of the movie not mentioned in that review is the context in which the movie was made, immediately after World War II. At the time, the allies had large military forces being demobilized, with men – they were mostly men – returning with all deliberate speed to civilian life. Many of these men had played responsible and important roles in the war effort, roles requiring intelligence, personal initiative, courage, and the leadership of others. They returned to Civvy Street to find senior management posts occupied by the generation before them, and only subordinate roles available for themselves; they were often immensely frustrated. I once heard of a businessman’s club memorial dedicated To the Men Whose Sons had Given Their Lives in World War II, which sums up for me the self-regard of the elder of these two generations.
With this context in mind, I see Red River as a parable about the struggle between the two generations for the control of business and society in the post-war world. Clift’s caring and listening leadership style resonated much more with returning military men than Wayne’s deaf and inflexible approach, as it does also in the film with Wayne’s cattle drovers. In Japan and Germany, of course, the generation before had made a mess of things, and so there were greater opportunities in the post-war period for the next generation to take immediate charge.