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Red River movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Red River filmed?


City Locations

Sonoita, Canelo, Duquesne, Elgin, Fairbank, Arizona, West Hollywood, California, Sonora, Nogales, Mexico

Location Types

American, NatureScapes, Rustic, Ranch, Retro, Studios

Location Styles

Americana, Dated, Neglected, Southern, Southwestern, Ranch Style, Racing, Rustic

About Red River

Red River is an American Western-style film released in 1948. It is black and white and was directed by Howard Hawks. It stars American legends John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. The film is a fictional account of the Chisholm Trail cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. The film focuses on the growing tension between Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift). This tension over the cattle management is seen throughout Red River as Dunson has differing views from his son over the whole drive since Dunson initiated it.

Dunson wants to start a Texan cattle ranch. As he begins the incredible journey with his ranch hand, Groot (Walter Brennan), Dunson soon learns that his love interest Fen (Coleen Gray), was killed by Native American Indians. As his trip is also attacked by the Natives, Dunson fends them off, only to find a bracelet (belonging to his mother) that he had given Fen.

The following day he finds the sole survivor of the massacre, a young Matt Garth (portrayed by Mickey Kuhn), and adopts the boy as his own. The three (Dunson, Groot, and Matt) cross the Red River and settle in the Rio Grande in South Texas. After fourteen years, Dunson and his fully operational cattle ranch are nearly broke because of the widespread poverty following the Civil War. He decides to drive the cattle herd to Abilene, Kansas. To complete the journey, he hires additional men, including gunman Cherry Valance (John Ireland).

What follows is an uprising amongst the men against Dunson's tyrannical methods and Matt taking control of the herd and the men. Eventually, Matt saves and falls in love with Tess Milay (Joanne Dru), whose wagons have also been attacked by the Natives. He gives her the bracelet that belonged to Dunson's mother but leaves her behind. Dunson catches up to Tess, takes her along with him to find Matt, and eventually makes up with Matt, even adding Matt's name to the cattle ranch in the end.

Red River Locations

Most Red River locations are in Arizona, with a few in Mexico and California. The filming occurred across several mountainous foothills, riverbanks, and cattle ranches. The famous Native attack scene towards the film's end was shot at the Empire Ranch in Sonoita, Arizona. Some of the major mountainous landmarks visible in Red River are the Santa Rita Mountains, Kentucky Camp, Baboquivari Mountains, Mustang Mountains, Mule Mountains, Biscuit Mountains, and Whetstone Mountains. The prominent riverside locations include the San Pedro River, Verde River, and Babocomari River. The San Pedro River is famous as a film shoot location for other movies like The Big Country and Tombstone. Elgin in Arizona is another filming site used in Red River that is also famous for Oklahoma! and Around the World in 80 Days.

Fairbank in Arizona (where some of the filming took place) is a renowned movie location for Last Train from Gun Hill and superhit El Dorado. The fastest way to get to Fairbank is to catch the AZ-82 E.

Most of these Red River filming locations are areas of interest even today, with all the landmarks easily accessible.

Teaser: The backdrop of the barren Arizona landmass filmed in black and white added a different depth to the movie. Producer Howard Hawks felt using technicolor would make Red River 'garish' and unrealistic.

Fun fact:

Red River was a critical and commercial success. It was also nominated for the Academy Awards and was added to the National Film Registry. It is widely known as the fifth-greatest American Western of all time.

Matt and Cherry try out the guns scene in Red River

Mustang Mountains, Elgin, AZ

Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift) and Cherry Valance (John Ireland) are riding their horses when they join the caravan. Matt alights, saying, "Let's give them a hand over here." Cherry points to Matt's gun and remarks, "That's a good-looking gun you were about to use back there. Can I see it?" Matt hesitates and rubs his nose but gives in to Cherry's request. He removes the gun from its holster and gives it to Cherry.

Simultaneously, Cherry gives Matt his own gun, saying, "Maybe you'd like to see mine?" Cherry tries out Matt's gun and exclaims, "Nice! Awful nice! You know, there are only two things more beautiful than a good gun – a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. You ever had a good Swiss watch?"

Matt doesn't respond to his question and tells Cherry, "Go ahead, try it." The minute Matt says so, Cherry shoots a can, which Matt further aims in the air.

This Red River filming location is the gorgeous Mustang Mountains at Elgin in Arizona. While Matt and Cherry are talking, you can see the mountains in the background. Fans of Red River should follow AZ-83 S and turn onto AZ-82 E to reach Mustang Mountains. Fans will easily catch sight of the incredible peaks.

Dunson threatens to whip Bunk scene in Red River

Santa Rita Mountains, AZ

Bunk Kenneally (Ivan Parry) admits killing Dan Latimer (Harry Carey, Jr.) and creating a stampede. Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) says, "Bunk Kenneally, you started all this." Bunk replies, "Yeah. Yeah, I did. I know it and I'd do anything." Dunson says, "Tell me it's your three or four hundred head short and you killed Dan Latimer." Bunk admits, "Sure, sure I did. I know that too. I know it. I know it." Thomas tells Quitter (Tom Tyler), "Alright, Quitter, tie him to that wagon." Hearing this, Bunk gets spooked and says, "No, no they won't. Nobody's gonna tie me to no wagon, no Sir."

Dunson starts advancing on Bunk, "You'll take it without a wheel to lean against!" Bunk cries, "Oh no, Mr. Dunson, I was wrong. Awful wrong. But nobody's going to whip me." Dunson doesn't listen and replies, "Turn around, Bunk!" Bunk pleads, "Don't do it, Mr. Dunson, don't do it!" But Dunson only says, "Turn around or you'll get it in the eye!" Bunk pulls out a gun just as Dunson raises the whip, but Matt shoots Bunk before he can get a shot off.

This filming location of Red River was the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona. Like Mustang Mountains, take the AZ-83 S until you reach the low-lying mountain range.

Who'll stop me scene in Red River

Kentucky Camp, Sonoita, AZ

Teeler Yacey (Paul Fix) says to Dunson, "I shouldn't have run away. I should have stayed and put a bullet in you. I signed a pledge, sure, but you ain't the man I signed it with." Hearing this, Dunson asks, "You finished?" Teeler says, "Yeah, now you can get your Bible and read over us after you shoot us." Dunson calmly replies, "I'm gonna hang you."

Matt interrupts Dunson by saying, "No, no you're not. You're not gonna hang them." Hearing Matt defy him, Dunson asks, "Who'll stop me?" Matt, showing immense courage, says, "I will." Hearing him, Dunsons removes his gun to shoot, but before he can react, he's shot at by Cherry.

The part where Matt stands up to Dunson is one of the best scenes in Red River. Audiences were enthralled with the exchange since such a thing was unheard of in olden times. No one went against the word of a rancher. This scene was filmed at the Kentucky Camp in Sonoita, Arizona. Getting here is a little challenging since you must complete part of the road on foot. To reach the parking, take AZ-83N and turn onto E Gardner Canyon Rd. From this road, you would have to walk to reach Kentucky Camp.

Matt rides off with Dunson's herd scene in Red River

Baboquivari Mountains, AZ

Matt gets off his horse, ties him, and walks towards Dunson, saying, "If there's any chance at all, we'll get your herd to Abilene." Hearing Matt, Dunson says, eerily calm with his voice full of promise and vengeance, "Cherry was right. You're soft. You should've let him kill me, 'cause I'm gonna kill you. I'll catch up with ya! I don't know when, but I'll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me. 'Cause one time you'll turn around, and I'll be there. I'll kill ya, Matt."

Even after hearing Dunson's threatening words, Matt turns around and walks toward his horse. Matt becomes the herd leader, takes the men, and rides off, leaving Dunson looking at them. All Dunson has with him are the clothes on his back and two horses.

This Red River film scene was shot at the foothills of the Baboquivari Mountains in Arizona. Getting to these mountains was tricky when the film was shot. But it is now easily accessible via AZ-86 W to BA NWR Rd 102 or W Brown Canyon Road. Fans of Red River can spend the day at the foothills, look around, hike a little, and click some great pictures.

The Natives raid the wagons scene in Red River

Empire Ranch, E Empire Ranch Rd, Sonoita, AZ

Matt is worried about Dunson's threat and is musing with Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan) about how long it will take Dunson to catch up with them. While he's pondering and calculating, Buster McGee (Noah Beery, Jr.) reports about wagons up ahead that have coffee, pie, biscuits, women, and plenty of whiskeys. He lets them know Cherry decided to stay with the wagons for a bit. While Matt, Buster, and Groot are talking, they suddenly hear gunshots. They ride to the wagons and see it nearly surrounded by several Natives. Matt joins Tess Milay (Joanne Dru) in defending the wagons. Tess, seeing Matt, yells, "What are you so mad about? I asked you why you're angry. Is it because - because some of your men might get hurt, killed maybe?"

The Native raid is one of the most famous Red River action scenes. There were more than a hundred extras used for the filming of this shot, plus the cast, crew, and horses. To keep control of the crowd and ensure the filming went smoothly, the Red River production team decided on the secure location of the Empire Ranch in Sonoita, Arizona.

To get to Empire Ranch, catch AZ-82 E and turn onto AZ-83 N. From this road, take the cut-off to Yucca Ash Farm Rd to reach Empire Ranch.

Dunson propositions Tess scene in Red River

Samuel Goldwyn Studios, 7200 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA

After Matt and Tess fall in love, and Matt leaves her behind to continue to Abilene, Dunson catches up with Tess. She's heard all about Dunson from Matt and offers to take care of Dunson and help him. While eating, Dunson confesses he left Fen (Coleen Gray) years earlier for the same reasons but wants a son to continue his legacy. He propositions Tess for a son. But Tess negotiates and says she will agree only if he gives up his vengeance and determination to kill Matt.

Tess tells Dunson, "I'll have your son, Mr. Dunson, if you'll stop now. Stop now and go back where you came from. I'll have your son." Dunson realizes Tess is in love with Matt and says, "Yeah. I thought so." However, he does agree to take Tess with him as he leaves to find Matt.

This incredible scene was filmed at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, 7200 Santa Monica Boulevard, in West Hollywood, California. Getting here is quick if you hop onto bus number 4 and hop off at the Santa Monica/ Formosa stop. The studio is within a couple of minutes' walking distance from the stop. While the sets are no longer there, fans can cross the road and have a cup of java at the Blackwood Coffee Bar.


Red River was an incredibly impactful film with audiences absolutely enthralled by the excellent cinematography. It is considered Howard Hawks' most memorable and enduring film and is considered 'culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress.

The fabulous acting of the star cast, their emotional exchanges, growing tensions, feudal dictatorship-style of role, and the independence shown throughout Red River have been applauded by global audiences. Even after all these years, the critical reviews and ratings of the film make Howard Hawks a household name.

Most audiences were inquisitive about the Red River filming locations because of the incredible backdrops, geographical areas, landmarks, rivers, barren lands, and terrain. The gorgeous Arizonian land, its abundance of mountains, rivers, and vast space gave new depth and substance to Red River, without which the film would not have been such a success.

Red River undoubtedly shows what it means to have a film run wholly on the merit of the storyline, plots, twists, and excellent acting