David Flusfeder is the father and the son in Red River

Red River

Writer David Flusfeder was born in Summit, New Jersey, but now lives in South London. He has been a film projectionist, a TV critic and a poker correspondent. He’s written scripts and an opera and is the author of six novels. His latest, A Film by Spencer Ludwig (4th Estate), is a hilarious, heart-breaking father and son on the road story, which takes in police and prostitutes, film festivals and gambling, as the duo attempt to make sense of each other’s lives. It therefore won’t come as a surprise that David Flusfeder can’t quite decide if he’s the father or the son in Howard Hawks’s Red River. Eithne Farry

Like jazz – which, coincidentally or not, is the other cultural form invented in America – the Western is a male form. (Women in Westerns are generally just there to signpost the way to redemption or fall: the schoolmarm or the prostitute, the girl from back east with her dainty ways, or the doomed saloon singer.)

In Red River (directed by Howard Hawks, 1948), John Wayne and Montgomery Clift play the ruthless rancher and his adopted son out on an epic cattle drive. The movie climaxes in a fight between them, broken up by the civilising girl with a shotgun.

Wayne and Clift sit, abashed and bruised, in the dirt. ‘You better marry that girl,’ Wayne says. Their dispute is over; through the intercession of a woman and the intimate violence of a fist fight, the father finally recognises the son as his equal. He draws the new brand for their ranch in the dust, their initials together, like lovers’ carved into a tree. ‘You don’t mind that, do you?’ ‘No.’ And both smile, then look away, feeling an equivalent truth, an equal love.

As the director John Ford said after seeing the movie, ‘I didn’t know that big son of a bitch could act’.

David Flusfeder