The film, Red River, exhibits two alpha male cowboy figures. The first, Tom Dunson, follows the definition of a hardboiled cowboy Sue Matheson describes in "The West Hardboiled," she states, "like the hardboiled detective, the Wayne persona is an antisocial loner," (891). Dunson can be categorized as a loner, because he has no friends or people to confide in. Every one else on the drive has friends to talk with, but Dunson is always aloof from the group. He is not afraid to do what must be done in order to complete the task he set out to do, he kills multiple of his own cowboys along the way who would not follow orders. He also states on various occasions that he is the law, going along with the idea that the west does not follow the rules and laws set up in the east, it follows the laws of the gun.
The second alpha male cowboy is Matt Garth. At the beginning of the film, Garth is a young, impressionable boy, trying to stand up to Dunson. Dunson takes Garth in and it is clear that Dunson looked to Garth as a son, and Garth to Dunson as a father. Through much of the film, it looks as though Garth is Dunson's right hand man, but begins questioning Dunsons decisions more and more as the film progresses. He eventually turns the entire crew against Dunson, steals the cattle and food, and heads the crew on a different trail with out Dunson. This act alone demonstrates Garth's hardboiled personality, and moral center. Garth saw it as his duty to stop Dunson from hanging the two cowboys, and lead the crew on a more promising trail. This type of duty based ethics is described in Matheson's article, "the pursuit of the highest good, it should noted, is not only relative to the individual, but also relative to all individuals because of thier humanity," (899). This statement explains the difference between Dunson's and Garth's ideas of morality. Each has their own view of what is moral, and they both act on these instincts which categorize them as alpha male cowboys.
By the end of the film, Garth and Dunson meet in the town and begin to fight. It seems as though they are going to fight to the death, since each one is an alpha male cowboy, it is his duty to continue fighting. The two only stop when Tess Millay intervenes and points out that neither one wishes to kill or hurt the other, because they care for each other. This is a perfect example of cowboys and their lack of using language. Jane Tompkins states, "silence is a sign of mastery, and goes along with a gun in the hand. They would rather die than settle the argument by talking to each other," (64). Dunson and Garth's argument could easily be solved by simply talking about it, but the cowboys see language as a sign of weakness and therefore decide to use their guns. However, in the end, Tess influences them to stop fighting and they both realize what she is saying is true, the cowboy's "shell may be hardboiled, but his heart has a soft spot at its core," (Matheson, 899).