In Red River, I wanted [John] Wayne to get his finger caught between the rope and the saddle horn and come in with it all mangled. Then Walter Brennan would look at it and say, “That finger isn’t going to be much good to you.” Wayne says, “No, it isn’t.” Brennan would say, “Get a jug and build the fire up good and get me a chopping block.” They’d start feeding him some liquor, and Brennan would say, “I guess he’s ready,” and he puts Wayne’s finger on the block and Brennan sharpens up the knife and cuts it off. Wayne wasn’t even supposed to know that it was cut off. But then his line was, “Where’s my finger? A man ought to be buried whole.” The scene ended with a bunch of fellows looking through the ashes for the finger. Wayne said to me, “You think that’s funny?” “Yeah,” I said, “but we don’t have to do it.” He said, “I don’t think it’s funny.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it with some actor who’s better than you are.” And I did it with Kirk Douglas in The Big Sky, who isn’t nearly as good as Wayne. I think it’s the only time they laughed at Douglas. Wayne saw it and came around and said, “Well, I was wrong again. If you tell me a funeral is funny, I’ll do it.
When I hired [Montgomery] Clift he’d never made a picture before, and we took a look at him and Wayne said, “”Couldn’t you have gotten somebody who could stand up to me a little bit?” I said, “I think he can stand up to you pretty well.” We made the very first scene and he came over to me and said, “That kid is going to be good.” He said, “He looks like he’s just figuring that he can take me apart at any time and isn’t worried about it. One thing though—we can’t have a fight. It would be silly.” “Well,” I said, “you’re a lot bigger and it would be silly, but it wouldn’t be silly if you tripped and he kicked you in the face first.” “Okay, let him kick me in the face.” And we did it that way and it made a perfectly good fight. We had an awful time because Monty Clift couldn’t throw a punch. It took us three days.
[Clift] had something you rarely see today—he really wanted to work. He went out for two weeks with a box lunch and a cowboy and they didn’t come back all day. At the end of those two weeks he could ride a horse, he could handle a gun and he could even make a special little mount to get into the saddle. He worked like the devil.