Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rio Grande (1950)

There's a lot of rivers to cross in Rio Grande.

The actual body of water is the biggest one.

Apache Indians are causing major problems for Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) and his United States cavalry troops. But his orders stop him from pursuing the Apache when they cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, and safety.

Plenty of symbolic crossings have to be made too. Yorke's estrangement from his wife, Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara), is long-standing. He hasn't seen his son, Jeff (Claude Jarman, Jr.) in 15 years. The younger Yorke wants to serve in the military too, but he fails at West Point. Instead, he enlists in the cavalry and is posted as a trooper to serve under his father. He's with two other new recruits - Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Sandy Boone (Claude Jarman).

Kathleen shows up because she wants to get her son out of the service. Neither he, or Kirby, agree with her mission.

"What kind of man is he?" Jeff asks his mother of Kirby.

"He's a very lonely man," she replies.

Tyree is wanted by a deputy federal marshal (Grant Withers) for manslaughter. He's on his own journey too. Will he be taken into custody or make a bid for freedom?

Rio Grande is a much more satisfying view than Fort Apache, the first of director John Ford's cavalry trio. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the second installment. The on-going humour that dragged down Fort Apache is much more muted here. The romance between Wayne and O'Hara is on solid ground compared to young lovers Shirley Temple and John Agar in Fort Apache.

The most impressive action scene in this film isn't a battle between the Apache and cavalry, but a training sequence when troopers stand, and ride, two horses. This long-time movie fan has never seen such a stunt before. It's jaw-dropping viewing.

Sons of the Pioneers make several welcome appearances with low-key music that enhances the film's mood, especially a romantic tune when Kirby and Kathleen first dine together.

Military folly was explored in Fort Apache. What stands out here is Kirby's early warning to his son not to expect a life of glory in the military, but one of sacrifice and hardship. How many times do you see those themes trumpeted in recruiting posters? An early scene as the movie opens finds wives of soldiers watching anxiously as Yorke and his men return from a mission. Who is dead? Who is wounded? Who is safe? That's war.

Rio Grande ends this trilogy in fine form.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Hey, that's Karolyn Grimes, Zuzu Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, as Margaret Mary.

J. Carrol Naish, who appears as Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, made his last screen appearance in Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Sons of the Pioneers appeared in nearly 100 films and television shows between 1934 and 1984.

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