Tuesday, January 21, 2014

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Rio Grande is still tops in my books.

I've watched all the titles in director John Ford's cavalry trilogy in recent weeks.

Fort Apache had too much comedy for my taste. I didn't buy the romance between John Agar and Shirley Temple - even though the couple was married in real life at the time.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is better than Fort Apache, but comes nowhere close to Rio Grande's power.

The romance doesn't work here either. 2nd Lt. Ross Pennell (Harry Carey, Jr.) and Lt. Flint Cohill (Agar) are both wooing Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru). There's a lot of squabbling, but not much romance. The yellow ribbon in Dandridge's hair suggests she has a fella in the cavalry, but she won't identify her sweetheart. Is it Pennell or Cohill?

Capt. Nathan Cutting Brittles (John Wayne) is nearing the end of his command days. The timing is not great. Various Indian tribes are putting aside old differences and teaming up to drive settlers from their land. Ten thousand warriors are itching for a fight. General Custard and his men have been wiped out. Brittles is ordered on patrol, in part to make sure Dandridge and Abby Allshard (Mildred Natwick) get out of harm's way.

Brittles, literally just days away from punching out, struggles for success on his mission. He's frustrated because everything he was supposed to accomplish fails. It's not the way he wants to leave his post.

Death gets plenty of attention in this film. Brittles regularly visits the grave of his wife. How she died we don't know. A United States' paymaster is killed in an Indian attack. One of Brittles' men is gravely injured by the Indians. Time is tight for the life-saving surgery he needs. Another veteran trooper is killed in battle.

Victor McLaglen's characters have a definite thirst for liquor in each of these films. What starts out as a fun way of Top Sgt. Quincannon hitting the bottle for a quick jolt turns into an extended sequence involving civilian clothing, plenty of booze and six other cavalry members. This scene goes on much too long.

Fortunately, things pick up when Brittles decides to keep serving the cavalry after his official retirement. He rides into the Indian camp to make an appeal to Chief Pony That Walks (Chief John Big Tree) to avoid war. When that fails, Brittles has a Plan B that's impressive to watch.

There is, again, some beautiful images in this colour film. Wayne is great as a veteran leader at the end of his days. Natwick and Ben Johnson offer solid support work.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon has its moments, but Rio Grande is easily the best of Ford's cavalry films.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACT: Last week I lamented Fred McMurray's last film role was in disaster maestro Irving Allen's The Swarm. Poor Joanne Dru. Her last appearance on the big screen was Super Fuzz in 1980 with Ernest Borgnine and Terence Hill.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was Chief John Big Tree's second last movie appearance. His career began in 1915 with Author! Author!

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