Rio Grande (1950)

rio-grande-1950Suggested by Brad Nelson • A cavalry officer posted on the Rio Grande must deal with murderous raiding Apaches, his son who’s a risk-taking recruit trying to make up for washing out of West Point, and his estranged wife who has ties to the Old South.
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13 Responses to Rio Grande (1950)

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is a western worthy of the names “John Ford” and “John Wayne.” Ford was a dynamic man, and I think sometimes veered a bit too close to the simplistic. I don’t automatically genuflect at the John Ford name (as I do the John Wayne name). But in this one, he’s at his very best.

    The same regarding the Wayne/Maureen O’Hara pairings. Often O’Hara plays the hot red-head too way over the top for my taste. But in “Rio Grande,” both Wayne and O’Hara flesh out some interesting and believable characters, even if Wayne can’t help giving a larger-than-life glow to the character of Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke.

    And, amazingly and surprisingly, Claude Jarman Jr., as young Jeff Yorke, is a richer character than many of the sidekick yutes in many Wayne films.

    This is truly a great western, mixing action scenes with character-development scenes. And the plot involves at least four over-lapping stories: Wayne-vs-son, Wayne-vs-estranged-wife, Army-vs.-rampaging-Apaches, and new-recruits-vs.-how-things-are-done-out-here.

    In all these plots there is room for heroism as well as some humor. And pulling it all together is the remarkable soundtrack by the “regimental musicians” (aka “Sons of the Pioneers”). The soundtrack is so good, you could just put it on as background music.

    This is a mature western but still not one that is a stuffed shirt. This is John Wayne and he plays John Wayne. But O’Hara is particularly good in that she sounds many notes other than the banshee red-head. Other than “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Against All Flags,” and “The Black Swan” (the latter are two great pirate movies…if you haven’t seen them, you should), this is now my favorite O’Hara movie.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have always liked the scene in which the Sgt., played by Victor McLaglen, gets carried away with his histrionics regarding his regret at burning down the home of Maureen O’Hara’s character. His emotions peak when he looks at his hand, more or less blaming it for the deed, and makes the mistake of telling the doctor to strike it with the stout stick which he has been whittling on. The doctor, played by Chill Wills, accommodates the Sgt. and proceeds to break the stick over McLaglen’s hand. This shocks the Sgt as he clearly didn’t expect the doctor to actually do what he asked. Yet the Sgt. says nothing (not a peep about the pain) and with a somewhat hurt look on his face shakes his hand a bit.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    The at times confused but incandescent below the surface chemistry between the lovers is palpable…..and totally believable. This is a wonderful film in every aspect, as are the rest of the trilogy — and my favorite, the Searchers. I have all of these in the John Ford Collection, which is worth its weight in gold

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      O’Hara didn’t bother with trying a southern accent, which probably would have enhanced the North/South postwar tension. But this is a movie I could watch again just to pick up nuances of the relationship between Wayne and O’Hara. Ostensibly, she has come to Wayne’s post to retrieve her son. (Interesting that there is a hundred dollar buyout option.) And is it just coincidence that the washed-out son just happened to get posted with his father? There are some ties not completely unbound.

      It seems something is drawing these people together. I thought the best line in the picture was when they were having dinner in the tent with the general (another good character) and giving toasts. O’Hara’s character showed a quick wit and magnanimity when she relented to toast the United States Army, “My only rival.”

      In many ways, this movie would be too shocking and upsetting for the cream-puff marshmallow snowflake set. O’Hara (and very persuasively and nobly) evinces traditional female attitudes. And instead of seeing her as a mere victim of paternalism, she is seen (by those not blinded with grievance and hatred at men) as as necessary to all things as hot is to cold, or white is to rice, or push is to pull. She is a glorious woman. And John Ford (surprise surprise) does not try to turn her into an ass-kicking female. And at the end of the day, anyone not poisoned by modern feminism will see the true splendor of woman.

      And man. Duty is a hard calling and Wayne’s character is vulnerable regarding his chosen burden in a non-showy way (he neither cries nor blusters). This really is a nuanced movie for the normally High Contrast John Ford.

      And is this the collection you are talking about?

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    I believe that I owe it to John Ford for my son’s decision to apply to West Point. The Long Grey Line is most perfect film. I cannot help but tear up at the end.

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