Archive for January 25th, 2012

By Peter Lenihan

Finding Ford is a biweekly series in which I examine the films of John Ford.

There are, it seems, at least two ways of framing Rio Grande, one of the three Ford features of 1950 (Wagon Master and When Willie Comes Marching Home are the other two). The first (and far more common) way to discuss it is as the final entry in the cavalry trilogy, a series of films starring John Wayne and many members of the Ford stock company that revolved (some would say obsessively) around notions of duty and justice and the (im)possibility of reconciliation. Despite these films’ rejection of classical storytelling technique and traditional methods of audience identification, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Fort Apache are, at least among Fordians and western aficionados, very kindly looked upon, and have been embraced in a way that Rio Grande, a film no one seems to know what to do with, hasn’t.

It’s not all that hard to see why. Next to Fort Apache, whose tonal complexities and simultaneous celebration and repudiation of the U.S. military is among the most contradictory in the director’s filmography, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which features some of the most poetic color cinematography in the history of cinema, Rio Grande can seem a little, well, slight, and its undeniably low-budget feel only contributes to the sense that the director might be on auto-pilot here. History suggests Ford made it for Republic to help get The Quiet Man off the ground, and the digressive, ramshackle nature of the “plot,” and the familiarity of the characters’ names (protagonists named York, Quinncannon, Sandy and Tyree had all appeared in earlier Ford films) has helped encourage the view that it is something minor. (more…)

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