A cavalry officer posted on the Rio Grande must deal with murderous raiding Apaches, his son who’s a risk-taking recruit and his wife from whom he has been separated for many years.
Most Realistic of Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy; a True Western
As a writer, I find this to be the most honest and least pretentious of all John Ford’s western films. His cavalry trilogy ended with “Rio Grande” (the others are “Fort Apache” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: and it was also the first pairing of John Wayne with Maureen O’Hara, with whom he made five film appearances all told. The setting of the film is not glamorous by anyone’s standards; it is dusty, hot, remote, a country for hard men and hard duty. The storyline has Wayne in command of a fort. When his son is assigned to him for training with other recruits, his wife, estranged for fifteen years, follows him–to try to meddle… The storyline makes clear that during the Civil War he refused to disobey orders to burn down her family’s plantation; now she’s come west, and he wants her back and want to instill his pride in and love for the cavalry in his son.
There is rough humor in the film, changes to mind and body, learning to ride, standing up to the elements and to men, lessons the West can demand of anyone who comes there. nd after a plan of Wayne’s to protect settlers against the Indians backfires, he has to risk everything to save his career and his command. The theme of the film is that any man has to dare and dream beyond old conventions and ideas in order to reach his best; and that goes for O’Hara as well. The film was directed by John Ford, with script by James Kevin MacGuinness..Bert Glennon’s skilled B/W cinematography captures the bleak beauty of the spare semi-desert country, and admirably. Frank Hotaling did the production design and Victor Young contributed the score. In this feature’s large cast were Wane, O’Hara. Claude Jarman Jr. of “The Yearling” as their son, Harry Carey Jr., Victor Maclaglen, J Carrol Naish, Chill Wills and many solid western performers.
But the best thing to me about the production is the absence of any attempt to glamorize or apologize for the West. The men who rode for the cavalry lived with loneliness, the roughness of the country they patrolled and constant danger from those they opposed; this film makes it clear why men would do this for the meager pay they received; that it was the challenge they took up, as a way to use their abilities and emotional strength to the full. That is why I like this film the best of all of Ford’s estimable works.
Triumphant Conclusion to Cavalry Trilogy!
Author: Ben Burgraff (cariart) from Las Vegas, Nevada
21 April 2003
‘Rio Grande’, the last of director John Ford’s ‘unofficial’ Cavalry Trilogy, has often been unfairly judged the ‘weakest’ of the three westerns.
Certainly, it lacks the poetic quality of ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’, or the revisionist view of a thinly-disguised reworking of the events surrounding the death of George Armstrong Custer (‘Fort Apache’), but for richness of detail, a sense of the camaraderie of cavalrymen, an ‘adult’ (in the best sense of the word) love story, and a symbolic ‘rejoining’ of North and South conclusion that may have you tapping your toe, ‘Rio Grande’ is hard to beat!
It is remarkable that ‘Rio Grande’ ever got to the screen; Ford hadn’t planned to make it, but in order to get Republic Pictures to agree to his demands for ‘The Quiet Man’ (he wanted the film to be shot on location in Ireland, and in color), he had to agree to do a ‘quickie’ western that would turn a quick profit for the usually cash-strapped studio.
This is, perhaps, a reason why the film is held in less esteem than it deserves. ‘Rio Grande’ may have not been born with high expectations, but with John Ford in the director’s chair, and John Wayne and the Ford ‘family’ in the cast and crew, the potential for something ‘special’ was ALWAYS present!
A few bits of trivia to enhance your viewing pleasure: Yes, that IS Ken Curtis, singing with The Sons of the Pioneers, in the film…while uncredited, he made a favorable impression with Ford, and soon became a part of his ‘family’…Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, and Claude Jarman, Jr, actually did their own stunts while performing the ‘Roman Style’ riding sequence (Carey said in interviews that they were all young, and didn’t think about the danger of it; a production would lose their insurance if they ‘allowed’ three major performers to do something as risky, today!)…Did you know that O’Hara, playing Jarman’s ‘mother’, was barely 14 years older than her ‘son’, and was only 29 at the time of the filming?…Harry Carey barely had any lines in the script; most of what you see in the film was ad-libbed!…the popular ditty, ‘San Antoine’, sung by Jarman, Carey, Johnson, and Curtis, was, in fact, written by Mrs. Roy Rogers, herself, Dale Evans!
Whether you’re viewing ‘Rio Grande’ for the first time, or have sat through many viewings, the film has a richness and sense of nostalgia for a West that ‘may never have existed, but SHOULD have’. It would be a proud addition to any collector’s library!
Sentimental, psychological, classic movie, very unique for its genre
Author: Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland
24 July 2005
Although I am not particularly fond of westerns, I saw this movie since I had heard much about it from many people. It is true that a lot of westerns show the wild lives of cowboys overdoing with cruelty. RIO GRANDE, however, is a different story. It is not only a western but a highly educational movie which combines all precious values in life, some of which do not necessarily go in harmony, including honor, love, the feeling of duty, grandeur, and psychological reflections. Moreover, as a film, it is supplied with highly prestigious cinematography, memorable music, and, most importantly, great cast.
But there is something more that makes Ford’s film really memorable – the characters presented very clearly. But why such a title? While watching the movie, one clearly notices that the title RIO GRANDE does not only refer to the famous river that separated the cavalrymen from Indians in Mexico, but has wider metaphorical extensions.
The characters are very well developed throughout. Lieutanant Kirby Yorke (John Wayne), a northerner, lost the family 15 years earlier but never gives up finding a chance to rebuild the old relationship with his southern wife, Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara) and their son Jeff. His “rio grande” is duties and strict orders that make a barrier for a happy life within the family. Kathleen Yorke tries to get her son out of the cavalry; however, Jeff decides to protect honor rather than his comfort. She also aims at rebuilding the family ties with Kirby but is aware that it requires much sacrifice.
Their relationship is built upon a high respect for the freedom of both and a very delicate love between a man and a woman. Jeff (Claude Jarman), their son, attempts to do right and seeks for the honorable deeds. The blink of ambition in his eyes is noticeable in every scene with him. There are also other characters that the movie shows in a very psychological light (consider Travis Tyree played by Ben Johnson).
The cast give memorable performances but the pair of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara shine above all. Wayne seems to have been born for the role and, although he played in two previous parts of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy (FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), he gives his best performance in RIO GRANDE. Wayne wonderfully emphasizes grandeur, feeling of duty and a husband who reflects on his past mistakes in marriage. Maureen O’Hara has something aristocratic in her behavior as well as in her appearance, which helps her portray a southern lady who used to live a rich life on a plantation. She also stresses her attempts to rebuild the past mistakes; however, she seems to be driven by completely different factors.
Music is absolutely wonderful for this genre. The ballads supply the movie with sentimental mood. Yes, they are deadly sentimental, but they in no way make you sad but rather lifted to high emotions. Here comes to my mind a very poetic scene when Wayne and O’Hara are serenaded by troop soldiers on one moonlit night. Their faces strongly express profound emotions and nostalgia for the better life together. This is so well played that anybody who sees the pair will be able to deduce some reflections from their faces.
Some people said that the Apaches are showed as real monsters in RIO GRANDE. It is important to state here that they are showed exactly in the way they were perceived rather than what they were really like. These were very “wild” tribes in the eyes of the white people and that is what the film shows. As a matter of fact, both the Apaches and the cavalrymen defended their values and John Ford did not forget about it.
And coming back to the thrilling atmosphere of the movie, there is one more aspect that needs to be mentioned – the locations. The Monument Valley supplies the scenes with authenticity as well as drives viewers into a wonderful mood. It simply leaves an unfading trace in memory as do the cast, the content, and everything about RIO GRANDE.
What to say at the end?… The last part of Ford’s cavalry trilogy, though 55 years old, is a classic attempt to bring all that is valuable onto screen – HISTORY MEETS SINGLE INDIVIDUALS! Aren’t our lives constructed in such a way that we all have our own “rio grande”, such a barrier that closes us from happiness? I leave this universal question open to every open minded reader as John Ford implicitly did more than 50 years ago to every open minded viewer. Anyway, the film is unarguably worth seeing!
“Trooper Yorke brought the word, we came as soon as we could.”
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
17 August 2005
According to a trailer on my Quiet Man VHS and Maureen O’Hara’s memoirs Rio Grande was a negotiating chip that Republic Pictures studio president Herbert J. Yates used in order to get John Ford to work for his studio. John Ford had wanted to make The Quiet Man for years and the major studios turned him down. Republic was the last stop he made. Yates agreed to let him shoot The Quiet Man at Republic, but first he wanted a guaranteed moneymaker.
Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon were both done at RKO and made money. So Yates said give me another cavalry picture with John Wayne and you can shoot The Quiet Man afterwards.
James Warner Bellah who had written the short stories that the other two were based on fortunately had a third one published. And that boys and girls is how Rio Grande came into being.
Good thing too because of studio politics we got ourselves a western classic. And a family classic as well. John Wayne who is once again playing a character named Kirby Yorke has two families, the United States Cavalry to which he’s devoted and a wife and son from whom he’s been estranged. How he repairs the relationships between wife Maureen O’Hara and son Claude Jarman, Jr. is the key to the whole story.
As Maureen toasts at a dinner scene with J. Carrol Naish as General Philip H. Sheridan, “to my one rival, the United States Cavalry.”
Young Jefferson Yorke has flunked out of West Point and has joined the army as an enlisted man. Through none of his own doing he’s assigned to the frontier post commanded by his father. Mom then comes west to try and spring him from the army, but young Jeff doesn’t want to be sprung.
In fact to his father’s surprise the young man proves himself to be an able cavalryman without any assistance from Dad. And when Maureen comes west, old love rekindles between Wayne and O’Hara.
All this is against the background of some Apache hit and run raids across the Rio Grande. Topped off by them attacking a party escorting dependent women and children away from the post. Young Trooper Yorke rides for help there, hence the title quote.
A lot of John Ford’s stock company fills out the cast to give it that familiar look of Ford films. Some bits from previous films were used like the training Roman style of the new recruits. They prove a more able bunch than the ones from Fort Apache.
Some traditional melodies were used as they are in John Ford period pieces, but unusual for a Ford film, several new songs were written for the film, done by the Sons of the Pioneers. One of them written by Dale Evans entitled Aha San Antone. She was employed at Republic studios also.
A fine classic western with a nice story about family relationships and responsibilities one incurs in life.