She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Directed by John Ford
Cinematography Winton Hoch

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is a 1949 Technicolor Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. The Academy Award winning film was the second of Ford’s Cavalry trilogy films (the other two being Fort Apache (1948) and Rio Grande (1950)). With a budget of $1.6 million, the film was one of the most expensive Westerns made up to that time. It was a major hit for RKO. The film takes its name from “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon“, a popular US military song that is used to keep marching cadence.

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The film was shot on location in Monument Valley utilizing large areas of the Navajo reservation along the ArizonaUtah state border. Ford and cinematographer Winton Hoch based much of the film’s imagery on the paintings and sculptures of Frederic Remington. The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1950. It was also nominated by the Writers Guild of America as 1950’s Best Written American Western; the award was won by Yellow Sky.

Tie a yellow ribbon

4 July 2005 | by jotix100 (New York) – See all my reviews

John Ford, perhaps the greatest film director of the last century, was in love with the pioneering men and women that settled the west. Mr. Ford had an amazing eye for the beauty of the land. This is a film where he pays tribute and his undying admiration to the spirit of adventure of those who dared and had a vision of the majesty of what awaited them as the traveled west.

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“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, is a beautiful film to look at. The glorious Technicolor utilized for the movie stands on its own as the legacy of the director and his cinematographer Winton Hoch whose photography of Monument Valley will remain the yard stick for which other films will be judged. The atmospheric music of Richard Hagerman adds another layer to the texture of this film.

John Wayne, an actor bigger than life, is at the center of the story. He embodies all that meant justice and fairness when things weren’t so orderly in the country. Victor McLaglen makes an excellent appearance as Sgt. Quincannon. John Agar and Ben Johnson did good work as the two cavalry officers in love with the same woman. Mildred Natwick was good as Abby Alshard, a no nonsense woman who has seen a lot. Ultimately, Joanne Dru projects such a beautiful image as the young Olivia Dandridge, the woman who wore the yellow ribbon in her hair and conquered the hearts of the men around her.

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This is a classic film that serves to remind us about those people that came before us, and, in the case of Nathan Brittles, Mr. Ford gives us a decent man who wanted peace above all with the Indians that the white man was displacing from their natural habitat.

Colorful Centerpiece of Cavalry Trilogy…

Author: Ben Burgraff (cariart) from Las Vegas, Nevada
24 September 2003

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is, arguably, the most enduring and appealing of John Ford’s ‘Cavalry’ trilogy. While lacking the dramatic core of a fatally flawed central character (FORT APACHE), or an estranged couple reunited by a headstrong son (RIO GRANDE), the film offers a richly sentimental tale of a crusty yet endearing career soldier (John Wayne) facing retirement, in a romanticized West where the cavalry stands as the only defense against the combined might of the Indian nations. The combination of Wayne and the cavalry in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is simply unbeatable!

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Wayne, at 42, portrays the sixty-ish Capt. Nathan Brittles, and under Ford’s sure hand, is magnificent in the role. Whether chastising young lieutenants (“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness”), complimenting an enlisted man (“Keep it up, and you’ll make a fine corporal, in three or four years”), or kneeling at the grave of his long-dead wife, to share the news of the day, Wayne’s performance shows a subtlety and sensitivity that his critics often claimed he lacked. When his commander, Major Allshard (George O’Brien) refuses his request to rescue Lt. Cohill (John Agar) and two squads who had performed rear guard duty, the anguish Wayne shows is heartbreaking. This is an Oscar-caliber performance, from a vastly underrated actor.

The rest of the cast measures up equally well. Victor McLaglen, as irascible as ever, plays Irish Top Sergeant Quincannon, full of blarney and (a bit of) whiskey. His morning scenes with Wayne, denying he’d been drinking, are comic gems. As the young suitors of Joanne Dru (who plays a more traditional role than in Howard Hawks’ RED RIVER), Agar and Harry Carey Jr. are also quite good.

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The real ‘find’ of the film, however, is Ben Johnson, in only his second major role. As Sgt. Tyree, ex-Confederate captain, and Brittles’ best scout, Johnson shows an easy-going charm, a (feigned) lack of respect (when asked his opinion, he’d always begin with “That’s not my department…” then make a dead-on assessment), and astonishing riding skills (not surprising, as Johnson had been a champion rodeo rider). A future Oscar winner, he displays a charisma on-camera that would quickly earn him a place in the ‘Ford Family’ of actors.

The visuals of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON have been frequently compared to Fredric Remington’s classic paintings of cavalrymen and Indians, and the comparison is justified; the film would win an Oscar for it’s rich Technicolor photography, and images of ‘dirty blue’ riders on horseback against the stark blue sky and golden hues of Monument Valley are very reminiscent of the artist’s work.

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SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is the kind of film you can watch again and again, and still find rewarding. It is on my ‘short list’ of favorite westerns, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat!

Never Apologize

9/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
30 August 2005

There is an ironic point about the production of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON immediately after FORT APACHE. Most critics agree that Col. Owen Thursday, the martinet commander, is based on General George Armstrong Custer, and that the massacre of his command due to his own pig headedness is the battle of the Little Bighorn. But SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON begins with that moment in the summer of 1876 when the entire frontier was nervous after word came of the destruction of Custer forces. The historic continuity (which is amazingly consistent, despite minor anachronisms) is shown early when Captain Brittles, visiting his wife’s grave, mentions to her the death of Captain Miles Keogh at the Little Bighorn. Historically this is correct. Keogh, a hero of the American Civil War, served with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and died with his commander and fellows. In fact, the only “survivor” of Custer’s forces at that disaster was Keogh’s horse, “Commanche”.

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Captain Brittles has served in the American cavalry for thirty years. He was one of those soldiers who held higher rank in the Civil War with a “Brevet”, but in the cutbacks in the army following the war (Custer went from brevet major general to Lt. Col. in the regular army)Brittles had to be satisfied with the rank of Captain. His wife and children died (presumably of some epidemic illness at the post – they are buried nearby). His old orderly from the war, Quincannon (Victor McLaglen) is still serving him. But he is facing a crisis. His thirty years means retirement, unless the army decides to promote him to Colonel. Despite the debacle in Montana, it is not too likely that the politically unconnected Brittles will get the promotion his fine abilities deserve.

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So we are watching an old soldier slowly fade away in this film. Brittles is aware he has days before he is to leave (unless a promotion turns up), and he has to try to keep the hot blooded Indian braves, impressed at what they just saw Crazy Horse and the Lakota forces accomplish, go on the warpath. He also has to keep his two most promising young officers (John Agar and Harry Carey Jr.) concentrating on their careers rather than fighting over Joanne Dru. He is worried too for Sgt. Quincannon, who is likewise going to be leaving the army a few days after Brittles. Will Quincannon’s drunken, roistering ways ruin his chances to maintain his pension? And he has to keep an eye on the suspicious behavior of the local fort sutler (Paul Fix) is up to – can he be running guns? Whatever he faces, he faces unflinchingly, and his motto is never to apologize – it’s a sign of weakness.

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For all the anachronisms listed on this thread, such as the 48 star flag (in 1876?), Ford got the time and place perfect in what counts. Note the fascinating relationship of Brittles and Sgt. Tyree (Ben Johnson). 1876 was a crossroad year for the U.S. regarding the results of the Civil War. In the negative, a questionable Presidential election result was solidified when three southern states agreed to support the Republican (Rutherford Hayes) over the Democrat (Samuel Tilden) in return for the Federal troops being pulled out of the south and the official end of Reconstruction policies benefiting southern African-Americans. One can’t deny that is still a stain in American history (despite Hayes excellent handling of the Presidency afterwords). But the former foes were finding less and less reason to dislike each other, and more and more to admire the grit both sides had shown. During the Civil War, Tyree was a Confederate Captain – he was Brittles’ equal in rank. Once the war ended, after a few years, he joins the American Army and rises to the rank of Sergeant. Technically he is not as high a Sergeant as Quincannon, who is Brittles’ aide. But Brittles constantly treats Tyree as a full equal, consulting him again and again on how to move next when going out of the fort to confront the Indian threat. The highpoint of this respect is when one of Tyree’s “soldiers”, “Trooper Smith” turns out to be a former Confederate cavalry leader named Rome Clay, and dies of wounds in an action against the Indians. Brittles and his men watch silently while Tyree and his fellow southern soldiers bury Clay properly with his flag, the Confederate one.

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In terms of relations between the whites of the North and South, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is miles away from the confrontations of, say THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND. There John Carridine’s northern officer has nothing but fanatical contempt for Dr. Mudd, whom he considers evil for helping John Wilkes Booth. Until the end of that film, Carridine takes a sadistic interest in making Warner Baxter regret his every move. The events of THE PRISONER was from 1865 – 1869 (when Mudd finally returned to Maryland). This is seven years afterwords.

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There are other little historical pointers. The rivalry of immigrant groups is shown when Quincannon is facing rival Sergeant Hochbauer, who openly dislikes the former as an overbearing Irishman (Hochbauer being a German). There is the civilian clothes that are meant for Brittles (complete with “Muller cut-down hat”) that Quincannon ends sampling (which leads to his hysterically funny fight with Hochbauer and the other soldiers meant to take him to the guardhouse). Quincannon insists he is not out of uniform (technically he is) but is simply dressed as a retired gentleman should be. Yes, in 1876, that would be the dress of a retired gentleman.

I like this film. The characterizations of the all the actors are strong, and Ford had great set pieces in it. Perhaps not as great a film as THE SEARCHERS (which is more meaty and dark), but a top notch Western all the same.

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