Jesse James (1939)

Directed by Henry King
After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge.
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yet another Tyrone power winner

25 April 2016 | by rickdumesnil-55203 (Canada) – See all my reviews

simply loved the movie. let me start i absolutely was grateful that the black character PINKY was treated so nice. one of the rare Hollywood movie where the boss didn’t boss around and took time to chat. the scene when Jessie ask pinky if the baby is cute….simply breath taking. the scenery the acting especially by power Fonda Scott darwell and hull you cant ask for more. NANCY KELLY was touching but for me she seemed plain and not so pretty. of course i didn’t want Jessie to die in the end and his reunion with Jessie Jr. was simply well done and tear jerking. i gave it a 9 and took off 1 point because of the handling of the horses. how cruel. i just MR. POWER was against it but had no choice. good movie though glad i got the DVD….POWER FOREVER.

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A highly romanticized account of the infamous desperado…

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
30 November 2007

Splendid in his first Western and his first Technicolor movie, Power portrayed Jesse James as a sympathetic hero and the most charming bank robber of the Old West…

Teamed with Henry Fonda, and stalwart Randolph Scott, Henry King came with a Western classic, considered as one the best Jesse James of the series…

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The film opens in Pineville with hothead Jesse and temperate Frank as a couple of Missouri brothers who, embittered by the ruthless tactics of a railroad agent, got a warrant and had to skip out, hiding out until Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) can get the governor to give them a fair trial … But the railroad’s got too much at stake to let two farmer boys bollix things up…

After they had thrown Barshee (Brian Donlevy), the brutal railroad representative off the farm of their widowed mother (Jane Darwell) when she refused to sign over her property, Jesse and Frank later learn that she had been killed by a bomb tossed into their home by Barshee himself… Jesse returns, shoots Barshee, and vows revenge on the railroad, with the complete sympathy of the Missouri populace…

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Jesse’s sweetheart, Zee and her uncle, publisher Major Rufus, are among the James’ supporters, as is U. S. Marshal Will Wright (Scott), but he has a job to do and is forced to track down the two brothers…

Jesse and Frank have expanded their operation from merely harassing the St. Louis Midland with a series of holdups to robbing banks…

Pursuaded by railroad president McCoy (Donald Meek) to talk Jesse into surrendering, Wright extracts a written promise of a light sentence for the desperado… Zee then urges Jesse to give himself up following their wedding…

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Of course, Henry King tries to show how Jesse hated the railroads and from that hate he presented a charismatic hero… But this hero was not going to last… The more luck he had, the worse he gets… It’ll be his appetite for shooting and robbing until something happens to him…

He also shows a worried fiancée keeping thinking of an outlaw all the time out there in the hills just going on and on to nowhere just trying to keep alive with everybody after him, wanting to kill him to get that money…

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There’s a scene near the end where Zee (Nancy Kelly) after delivering her baby is lying in bed with her creature, with the presence of the Marshal, so to speak, between herself and her uncle that suddenly made clear to me what the entire film was about… Her feelings as a woman: “I’m so tired to care. This is the way it always is. We live like animals, scared animals. We move. We hide. We don’t dare to go out… ”

Obviously she is a sensitive woman who exposes her being on screen without losing sight of reality… That’s quite a great scene from King, and key in this great Western, as it’s really all about her character, Zee Cobb, a struggling woman in love now a mother with a baby to take care of…

So please don’t miss it!

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The Jesse We Somehow Have Gotten to Want to Remember

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
21 April 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was the luck of Tyrone Power that he became the pet male star of Producer Genius Daryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. He was constantly finding decent adventure film properties for Power to use, resulting in a huge public following for the star.

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Unfortunately in 1938 Power was lent to MGM to appear in the extravaganza historical film MARIE ANTOINETTE with Norma Shearer. He gave a fine performance as her friend/probable lover Count Axel Fersen, but his fans were puzzled, and some critics had a field day. It was like a problem a decade and a half earlier suffered by silent idol Rudolf Valentino, when he made some costume films like MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. Then Valentino suggested the choice of these rolls proved Valentino was a “powder puff” (i.e. homosexual). Now they suggested the same (after one film only!) for Power.

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To recoup meant taking Power into a particular historical film – a western. Long before the idea of a homosexual cowboy found any open acceptance on the screen, most actors found that the most masculine American role was as a cowboy. And if Power was going to play a westerner, he should play one who did not take nonsense – indeed was downright dangerous to people he disliked. Such a person was Jesse Woodson James (1848 – 1882). Zanuck’s genius at picking the right properties showed up here to such great affect, that a year later MGM copied the idea for their resident star with a huge female following, Robert Taylor, with the film BILLY THE KID.

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In first rate Technicolor, we watch a screen-writer’s version of Jesse’s complicated and violent life, in the last days of the Civil War (for the South), fighting carpetbaggers, banks, and railroads from the North, turning bandit against these aggressors, and then controlling the best bank and train robbing gang from 1868 – 1876 in the Mississippi/Missouri Valley. It also follows the love and marriage and tribulations of Jesse and his wife Zee Cobb (Nancy Kelly), and the events leading to his assassination (which more of below) by Robert Ford (John Carridine) a member of his gang. His brother and gang partner Frank is played by Henry Fonda. His love rival but occasional ally, the Marshall is Randolph Scott. Besides Carridine, the villains are a half-way comic banker/railroad owner played by Donald Meek, and his agent played by J. Edward Bromberg (possibly his best known role). And as for that “great” editor, Col. Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) anyone who does not think him a great character should be taken outside and hanged like a dog!

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Henry King, a good journeyman director used by Power and Zanauck in several films, turned in a first rate job, even as the screenplay really improves Jesse’s record. It is questionable if he was in the Confederate army or even served with Quantrill (as Frank and the missing Cole Younger, his cousin, did). But he was thoroughly tied to the lost cause, and the post war poverty that hit his part of Missouri did not endear the victors to him. Given the way money ruled the Gilded Age millionaires, one can see that the avariciousness’s of the banks and railroads would have worsened the situation. But did that give Jesse and Frank and their gang the right to kill any former Union foe they encountered in what was technically peacetime?

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The Northfield Bank Raid is rightly seen as the destruction of the James – Younger Gang, and as a model of overreaching. Unlike the fictional version in the story (the plan is betrayed, so the bank becomes a trap), Jesse and the gang tried to rob two banks in Northfield, Minnesota, and thought the locals there would be as indifferent as Missourians or Kansas on-lookers (they weren’t). Many were shot and killed on both sides, but worse Cole and his brothers were captured and sent to prison. Jesse and Frank and several others escaped – but regrouped in Missouri. It lasted for six more years with bank and railroad robberies before Jesse was killed by Ford.

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There is no denying (as Hull says at the end) that James was a criminal. But to be fair, the Federal Government and the Pinkertons did not behave well either. Keep in mind, in 1870 Federal intervention in the states was limited to the Reconstruction policies, not to policing action. But Ulysses Grant, although from Ohio, had lived in Missouri for years, and took a personal interest in the James Gang. He was willing to use the Pinkertons as his agents, including one incident where a bomb-like device was used against Jesse’s mother’s family, injuring several (his mother lost her arm), and killing his half-brother. So furious was Jesse about this, for a couple of months he was in Chicago seeking a chance to attack and kill Allan Pinkerton!

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And then there is that final killing – Governor Crittenden of Missouri, from a distinguished Kentucky family, smashed his career in setting up a “hit” by Ford, in which Jesse was shot in the back in his parlor! I don’t think any other criminal of the top rank in American History (maybe Dillinger in his demise at the Biograph Theater in Chicago) ever came across as having had his bad list of actions cleaned by the manner his death was caused. In 1881 Crittenden was considered a possible future Democratic Presidential candidate. After 1882 his career was finished. As for Ford, he was shot down years later – his killer given a judicial slap on the hand.

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JESSE JAMES cuts down the negative issues a bit too much, and builds up his good characteristics too much. Yet it works splendidly as film. Other “James” films like I SHOT JESSE JAMES or THE GREAT NORTHFIELD RAID may be truer somehow, but this is the JAMES we like to recall – and the JAMES that will live.

Power Brings Jesse James To Life
8/10
Author: jhclues from Salem, Oregon
8 December 2001

A real life legend of the Old West comes to life in this 1939 film, which may not be historically accurate or honest enough for purists, but nevertheless tells a good story while leaving any moral judgments up to the audience.

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`Jesse James,’ directed by Henry King, stars Tyrone Power as the man heralded by some as the Robin Hood of cowboys. Whether or not he was actually a hero is debatable, and what this movie does is supply the motivation for the wrong-doing on Jesse’s part– at least up to a point. At the time this film was made, it was necessary for the filmmaker to present a story like this in a way that reflected a reckoning of sorts for a character engaged in any form of moral turpitude; and this film is no exception. But in this case, it’s done with subtlety, and in a way that still allows the viewer’s sympathies to be with the protagonist, regardless of his crimes.

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At the heart of the matter is basically another version of the oft-told David and Goliath tale. In this story, Goliath is the railroad, expanding ever-westward and growing bigger and stronger by the day. When they encounter the farm on which Jesse, his brother, Frank (Henry Fonda) and their mother (Jane Darwell) reside and make their living, the railroad does what any self-respecting conglomerate would do– they take it, pay the owners a pittance and lay their rail without giving it another thought. Only this time, the railroad messed with the wrong people. Not one to take it lying down, Jesse forms a gang– which includes Frank– and strikes back in the only way he knows how: By robbing the trains. And, just as Bonnie and Clyde would become, in a sense, local heroes a few years later, many began looking up to James as something of a redeemer; the man who stood up for all the others who were either unwilling or unable to do it for themselves after being wronged, as well, by the ruthless machinery of progress.

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Power gives an outstanding performance as Jesse James, to whom he brings an intensity that seethes beneath his rugged good looks and determined attitude. Like Beatty did with Clyde, Power makes Jesse an outlaw you can’t help but like, and actually admire. Because the James Power presents is nothing more nor less than a good man seeking reparation for the injury visited not only upon himself, but upon his family, to whom he feels justice is now due. It’s a very credible and believable portrayal, though under close scrutiny his Jesse may come across as somewhat idealistically unflawed. Then again, within the time frame of this story, we are seeing a man adamant and single-minded of purpose, and the depth Power brings to the character more than accounts for what may be construed as a flawless nature.

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As Frank James, Henry Fonda presents a man perhaps more laid-back than his brother, but every bit as volatile and adamant in his quest for justice. There’s a coolness in his eyes and in his manner that belies the tenacity of his character. Fonda conveys the sense that Frank is a lion; he’s no trouble without provocation, but once aroused he will demand satisfaction and stay with the scent until he has it. And it’s that sense of dogged determination that Fonda and Power bring to their respective characters that makes them so engaging and accessible. Goliath is the real bad guy here, and you want to see him fall; and these are the guys you want to see bring him down.

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In a supporting role, John Carradine gives a noteworthy performance as Jesse’s own personal Judas, Bob Ford, a man who made history by demonstrating that there is, indeed, no honor among thieves. Carradine brings Ford to life in a sly and sinister way that leaves no doubt as to who the real villain of the story is.

The supporting cast includes Nancy Kelly (Zee), Randolph Scott (Will), Slim Summerville (Jailer), Brian Donlevy (Barshee), Donald Meek (McCoy), Charles Tannen (Charlie Ford), Claire Du Brey (Mrs. Ford) and Henry Hull, in an energetic and memorable performance as Major Rufus Cobb. Compared to many of the westerns made in the past couple of decades or so, this film is rather antiseptic in it’s presentation; that is to say it lacks the graphic visuals of say, `The Wild Bunch’ or Eastwood’s `Unforgiven.’ But `Jesse James’ is satisfying entertainment that doesn’t require or rely upon shocking realism to tell the story, but rather the talent and finesse of a great cast and a savvy director. It’s a movie that will keep you involved, and Power and Fonda make it an especially enriching cinematic experience. In a very classic sense, this is the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.

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Special cast, special movie, just don’t expect a history lesson.

8/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
20 January 2009

We are at the time of the Iron Horse birth, the railroads are buying out the farm land at ridiculously low prices, even resorting to bully tactics to get the signature rights. When one particularly nasty railroad agent tries his strong arm tactics on the mother of the James brothers, he gets more than he bargained for. In an act of almost vengeful negligence, the agent causes the death of Mrs James and thus sets the wheels in motion for what was to become folklore notoriety, Jesse James, his brother Frank, and a gang of seemingly loyal thieves, went on to etch their names in outlaw history.

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There is no getting away from the fact that history tells us that this is a highly fictionalised account of Jesse James and his exploits. What we are given here by director Henry King and his screenwriter Nunally Johnson, is a more romanticised look at the legend of the man himself; which sure as heck fire makes for one dandy and enjoyable watch. The cast is one to savour, Tyrone Power (Jesse James), Henry Fonda (Frank James), Randolph Scott (Will Wright), Brian Donlevy (Barshee) and John Carradine (Bob Ford) all line up to entertain the masses with fine results, with Fonda possibly owing his subsequent career to his appearance here. He would return a year later in the successful sequel The Return Of Frank James and subsequently go on to greater and more rewarding projects. Power of course would go on and pick up the trusty blade and start swishing away, a career beckoned for this matinée idol for sure, but it’s nice to revisit this particular picture to see that Power could indeed be an actor of note, capable of some emotional depth instead of making Jesse just another outlawish thug. If the makers have made the character too “heroic” then that’s for debate, it’s one of the many historical “itches” that have irked historians over the years. But Power plays it as such and it works very well.

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One of the film’s main strengths is the pairing of Power and Fonda, very believable as a kinship united in ideals, with both men expertly handled by the reliable Henry King. The Technicolor from Howard Greene and George Barnes is wonderfully put to good use here, splendidly capturing the essence of the time with eye catching results. While the film itself has a fine action quota, gun play and galloping horses all feature throughout, and the characterisations of the main players lend themselves to pulse raising sequences. To leave us with what? A highly accomplished Western picture that ends in the way that history has showed it should-whilst the rest of the film is flimsy history at best? Yes. But ultimately it really doesn’t matter if one is after some Western entertainment, because for sure this picture scores high in that regard. 8/10

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The Searchers (1956)

Cinematography Winton C. Hoch
Directed by John Ford

Ethan Edwards, returned from the Civil War to the Texas ranch of his brother, hopes to find a home with his family and to be near the woman he obviously but secretly loves. But a Comanche raid destroys these plans, and Ethan sets out, along with his 1/8 Indian nephew Martin, on a years-long journey to find the niece kidnapped by the Indians under Chief Scar. But as the quest goes on, Martin begins to realize that his uncle’s hatred for the Indians is beginning to spill over onto his now-assimilated niece. Martin becomes uncertain whether Ethan plans to rescue Debbie…or kill her.

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Near Villainous Role for THE DUKE

19 November 2001 | by marquis de cinema (Boston, MA) – See all my reviews

The Searchers(1956) has been reflected to death by many filmmakers in their own work with main ideas, situations, and plot as guide. Many elements of The Searchers(1956) influenced film directors ranging from Brian De Palma, George Lucus, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Sergio Leone. There are scores of other movie makers whom I cannot list at the top of my head that were affected by this one film. Obvious film influences are Once Upon a Time in the West(1968), Obsession(1976), Taxi Driver(1976), Star Wars(1977), and Hardcore(1979). It shows that great works of cinema are also able to inspire many admirers and disciples. Only films(stories) by Akira Kurosawa has been reflected more often by film directors than The Searchers(1956).

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John Wayne was legendary American film star and big box office draw by 1956. The Searchers(1956) lends creedence to John Wayne being an exceptional actor enforced by his multi-layered performance. In a career that spanned five decades, The Searchers(1956) is the efflorescence of John Wayne. John Wayne gives a complex/flawed portrait of a man looking for redemption and salvation. One fine moment that examplifies the multi-layerness of John Wayne’s performance is the look on Ethan Edwards face as he feys over what will happen to his brother and family. The Searchers(1956) was to John Wayne’s career what Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948) was to Humphrey Bogart and Vertigo(1958) was to James Stewart.

Story is about drifting, trying find something which is self-meaningful. Ethan Edwards is such a drifter who is always in search of a purpose. The Searchers(1956) is really about drifting in the American Frontier and search for self-discovery. There were many drifters like Ethan Edwards in the Old West especially in the wake of the Civil War.

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The Cowboy drifter in the Old West is almost the equivalent of the Samurai ronin in Tokugawa Japan Era. These drifters were men who were on the go, had temporary employment, and always wondered about their existence in life.

Rare individualistic motion picture in the old studio system days when many Hollywood films were studio controlled. The Searchers(1956) defies the typical 1950s Hollywood film presentation because its a director’s picture. Excells on a visual level with interesting camera placement. Camera framing also plays a psychological and visual role in representation of two conflicting worlds(Civilized West and Wild West). Helped by crisp and flawless editing that flows the plot along effortlessly. Shades of Homer’s THE ODYSSEY are penetrated into the heart of the story with irony.

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Deals with racial prejudice with honest and truthful gusto. Racial prejudice in The Searchers(1956) is filmed in terms of emotional and psychological depth. The racial prejudice of the protagonist echos the prejudice of many white people in the Old West felt towards native Americans. The relationship between Ethan Edwards and Martin Pawley is met by distrust, prejudice, and sarcasm. Only towards the end does Ethan Edwards begin to show some sign of acception and respect for Martin Pawley. Shows that people are willing to change if they are willing to confront the dark side of humanity.

John Ford was the one director who was able to channel the talents of John Wayne to full heights. He made it possible for John Wayne to become an American film star by casting him in Stagecoach(1939). The other major director John Wayne had great success with was Howard Hawks. The Searchers(1956) is the greatest film of the Ford-Wayne tandem. Each are at their highest and most professional peak as film artists. In film working relationship they were halves of one and one of halves.

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Ethan Edwards fullfills the requirements of hero and villain in narrative plot structure. This makes him an anti-hero with human strengths and flaws so typical of this type of protagonist. Its funny that John Wayne detested Italian Westerns and yet played a character in The Searchers(1956) who fits the mold of the Spaghetti Western anti-hero. Ethan Edwards is the closet thing to a villain John Wayne played in the movies. At the beginning Ethan Edwards lives only for hate and revenge. By the end he becomes merciful and forgiving.

On-location photography gives the film its rugged character. Monument Valley is depicted with beauty, mystery, and savagery. The people in the story are represented by their environment and location. Monument Valley was a favorite film location of John Ford who was obsessed by its untamed and individualistic nature. Monument Valley site is explored on a physical, psychological, and social level. Scenery is an important character of the Classic American Western and none so more true then in The Searchers(1956).

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Another major motif in The Searchers(1956) is redemption. The path of hate and vengeance is replaced by compassion and forgiveness. Its this motif as well as others that makes the story a subtle Catholic driven tale. Redemption is the saving grace for a destructive and negative character like Ethan Edwards. Revenge until the climatic moment takes importance over everything else in Ethan Edwards life. Redemption is one motif from The Searchers(1956) that influenced Scorsese and Schrader.

Martin Pawley goes with Ethan Edwards on revenge pledge as way of following path of fealty. The moment of Ethan picking up his niece and holding her with compassion is a tender one. Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley provides a nice foil to John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Cinematography in The Searchers(1956) is forceful and graceful. In time The Searchers takes place, drifters like Ethan Edwards are dime a dozen but by the period depicted in films of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinaph, they are nearly extinct. The Searchers(1956) is a milestone in both American and World cinema.

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The ultimate western

9/10
Author: ironhorse_iv from United States
5 March 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

John Ford’s The Searchers is my favorite all-time western. To even further appreciate this masterpiece one must read Alan Le May’s novel by the same name on which this movie is based.

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If you do, you will appreciate certain details which John Ford made sure to recreate on the screen, and most importantly you will get a better understanding of the time line. It is truly amazing how Ford managed to fit so many years into two hours without losing too much. John Ford use of scenery and character development was unsurpassed. It just has everything. The movie opens with a door framing shot on the Edwards homestead. The shot shows the loneliness and isolation of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returning home from the civil war. Over dinner, we learn that he’d always been a “loner” since his brother was married to the woman he loved, and the “cause” he fought for in the Civil War lost, but he refused to surrender. While out on patrol, the Edwards homestead was attack by Native Americans. The scene with Ethan Edward coming home to see the death and the burn ruins of the home is sheer brilliance and was the last straw he had with the Comanche tribe.

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He notice that his niece Debbie was capture by them, and force to be a wife to its leader, Scar. He wasn’t going to allow that. He goes to rescue the girl, spending years searching for her, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable and dark. John Wayne as Ethan Edwards was the subtle darkest character he ever played. He had a serious hated for Indians, which the book made clear and the movie less so. If you pay very close attention when Debbie (Natalie Wood) is hiding out by the Tombstone, you can just make out the writing. It shows why Ethan is borderline racist. A lot of people might point that that the movie might be a bit racist due to Ethan’s hatred of anything Native American. This is not a racist movie. In fact, Ford examines the extremity of racism by the whites against the Native Americans during this period. In fact, there was a lot of interracial hatred in Texas and the West. Still, nearly all of the violence and hatred in the film is by the whites.

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The film questions the racist attitude they had at the time towards the American natives, epitomized by Wayne’s character, but still Ford had attempted to justify mass murder for revenge in the film. Hence the dry run at the Academy Awards. John Ford’s purpose in making The Searchers wasn’t to make a statement about the horrible treatment and oppression of Native Americans. It was to tell a good story. The Searchers, is in fact one of the biggest complex, multi-layered films to come out of the Hollywood studio system. The photography and film subtext is legendary. The Searchers was filmed in VistaVision, and movies made in VistaVision look so much better today when restored than other forms of film-making at the time. Watch it on Blu-ray which has breathtaking cinematography of Monument Valley in its best. The setting in Monument Valley was made for westerns. The ending of The Searchers is great, without a doubt. Arguably one of the greatest scenes in the history of movies.

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Ford says everything without words. This scene is simply perfect show and tell. There are so many analysis of what happen to Ethan Edward in the final minutes that raise questions. When Duke John Wayne holds his arm, it was tribute to his hero, Harry Carey, who was a star of silent western films. Harry Carey often did what Duke did in the last scene of The Searchers. Still there are a bit of silly, such in the case in the letters being read by Vera Miles in the cabin on the large wooden bench. Those parts dragged a little. I thought the fight scene at the end was a little hokey. The editing isn’t that great and some of the props were obviously 70 years ahead of their time. The movie didn’t get the critical acclaim when it came out. It wasn’t until the 1970s that The Searchers came to serious critical acclaim, too late for Ford but not Wayne. Taxi Driver, Star Wars, and Godfather was inspired by the technique of this film. That’s saying something.

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Several film critics have suggested that The Searchers was inspired by the 1836 kidnapping of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche warriors who raided her family’s home at Fort Parker, Texas.[13][14] She spent 24 years with the Comanches, married a war chief, and had three children (one of whom was the famous Comanche Chief Quanah Parker), only to be rescued against her will by Texas Rangers. James W. Parker, Cynthia Ann’s uncle, spent much of his life and fortune in what became an obsessive search for his niece, like Ethan Edwards in the film. In addition, the rescue of Cynthia Ann, during a Texas Ranger attack known as the Battle of Pease River, resembles the rescue of Debbie Edwards when the Texas Rangers attack Scar’s village. Parker’s story was only one of 64 real-life cases of 19th-century child abductions in Texas that author Alan Le May studied while researching the novel on which the film was based.

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His surviving research notes indicate that the two characters who go in search of a missing girl were inspired by Brit Johnson, who ransomed his captured wife and children from the Comanches in 1865. Afterward, Johnson made at least three trips to Indian Territory and Kansas relentlessly searching for another kidnapped girl, Millie Durgan (or Durkin), until Kiowa raiders killed him in 1871.

The ending of Le May’s novel contrasts to the film’s, with Debbie, called Dry-Grass-Hair by the Comanches, running from the white men and from the Indians. Marty, in one final leg of his search, finds her days later, only after she has fainted from exhaustion.

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In the film, Scar’s Comanche group is referred to as the Nawyecka. The more common names for this Comanche division (with whom Cynthia Ann Parker lived) are Nokoni or Nocona. Some film critics have speculated that the historical model for the cavalry attack on a Comanche village, resulting in Look’s death and the taking of Comanche prisoners to a military post, was the well-known Battle of Washita River, November 27, 1868, when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Cheyenne camp on the Washita River (near present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma). The sequence also resembles the 1872 Battle of the North Fork of the Red River, in which the 4th Cavalry captured 124 Comanche women and children and imprisoned them at Fort Concho.

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Reception

Although the film was set in Texas it was filmed in Monument Valley, Utah.

Upon the film’s release, Bosley Crowther called it a “ripsnorting Western” (in spite of the “excessive language in its ads”); he credits Ford’s “familiar corps of actors, writers, etc., [who help] to give the gusto to this film. From Frank S. Nugent, whose screenplay from the novel of Alan LeMay is a pungent thing, right on through the cast and technicians, it is the honest achievement of a well-knit team.” Crowther noted “two faults of minor moment”:

  • “Episode is piled upon episode, climax upon climax, and corpse upon corpse…[t]he justification for it is that it certainly conveys the lengthiness of the hunt, but it leaves one a mite exhausted, especially with the speed at which it goes.
  • “The director has permitted too many outdoor scenes to be set in the obviously synthetic surroundings of the studio stage…some of those campfire scenes could have been shot in a sporting-goods store window.”

Variety called it “handsomely mounted and in the tradition of Shane“, yet “somewhat disappointing” due to its length and repetitiveness; “The John Ford directorial stamp is unmistakable. It concentrates on the characters and establishes a definite mood. It’s not sufficient, however, to overcome many of the weaknesses of the story.”

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The New York Herald Tribune termed the movie “distinguished”; Newsweek deemed it “remarkable.” Look described The Searchers as a “Homeric odyssey.” The New York Times praised Wayne’s performance as “uncommonly commanding.”

The film earned rentals of $4.8 million in the US and Canada during its first year of release.

Possibly the greatest movie ever made (ala Spielberg)

10/10
Author: sngjudge (sngjudge@gte.net) from Los Angeles, CA
24 July 2000

OK. First of all, I have seen quite a few movies in my time, and the complexity of this film makes this one of the top 5 movies of all time. Steven Spielberg said (in an early 90’s interview) that this movie was possibly the greatest of all times, due to the depth of the character studies.

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The interplay between Ethan & Martha (his brother’s wife)is subtle, yet screams of an undying, yet unfulfilled love that has endured for several years. You have to see the scene where Ward Bond is left in the house eating doughnuts, and witnesses the final, tender goodbye, while looking straight ahead, coming to the realization of what it all means, and how hard it is for the two of them to keep it from everyone else.

It is true that the film was filmed in Utah with the story taking place in Texas, but that quickly becomes a moot point. There is not space to extol all the virtues of this movie The relationship of Ethan & Martin, Martin & Lori, and the raw emotion experienced by all members of the cast are worth the rental price. No cast member came back from making this movie the same way they were when they left. Watch the film, it gets inside you. Watch it again, and you’ll find things you never saw before, no matter how many times you see it.

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Forgotten theme

10/10
Author: flaxies7 from United States
17 March 2005

Whenever I read critic’s reviews of “The Searchers,” I’m continually astounded by how they beat into the ground the racial aspect of the movie. Yes, it is undeniably an important theme in the plot, but no one ever touches on its more simple and beautiful qualities: the harshness of life in the Old West; the pioneer spirit so eloquently described by Ma Jorgensen. And most importantly, the fierce dedication to family shown by Ethan and even more so by the true hero of the film, Martin Pawley. As for the allegedly racist views of Ethan Edwards, go read the book, as Amos (the Ethan character in the book) had very real reasons to despise the Indians. People do ugly things to each other. Life is complex and viewpoints are often the results of one man’s experience.

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High Noon (1952)

Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Cinematography Floyd Crosby

On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, lawman Will Kane is told that a man he sent to prison years before, Frank Miller, is returning on the noon train to exact his revenge. Having initially decided to leave with his new spouse, Will decides he must go back and face Miller. However, when he seeks the help of the townspeople he has protected for so long, they turn their backs on him. It seems Kane may have to face Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller’s gang, who are waiting for him at the station.

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“Oh, To Be Torn Twixt Love And Duty”

22 April 2006 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

On Marshal Gary Cooper’s wedding day to Grace Kelly, Lee Van Cleef, Sheb Woolley, and Robert J. Wilkie wait at the train station for the noon arriving train. It will be carrying their former gang leader, Ian McDonald who Cooper sent to prison and who’s vowing vengeance.

From the gitgo it’s made abundantly clear that these are four nasty dudes who the town ought to deal with expeditiously. But the good elements of the town have grown fat and lazy and content to throw the responsibility of law and order on Cooper’s shoulders. And he’s quitting anyway, going on his honeymoon with his Quaker bride. A new marshal is going to arrive the next day. Why get involved. They want Cooper to just take his problem elsewhere. That view is probably best expressed by Thomas Mitchell in the scene at the church.

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Speaking of the scene in the church my favorite business in High Noon is when preacher Morgan Farley tells Cooper how dare he come into the church because a few hours earlier he didn’t see fit to get married in that church. What a set of priorities.

Grace Kelly had her breakthrough role in High Noon. She’s a Quaker with deeply held pacifist principles. She’s marrying a lawman, but one who’s quitting that life. Her best scene in the film is with Katy Jurado who is Cooper’s former gal pal. Katy explains the facts of life to Grace about marriage and the duty of standing by your man, long before Tammy Wynette ever sung about it. When the time comes, Grace does the right thing.

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Like his rival in western films, John Wayne, Gary Cooper had one of the great faces for movie closeups. Back in the day it used to be a running joke about how Cooper’s dialog used to be just “yep” and “nope.” It was a good deal more than that. But High Noon’s plot is carried quite a bit by the many closeup shots of Cooper. His face tells more than ten pages of speech and it keeps the tension of the film going. Man did not win two Academy Awards for nothing.

Of course the theme of High Noon is also expressed in Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s Academy Award winning song, sung at times during the film by Tex Ritter. However the big hit record of the film was from Frankie Laine. I doubt there has ever been a movie theme song that expressed everything you needed to know about the motivation of the central character in the film. I don’t think High Noon would have attained the classic status it has without that song.

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Another great performance in the film is Lon Chaney, Jr. as the former town marshal, old and cynical, who’d like to help Cooper out, but at his age and health realizes he’d be more of a hindrance. He’s the only one that Cooper understands and forgives.

The final gun battle is choreographed like a ballet, it’s that good. Maybe the best ever filmed. Can’t describe it, you got to see it.

The interaction of the town’s responsibilities for maintaining law and order and Cooper’s personal pride and integrity have been dealt with in various ways in other films. I’d check out Rio Bravo, Warlock, Death of a Gunfighter, Welcome to Hard Times, all of these take a different slant on the same themes.

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But personally I’ve always liked what the townspeople did in a Frank Sinatra film, Johnny Concho. That’s what the people of Hadleyville should have done right at the start.

Remarkably well-organised western in which not one single second is wasted and the tension is built up admirably.

10/10
Author: Jonathon Dabell (barnaby.rudge@hotmail.co.uk) from Todmorden, England
16 April 2006

John Wayne was totally wrong to call this movie un-American. Courage and cowardice are universal emotions, and the attitudes of the characters in High Noon are, I think, incredibly truthful and telling. I know that if I lived in the Wild West, had a job and family, and was asked to stand up and fight against a gang of gun-toting psychos I would probably not be able to do it. That’s why Gary Cooper’s Will Kane is such a remarkable character in terms of self-respect, morality and inner strength. It’s the way he MUST uphold the law even though it will perhaps cost him his wife and his life. It is the various townfolk with whom most of us will identify, even if it makes us feel shame or unworthiness to admit it. No matter how bravely we act, nor how much we want to think heroically of ourselves, 90% of us would cower in the shadows when the time came to do what Will Kane does in this movie.

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On his wedding day, dependable lawman Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just handed in his badge and is preparing to leave town with his bride Amy (Grace Kelly) when he receives devastating news. An old adversary, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), has been pardoned for crimes that he should have hanged for and is on his way to Kane’s town of Hadleyville to get revenge. He is due on the noon train, leaving Kane one hour to either run for his life or make preparations to fight. Kane and Amy set off at full gallop, hoping to put some miles between themselves and danger, but Kane doesn’t get far before he feels compelled to turn back. With the new sheriff not due for a day, he just can’t let go of the extraordinary sense of duty and responsibility he feels towards his town. However when he gets back to town he gets quite a shock – for no-one has the guts (nor, in some instances, the inclination) to fight alongside him against the Miller gang. As time ticks unstoppably towards noon, Kane gradually realises that if he’s going to stop Miller and his boys, he’s going to have to do it alone!

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Cooper’s performance is extremely powerful and he received a thoroughly deserved Oscar for it. Kelly is good as his bride, although many viewers will find her character hard to like. Lloyd Bridges has a brilliant early role as Kane’s deputy, while the very best of the supporting pack is Katy Jurado as a Latino woman whose “history” with most of the men in town puts her in an unenviable position when the shooting starts. Fred Zinnemann directs the film outstandingly, making each scene fit into the grander scheme of things with literate precision. Any aspiring young film-maker wanting to learn how to pace a film correctly should watch High Noon with a close eye, for it is unparallelled as the most perfectly paced film of all-time. The music by Dmitri Tomkin – plus that incredible ballad “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” by Tex Ritter – is just one more element that makes High Noon one of the great masterpieces. There’s nothing else to say – if you haven’t already, go out and see this film NOW!

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The Wild Bunch (1969)

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Cinematography Lucien Ballard

The Wild Bunch is a 1969 American epic Western Technicolor and Panavision film directed by Sam Peckinpah  about an aging outlaw gang on the Texas–Mexico border, trying to exist in the changing modern world of 1913. The film was controversial because of its graphic violence and its portrayal of crude men attempting to survive by any available means.

An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them.
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The Wild Cinema of Peckinpah

27 August 2005 | by Bogmeister (United States) – See all my reviews

Peckinpah has a rep and this is the film which provided most of it. I had the privilege of actually seeing this on the big screen once, in the late seventies. As the beginning credits end, Pike (Holden) tells his bunch “If they move, Kill ’em!” Then Peckinpah’s credit appears. A woman seated behind me gasped, whispering “oh, no…” Oh, my. It sounded like the lady didn’t know she’d wandered into a Peckinpah film and she knew what she was in for. When you enter Peckinpah-land, you need to be prepared. There are no punches pulled, no sidestepping the unpleasant aspects of life. Peckinpah’s characters are tough men; I mean, really tough, not phony-Hollywood tough. In this case, they are coarsened by what seems to be years on the trail, blasted by the sun, snapped at by rattlesnakes, and harassed by bandits. And at this point, they’ve pretty much had it.

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Not that they’re complaining, mind you. They’ve lived their lives how they saw fit, this bunch, and they make no apologies for any of it. I believe the actual year is around 1913, just before World War I begins. Most of the action takes place in Mexico, where the Bunch becomes involved with a local general (Fernandez) with the usual delusions of grandeur. If you go by the name of the character Angel, the general can be viewed as a version of the devil. That would make the Bunch avenging angels at the end. But heroes? No, not at all. They have their own code, they know instinctively they’re stronger together than on each own, but they reason this concept out also – Peckinpah wants to make sure it’s clear these are not unthinking savages. They’re just men, who’ve reached a point in history where they must make a crucial turn. History, it seems, has no real use for them anymore. It’s quite simple

    • they either fade slowly or go out quickly. In a film such as this,

with its now insurmountable rep, you tend to wait for those big set pieces, especially the climactic battle. Wait for it, wait for it… here it is. Bam! – you’re in Peckinpah territory. You’re a part of history.

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Brutal and elegiac masterpiece.

4 March 2008 | by Spikeopath (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Outlaws led by Pike Bishop on the Mexican-U.S. frontier face not only the passing of time, but bounty hunters {led by a former partner of Pike, Deke Thornton} and the Mexican army as well.

In 1969 Sam Peckinpah picked up the torch that Arthur Penn lit with 1967’s Bonnie & Clyde, and literally poured gasoline on it to impact on cinema to the point that the shock wave is still being felt today. The death of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1967 ushered in a new era for cinema goers, it was a time for brave and intelligent directors to step up to the plate to deliver stark and emotive thunder, and with The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah achieved this by the shed load.

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The Wild Bunch doesn’t set out to be liked, it is a harsh eye opening perception of the Western genre, this is the other side of the coin to the millions of Westerns that whoop and holler as the hero gets the girl and rides off into the sunset. The Wild Bunch thematically is harshly sad for the protagonists, these are men out of their time, this is a despicable group of men, driven by greed and cynicism, they think of nothing to selling arms to a vile amoral army across the border.

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The film opens with a glorious credit sequence as we witness the Bunch riding into town, the picture freeze frames in black & white for each credit offering, from here on in we know that we are to witness something different, and yes, something very special. The film is bookended by carnage, and sandwiched in the middle is an equally brilliant train robbery, yet the impact of these sequences is only enhanced because the quality of the writing is so good (Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner alongside Peckinpah). There’s no pointless discussions or scene filling explanations of the obvious. Each passage, in each segment, is thought thru to gain credibility for the shattering and bloody climax. There is of course one massive and intriguing question that hangs over the film; how did Peckinpah make such low moral men appear as heroes? Well I’m not here to tell you that because you need to witness the film in its entirety for yourself. But it’s merely one cheeky point of note in a truly majestic piece of work. A film that even today stands up as one of the greatest American films ever made. 10/10

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Casting


Peckinpah’s first two choices for the role of Deke Thornton were Richard Harris (who had co-starred in Major Dundee) and Brian Keith (who had worked with Peckinpah on The Westerner (1960) and The Deadly Companions (1961)). Harris was never formally approached, but Keith was, and turned the part down. Robert Ryan was ultimately cast in the part after Peckinpah saw him in the World War II action movie The Dirty Dozen (1967). Other actors considered for the role were Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Ben Johnson (later cast as Tector Gorch), and Arthur Kennedy.

Mario Adorf was considered for the part of Mapache, but the role went to Emilio Fernández, the Mexican film director and actor and friend of Peckinpah.

Among those considered to play Dutch Engstrom were Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Alex Cord, Robert Culp, Sammy Davis, Jr., Richard Jaeckel, Steve McQueen, and George Peppard. Ernest Borgnine was cast based on his performance in The Dirty Dozen (1967).

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Robert Blake was the original choice to play Angel, but he asked for too much money. Peckinpah had seen Jaime Sánchez in the Broadway production of Sidney Lumet‘s The Pawnbroker, was impressed, and demanded he be cast as Angel.

Albert Dekker, a stage actor, was cast as Harrigan, the railroad detective. He died months after filming; The Wild Bunch was his final film.

Bo Hopkins played the part of Clarence “Crazy” Lee; he was cast after Peckinpah saw him on television.

Warren Oates played Lyle Gorch, having previously worked with Peckinpah on the TV series The Rifleman and his previous films, Ride the High Country (1962) and Major Dundee (1965).

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The Wild Bunch starts with a bang and ends with a bang. Easily one of the most violent Westerns I have seen, the movie focuses on a group of aging outlaws during the final years of the Wild West. The leader of the bunch is Pike Bishop (Holden), a grizzled veteran that has established a code of honor within his unit. They aren’t exactly model citizens, but they maintain a level of camraderie even when disagreeing about certain issues.

The opening “bang” shows the group robbing a railroad office that is purported to contain a significant amount of silver. The robbery attempt goes wrong, however, when Deke Thornton (Ryan), a former partner of Pike, and his posse of bounty hunters show up. A massive gunfight ensues with dozens of innocent casualties. This massacre is something to behold, as gunfire is coming from every direction, and innocent bystanders are running for their lives. The action is given a frantic sense of urgence thanks to the quick editing and multiple camera angles used by director Sam Peckinpah.

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Critical

Vincent Canby began his review by calling the film “very beautiful and the first truly interesting American-made Western in years. It’s also so full of violence–of an intensity that can hardly be supported by the story–that it’s going to prompt a lot of people who do not know the real effect of movie violence (as I do not) to write automatic condemnations of it.”He said, “Although the movie’s conventional and poetic action sequences are extraordinarily good and its landscapes beautifully photographed . . . it is most interesting in its almost jolly account of chaos, corruption, and defeat”. Among the actors, he commented particularly on William Holden: “After years of giving bored performances in boring movies, Holden comes back gallantly in The Wild Bunch. He looks older and tired, but he has style, both as a man and as a movie character who persists in doing what he’s always done, not because he really wants the money but because there’s simply nothing else to do.”  Time also liked Holden’s performance, describing it as his best since Stalag  (a 1953 film that earned Holden an Oscar); said Robert Ryan gave “the screen performance of his career”; and concluded that “The Wild Bunch contains faults and mistakes” (such as flashbacks “introduced with surprising clumsiness”), but “its accomplishments are more than sufficient to confirm that Peckinpah, along with Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn, belongs with the best of the newer generation of American filmmakers.”

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In a 2002 retrospective Roger Ebert, who “saw the original version at the world premiere in 1969, during the golden age of the junket, when Warner Bros. screened five of its new films in the Bahamas for 450 critics and reporters”, said that back then he had publicly declared the film a masterpiece during the junket’s press conference, prompted by comments from “a reporter from the Reader’s Digest [who] got up to ask ‘Why was this film ever made?'” He compared the film to Pulp Fiction: “praised and condemned with equal vehemence.”

“What Citizen Kane was to movie lovers in 1941, The Wild Bunch was to cineastes in 1969,” wrote film critic Michael Sragow, adding that Peckinpah had “produced an American movie that equals or surpasses the best of Kurosawa: the Gotterdammerung of Westerns”.

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Fort Apache (1948)

Directed by John Ford
Cinematography Archie Stout, ASC

Fort Apache is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.  The film was the first of the director’s “cavalry trilogy” and was followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), both also starring Wayne. The screenplay was inspired by James Warner Bellah‘s short story “Massacre” (1947). The historical sources for “Massacre” have been attributed both to George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn and to the Fetterman Fight.  The film was one of the first to present an authentic and sympathetic view of the Native Americans involved in the battle (Apache in the film, Sioux in the real battles)

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Production

Some exteriors for the film’s location shooting were shot in Monument Valley, Utah. The exteriors involving the fort itself and the renegade Indian agent’s trading post were filmed at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, a former Simi Hills movie ranch that is now a regional park in the Simi Valley of Southern California.

An entertaining western with plenty of value in the characters, writing and commentary

25 May 2005 | by bob the moo (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Owen Thursday is hardly impressed when his new command is the desolate Fort Apache, but resolves to make the best of it. When a group of Indians strike out from the local reserve led by warrior Cochise, Thursday sees the challenge as being key in winning back the military honour he feels has been denied him to date. However Captain York persuades him to allow York to go into Mexico to talk peace and convincing him to return to the US to broker a resolution – but will Thursday’s obsession with honour and glory cause a bloodier ending? Interweaving this central plot with romantic and comic subplots makes a standard western into a much better one, even if it sometimes causes it to feel a bit slow.

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The story concerns an outlying post and the first half of the film lays down the characters, their relationships and who they are in ways that are interesting and produces a mix of funny moments and rather slower dramatic moments – all of them work as well as one another and it enriches the final section of the film. It is in this final third of the film where the action starts and it is rather dramatic and exciting; it also brings out a lot more of the subtext about the arrogant leadership of Thursday, based on the character traits that we have already had developed in him in regards his men and his daughter. It is made to look easy but the script does it well and even finishes with Ford’s oft-touched assertion that the legend was often printed in favour of the less impressive truth – although it still has a salute to the serving men.

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The cast are all pretty strong, although naturally the script favours the men, although having said that Temple is quite good if you can get past her “precious princess” performance. Fonda has the main role and manages to make his character convincing and arrogant at the same time – we never hate him so much as just see his failings. Wayne has a straighter role to play and he is as good as ever with it, although it is hardly the most challenging character I’ve seen him play. Agar is a bit stilted and unsure of himself – unsurprisingly his chemistry is good with Temple (they were married at the time) but it is the other parts where he appears overshadowed by the stronger male actors. Support is roundly good, particularly in the comic roles as filled by Bond, McLagen and some of the other NCO’s. Direction is good, although I felt that the landscapes were “there” rather than being integrated into the fabric of the film.

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Overall this is a worthy film. Perhaps not the best of the ford films but still an intelligent film that delivers the goods just like a standard western would, while also having good writing in the characters and subtexts. The cast are mainly good and the whole film feels professional and entertaining.

“They’re The Regiment”

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
22 June 2005

I think that a list of John Wayne’s five best pictures has to include Fort Apache. It’s the first and best of the cavalry trilogy that he did with John Ford. Oddly enough he has less screen time here than in the other two, due to the fact that he was co-starring with another big Hollywood name in Henry Fonda.

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It’s first and foremost the story of a clash between two men who see the United States Army in very different terms. Fonda is a former general who’s seen glory in the Civil War, but has been shunted aside. He wants to get back on top in the worst way. He’s exiled to Fort Apache in the Arizona territory while the big headlines concerning the Indian wars are going to the campaign against the plains Indians which was true enough.

Wayne has also seen some glory in the Civil War. But he’s a professional soldier and just wants to live long enough to retire. In fact Ward Bond who is the sergeant major at the post has also dropped down in rank, he was a major in the Civil War and a Medal of Honor winner. This was a common occurrence at the end of the Civil War. During the war, promotions came swiftly because of battlefield service. Something called a brevet rank was instituted a kind of temporary promotion. You could be a brevet brigadier general and have an actual rank of something like major. After the Civil War as the U.S. Army shrunk to its pre-war size, soldier reverted to previous ranks. This was something John Ford was keenly aware of when he made Fort Apache.

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Ford’s stock company was never better. Even minor bit parts are woven nicely into the whole story. And his photography of Monument Valley, it’s beauty and vastness was never better even when he used color. Look at the scenes with John Agar and Shirley Temple riding and with Wayne and Pedro Armendariz on their way to parley with Cochise. Really great cinematography.

Ford had a couple of inside comments in the film. In a scene where Henry Fonda is getting an incomplete message from the post telegrapher, the telegrapher who might have strolled in from a Cagney-O’Brien film informs his commander that the message was interrupted “in the middle of the last woid.” With both Irish and southern recruits in Fort Apache, a Brooklynese telegrapher would not have been out of place.

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George O’Brien and Anna Lee, play Sam and Emily Collingwood who both knew Henry Fonda’s Owen Thursday way back in the day. It’s hinted that O’Brien had a drinking problem and that’s why he’s at Fort Apache, but he’s looking for a transfer out. It comes as the regiment is moving out against Cochise.

Charles Collingwood was the second in command to Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar. Nelson became a British hero martyr, historians know about Charles Collingwood. When newspapermen at the end of Fort Apache remark about men like “Collingworth”not being remembered, it was John Ford making a statement about the worth of all the men who contribute their lives to defend their nations not just the leader heroes.

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That remark by the way is the stage for one of John Wayne’s finest acted scenes in his career. A soliloquy photographed through a cabin window about the life of the professional soldier, the camaraderie, the toughness, the bravery required of these men and how they deliver for their nation.

In a later film John Ford uses the line that in the west “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Henry Fonda’s quest for martial glory was a blunder, but his story for the sake and tradition of his regiment is whitewashed and he becomes an inspiration.

Of course some of the lowbrow comedy that one expects from John Ford is here aplenty with the four drinking sergeants and their efforts to make soldiers out of the recruits. Led by Victor McLaglen, the quartet rounds out with Dick Foran, Jack Pennick, and Pedro Armendariz. See how they dispose of the contraband they are charged with destroying and its consequences.

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Fort Apache also takes the side of the Indian here. Cochise played by an impassive Miguel Inclan is a figure of strength and dignity. Later on Jeff Chandler in another film brought speech to the dignity and that role launched his career. Cochise is the only true major figure in the film. He bedeviled the U.S. Cavalry for over a decade in Arizona Territory with guerrilla tactics Mao Tse Tung would have envied.

Fort Apache is a grand ensemble film and you will not be bored for one second in watching it.

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Most Powerful of Ford’s ‘Cavalry’ Trilogy…

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

John Ford’s FORT APACHE is the first of a three-film cycle chronicling the exploits of the U.S. Cavalry in the settling of the West, but it is far more than that; as a thinly-disguised reworking of the George Armstrong Custer story, it provides insight about a leader so blinded by his own ambition and ego that his actions nearly wipes out his command, and would have to be ‘covered-up’ by an Army that always protects its ‘own’. Ironically, in whitewashing his actions, he becomes a national hero, giving him, posthumously, the attention he’d craved. The story is a powerful one, and in the hands of a top-notch cast, FORT APACHE is as timely today as when it was first released.

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Henry Fonda’s Lt.Col. Owen Thursday is a complex, driven man, a martinet who considers his transfer to the western outpost as a slap in the face by the War Department. Accompanied by his daughter, Philadelphia (a grown-up and vivacious Shirley Temple), he arrives at Fort Apache early, and discovers the welcoming festivities are not for him, but for the return of the son of Sgt.Major O’Rourke (Ward Bond), a new second lieutenant, fresh from West Point. The younger O’Rourke, portrayed by John Agar, and Philadelphia are immediately attracted to one another (they were married, off screen), but, displaying a ‘class’ snobbery, Col. Thursday nixes any chance of an officer’s daughter and an enlisted man’s son (even if he is an officer) having a romance.

As the new commander, Thursday shows an insensitivity to both his own men (he rebukes former commander Capt. Collingwood, played by George O’Brien, in front of the other officers), and the intellectual and tactical skills of the Indians (drawing the ire of John Wayne, as Capt. Kirby York). He does convince York that he is interested in parlaying with Cochise, however, and soon York, whom the chief respects, is on his way to Mexico, to get him to cross the border for a meeting between the two leaders and the corrupt Indian agent (Grant Withers) whose actions had led to the current insurrection.

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Ultimately, Cochise does cross the Rio Grande, and Thursday reveals his true plan; to demand a return to the reservation, or face annihilation. York feels betrayed, and warns Thursday that he’s setting himself up for a massacre, especially as the commander intends to bring his entire command to the meeting. Thursday simply sneers at his warning, sarcastically suggesting that York is crediting Cochise as being as brilliant as Napoleon.

The meeting is brief, with Thursday showing no respect, and, sure enough, ends disastrously. Cochise, prepared for a potential betrayal, has lined the canyon walls beyond the meeting place with hundreds of sharpshooters, and, despite York’s warnings (leading to his being branded by Thursday a ‘coward’, and ordered to remain with a rear guard), the Colonel leads his command in a charge, into the canyon…

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In an unsympathetic role, Henry Fonda is marvelous, actually making Col. Thursday believable, if not likable. John Wayne, despite star billing, is actually secondary, plot-wise, but is excellent as the officer who learns, finally, what it means to command, by watching the wounded Thursday return to his command, and face certain death.

Major subplots of all three ‘Cavalry’ films would be devoted to Sergeants, and FORT APACHE offers four truly memorable ones, in Bond, Pedro Armendariz, Victor McLaglen, and Dick Foran.

FORT APACHE is a film that could easily stand alone as a superb drama; as the first of the trilogy, it set a high standard, and is considered by most critics as the finest of the three films.

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John Ford  Films

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.

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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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Rio Grande (1950)

Director:

John Ford

Cinematography by

Bert Glennon

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.

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Most Realistic of Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy; a True Western

9 July 2005 | by silverscreen888See all my reviews

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

8/10
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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“Trooper Yorke brought the word, we came as soon as we could.”

9/10
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rio Bravo (1959)

Directed by Howard Hawks
Cinematography Russell Harlan

Rio Bravo is a 1959 American Western film produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond. Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on the short story “Rio Bravo” by B. H. McCampbell, the film is about the sheriff of the town of Rio Bravo, Texas, who arrests the brother of a powerful local rancher to help his drunken deputy/friend. With the help of a cripple and a young gunfighter, they hold off the rancher’s gang. Rio Bravo was filmed on location at Old Tucson Studios outside Tucson, Arizona, in Technicolor.

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In 2014, Rio Bravo was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Production

Ricky Nelson performing the song “Get Along Home, Cindy” in Rio Bravo

Exteriors for the film were shot at Old Tucson Studios, just outside Tucson. Filming took place in the summer of 1958, and the movie’s credits gave 1958 as the year of production, although the film was not released until 1959.

Rio Bravo is generally regarded as one of Hawks’ best, and is notable for its long opening scene which contains no dialogue. The film received favorable reviews, and was successful, taking in over US$5.5 million.

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High Noon debate

The film was made as a response to High Noon, which is sometimes thought to be an allegory for blacklisting in Hollywood, as well as a critique of McCarthyism.  Wayne would later call High Noon “un-American” and say he did not regret helping run the writer, Carl Foreman, out of the country. Director Howard Hawks went on the record to criticize High Noon by saying, “I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him.”  According to film historian Emanuel Levy, Wayne and Hawks teamed up deliberately to rebut High Noon by telling a somewhat similar story their own way: portraying a hero who does not show fear or inner conflict and who never repudiates his commitment to public duty, while only allying himself with capable people, despite offers of help from many other characters.

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In Rio Bravo, Chance is surrounded by allies—a deputy who is brave and good with a gun, despite recovering from alcoholism (Dude), a young untried but self-assured gunfighter (Colorado), a limping “crippled” old man who is doggedly loyal (Stumpy), a Mexican innkeeper (Carlos), his wife (Consuela), and an attractive young woman (Feathers)—and repeatedly turns down aid from anyone he does not think is capable of helping him,  though in the final shootout they come to help him anyway. “Who’ll turn up next?” Wayne asks amid the gunfire, to which Colorado replies: “Maybe the girl with another flower pot.”

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The traditional western that all others are judged by

1 June 2004 | by jeff gibson (Carson City, Nevada) – See all my reviews

It is my pleasure to make comments on Rio Bravo, considering all the hype that already has been written about it. True, it is not socially redeeming, nor does it make a political statement, it’s just darn fun, i.e. entertaining. What’s wrong with that? I couldn’t care less if it is a redemption by Hawks for “High Noon”! I know one thing is for certain, when you watch John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and the rest of the cast, you can tell that they had a really good time making the film, this, I believe is plain to see. Add a top notch script and very fine acting, good scenery, a love angle, and enough action to satisfy, and it adds up to a classic movie no matter how you judge it. 10 for 10.

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Western Tai Chi

10/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
6 February 2005

When Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) murders a man on a whim, Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) arrests him and puts him in small Texas town’s jail. The problem is that the U.S. Marshall is a week away from taking Burdette off his hands, and Burdette’s brother, Nathan (John Russell), won’t see his brother put away. Complicating the situation even further, Burdette is rich enough to hire a score of thugs, and the only support that Chance has is from a drunk, Dude (Dean Martin), and an elderly crippled man, Stumpy (Walter Brennan).

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Rio Bravo is a sprawling pressure cooker. For anyone not used to the pacing of older films, this is not the best place to begin. Uninitiated audiences are likely to find it boring–the plot is relatively simple, and they would likely have a difficult time remaining with Rio Bravo for its 2 hour and 21 minute running time. It’s best to wait until one is acclimated to this kind of pacing, so as not to spoil the experience. The film is well worth it.

John Wayne was an enthralling paradox, and maybe no film better demonstrates why than Rio Bravo. He had almost delicate “pretty boy” looks and a graceful gait that were an odd contrast to his hulking height and status as the “action hero” of his day. He speaks little, and doesn’t need to, although he is the star and thus the center of attention. He tends to have an odd smirk on his face. Wayne’s performance here interestingly parallels the pacing and tenor of the film–that’s not something that one sees very often, or at least it’s not something that’s very easy to make conspicuous.

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And he’s not the only charismatic cast member. Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson are equally captivating. Even when the full blow-out action sequence begins (and that’s not until about two hours into the film, although there are a few great shorter action scenes before that), the focus here is still on the interrelationships between these characters, with Brennan the continually funny comic foil, Nelson the suave, skilled youngster, Martin the complex and troubled but likable complement to Wayne, and Dickinson as the sexy, forward and clever love interest.

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Director Howard Hawks seems to do everything right. He guides cinematographer Russell Harlan in capturing subtly beautiful scenery–like the mountains in the distance over the tops of some buildings, and a great sunrise shot–and asks for an atmospheric score (such as the repeated playing of Malaguena by a band in the background) that shows that plot points weren’t the only element of the film that influenced John Carpenter (who partially based his Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) on this film). But most intriguing is probably Hawks’ staging/blocking. You could easily make a study of just that aspect of the film. The characters are always placed in interesting places in the frame, and they’re constantly moving in interesting ways throughout the small collection of buildings and streets that make up the town. There is almost a kind of performance art aspect to it. Wayne, for instance, repeatedly touches base at the jail, then picks up his rifle, circles around to the hotel and back, almost as if he’s doing some kind of western Tai Chi.

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Rio Bravo is nothing if not understated, and as such, it may take some adjustments from modern, especially younger, viewers. But it’s a gem of a film, and worth watching and studying.

Hawks’ last masterpiece

10/10
Author: Joseph Harder from warren michigan
16 April 1999

Disregarded at the time of its release, and still underrated by many critics, Rio Bavo is finally coming into its own as a masterpiece. One reason that it has been underrated is that,it does not seem a typical western for the fifties. Most of the great westerns of the period were darker and moodier. Witness for example, the great films of Boetticher and Anthony Mann, or-the supreme example-The Searchers.Others were ‘revisionist’ and often sought to convey a socially conscious “teaching’- High Noon is the paradigm here. In contrast, Rio Bravo is unashamedly reactionary.

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Hawks actually claimed to have made the film as a reply to High Noon..In addition, there are very few pyschological or moral ambiguities here. Instead, we get a classic Hawksian scenario, also found in Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not. . in which a groups of misfits and outsiders bands together to defeat evil. Here we have John Wayne- offering a performance of considerable subtlety and self knowledge- as the valiant, yet limited, patriarchal hero, John T. Chance. To save the day, he calls on a cast of standard Western characters:The old-timer( Brennan), the reformed drunk( Martin), The “kid'( Nelson), and the “hooker with a heart of gold( Dickinson).Thanks to Hawks’ assured, efficient, direction,All of these actors transcend the stereotypes usually associated with such characters to deliver fine performances which are simultaneously “realistic’ and archtypal. Particularly worthy of notice is Dean Martin. John Carpenter once claimed that the scene of Martin’s “redemption” was the greatest moment in all of cinema. That may be an exaggeration, but Carpenter has a point. It is both moving and unforgettable.In short, Rio Bravo is a triumph for Howard Hawks and his seemingly artless art.

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The real bullettime

Author: Michael Wood from West Yorkshire, England
9 June 2003

It says much about current cinema that this vintage slice of Hollywood is now considered too long and too slow by the modern generation of movie goers. Howard Hawks labours to create setting, mood and pace introducing genuine characters are colourful for the flaws they have as their positive points presenting heroes one can empathise with, people with three dimensions, not thin caricatures that popular many of today’s movies.

No character empathises this more than Dean Martin’s broken down drunk Dude. Nicknamed “Borachon” by the Mexicans (Borachon is Spanish for “Drunkard”) Dude battles with the demons that drove him to drink as he desperately tried not to let down Sheriff Chance, John Wayne, who believes in him more than he believes in himself. Dude’s pouring back of a glass of bourbon into the bottle is one of the most life affirming scenes ever committed to film.

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Wayne never really does anything other than play John Wayne and Hawks spins on this playing with the ethos of the man. The same steadfast values that mean Wayne’s Sheriff John T. Chance will not release the prisoner Joe Burdette back to his murderous gang leave him stiff and awkward in front of Angie Dickinson’s love interest “Feathers” creating perhaps the quintessential John Wayne movie in which the Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett’s screenplay explores the depths of the ideals that Wayne stands for. This is a movie about not just about redemption, but about the reasons for a tough redemption in a World in which collapse and lawlessness are easier options.

And when Dude pours his Bourbon back, affirming that even though he cannot be the man he was but he can still be a good man, you will not be wishing it was film in bullettime.

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A beautifully controlled Western with a great score…

9/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
30 July 2001
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For many, Hawks’ ‘Rio Bravo’ is the perfect Western… For me it is the antithesis of ‘High Noon,’ and the clearest exposition of Hawks’ philosophy of professionalism… His tough lawman solves his own problem without going out looking for help… So he welcomes volunteers and in fact depends on them… What is more, he wins by displaying superior skills and quicker wits…

The survivors in Hawks’ philosophy are the ones who conduct themselves with the greatest degree of coolness and discipline… It is not difficult to appreciate why Hawks has used substantially the ‘Rio Bravo’ plot, with only minor variations in both his subsequent Westerns, ‘El Dorado’ and ‘Rio Lobo.’

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In Fred Zinneman’s ‘High Noon,’ Gary Cooper struggles to round up a posse that might help him deal with four desperadoes arriving on a noon train to kill him… In “Rio Bravo,” John Wayne is faced with a similar situation but takes on the forces of evil in the shape of a gang of local tyrants…

Wayne always makes us feel that somehow he’ll cope… So when the wagon master Ward Bond asks him if he wants to use any of his men as deputies in fighting Burdette’s men, he turns down the offer… Wayne, holding a brutish prisoner Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) on a murder charge, waits for the U.S. marshal to take charge of him… But the prisoner’s powerful brother Nathan (John Russell) wants him free and is determined to release him by any method possible…

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The obvious method is the traditional one—hired gunmen—and, in effect, the sheriff becomes a prisoner himself, in his own town… But in this instance the lawman is not absolutely without help… The two deputies are a semi-crippled veteran (Walter Brennan) and a pretty hopeless drunk with a past ‘fast’ reputation (Dean Martin).

But the whole point about this cleverly conceived movie is that this unlikely trio do in fact have something to offer when the cards are dealt… Like the sheriff, they’re professional people, and what Hawks seems to be saying is that whatever the odds, such people will always have the courage, and the deeds… This is demonstrated in one inspired sequence which has become a classic: Dean Martin – drying out and eager to win back his self-respect – tells Chance that he wants to be the one who chase the killer into a saloon, and that Chance should assume the less dangerous role of backing him up from the back door…

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‘Rio Bravo’ is a beautifully controlled film… John Wayne, who re-created and heightened the mythology of the West, is at his best…

John Ford imitates Howard Hawks’ tendency for having his male characters never back down from a fight even when it means they are initiating the fight themselves… In Rio Bravo’s famous wordless opening, villain Claude Akins throws a silver dollar into a spittoon, daring Dude, so desperate for a drink, to humiliate himself, and get the coin… Hawks’ clever camera emphasizes how far beneath the standards Dude has fallen… Now Wayne is ready to confront Akins…

The same scene in Ford’s ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.’ Lee Marvin trips unarmed James Stewart as he carries a steak dinner to Wayne in the restaurant where he works… He stumbles and the steak falls to the ground… Stewart has been obviously humiliated… Suddenly Wayne enters the frame, and orders Valance to peak up ‘his’ steak, revealing his gun belt as he faces him… He is ready for the showdown…

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In ‘Rio Bravo,’ Hawks’ men win out primarily because they fight together… But Hawks helps them by having the outlaws mistakenly play a Mexican tune called ‘cutthroat,’ a song which Santa Anna tried to intimidate the Texans under siege in the Alamo… As the music plays, we see Dude putting down his glass untouched… He observes that his hands no longer shake…

In Hawks’ ‘Rio Bravo’ there is tenderness, and humor… In Hawks’ film, a man is defined by how well he relates to women, how well he handles pressure and how he reacts to danger… Angie Dickinson playing the gambling gal, enriches the mixture with a nicely judged performance…

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‘Rio Bravo’ is an action Western, which captures a legendary West that fits the legendary talents of Wayne and Hawks… But what makes the film so special is the relationship between the individual characters… It is a traditional, straightforward Western, good-humored and exciting, rich in original touches…

The best moment of the film when Martin and Nelson join each other for some singing and guitar picking, and Walter Brennan joins in with his harmonica and his scratchy voice… The film has a terrific score by one of the great film composers Dimitri Tiomkin..

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El Dorado (1966 )

Directed by Howard Hawks
Cinematography Harold Rosson

El Dorado is a 1966 American Western film produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Written by Leigh Brackett and loosely based on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown, the film is about a gunfighter who comes to the aid of an old friend—a drunken sheriff struggling to defend a rancher and his family against another rancher trying to steal their water. The gunfighter and drunken sheriff are helped by an aging Indian fighter and a young gambler. The supporting cast features James Caan as the young gambler, Charlene Holt, Ed Asner, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michele Carey, and Christopher George.

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Sumptuous Filming; Many Good Characters; Superior Western

20 June 2005 | by silverscreen888See all my reviews

This many not be the best western ever made, but it looks like an epic and is more fun than most movies by a hoot and a holler. It’s got direction by Howard Hawks, characters, and people who actually talk to each other in intelligent dialogue and have to think, all set in a beautiful Western locale. John Wayne ably plays a man who has faces several challenges, in this fine screenplay by Leigh Brackett (of “The Big Sleep” and “Rio Bravo” fame). The challenges have to do with helping his hard-drinking friend, the Sheriff played by Robert Mitchum, combating a gang of badmen headed by powerful Edward Asner, and the fact that he’s been shot in the back by mistake and that the pain causes him to be unable to move at inconvenient times.

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The production has a fine title sung by the great Ed Ames, titles by noted western artist Olaf Weighorst (who also appears as a gunsmith),; and its technical production is truly outstanding in every department Other actors contributing to this near-masterpiece of entertaining film-making include Arthur Hunnicutt, R.G. Armstrong, Christopher George and Charlene Holt in her best screen role ever. Outstanding contributions were made by Nellie Manley and Wally Westmore on hair and makeup, Edith Head on costumes and many others. Altogether a very-satisfying, adult and physically beautiful color western; writer Brackett was asked by Wayne to include the saloon scene from “Rio Bravo” in a rewritten version, and it works just as well here; the major change is James Caan as Alan Trehearne, plus the change of cast to Mitchum, Hunnicxuut and Holt, who are all very good indeed.

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Crushingly wonderful (slight spoilers)

10/10
Author: mmmopens from Belfast, Northern Ireland
5 October 2003
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As someone who has run a cultural cinema for over thirty years and programmed thousands of great films from the whole history of the cinema from Lumiere Bros forwards, I am often asked what I regard as the greatest film ever made. El Dorado is NOT the greatest film ever made (though it deserves consideration), but it IS my favourite of the thousands and thousands of films that I have seen.

Why is this?

Firstly, it is heroic. It announces this in the credit sequence of Olag Wieghorst’s paintings of the old west, and delivers throughout its length right up to the final adrenalin gushing walk of the two old and failing gunfighters along the street in a town that they have made fit to live in.

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Secondly, it is sensationally subtle in its mise en scene. Look at the scene where the crippled Cole Thornton is exchanged for Bart Jason. After the exchange has been made, Cole is seen on the right hand side of the screen lit in warm hues by the table lamp. JP and Bull, who made the exchange, on the other hand are coolly lit (cool meaning not hot, please) by the greenish oil lamp. I cannot think of a more subtle use of lighting to express emotional relationships in all cinema.

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Camera and character movement within the frame are also brought to a new high. Look at the shot when Bull announces that Cole is leaving. It follows naturally from his (Bull’s) spectacular entrance and results in a two-shot with Maudie whom we know loves Cole… then Bull, having, unknowingly, dropped the bombshell of Cole’s departure moves out of frame to the right and the camera moves just far enough to put Maudie centre frame as we see the pain that the news gives her…

Thirdly, it integrates its humour throughout the long and complex drama. Structurally the use of Bull and Mississippi as foils for JP and Cole is a complete masterstroke.

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Finally it is one of the most emotionally satisfying films I can remember. I weep in the closing moments every time I see it because I realise that I am about to lose these wonderful, wonderful characters who have transported me into a kind of heaven for the past two hours.

So who do we mainly thank for this most magnificent film?

I really must read Harry Brown’s novel from which the screenplay was adapted… but I do know that as far as I am concerned Leigh Brackett is the greatest female script-writer – indeed greatest female film artist behind the camera – and not just because of this work. And when she worked with Howard Hawks glory almost invariably followed.

I’ve already mentioned Olaf Wieghorst’s paintings, which are also monumentalised by the title song – praise be to Nelson Riddle and John Gabriel (who plays Pedro) – which I would feel honoured to have played at my funeral.

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Then there is the small matter of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum – two towering stars who had by then become great actors, and magnificently naturalistic cinematography by Harold Rosson whose career spanned to almost 150 films as cinematographer with credits including Docks of New York, The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain and this, his last film, into which he put all of his love and artistry.

Which brings us to Howard Hawks, the most unpretentious artist of the cinema, and one of its greatest. I know this film is a kind of remake of Rio Bravo, and he went on to do it again with Rio Lobo, but for me, this is his last full work – his health was failing on the shoot of Rio Lobo. There is something special in the last works of (some)truly great directors … look at Gertrud, or Family Plot, or The Dead. It as though they are saying to us… ‘OK… I’d like to do it over a dozen or so films, but I’m going to show you the real cinema in just one, because I might not get another chance….’ So just the same as in Family Plot were Hitchcock’s generosity and artistry come together in the biggest slice of cake he ever delivered, here Hawks gives us a kind of sublime perfection of cinematic structure and expression.

One film to a desert island?   This is it.

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There is some deliberate burlesque in Hawks’ “El Dorado.”

7/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
11 November 2007

In the Broken Saloon at El Dorado, two old friends, each with a reputation, meet again… But Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) greets Cole Thornton (John Wayne) with a pointed rifle… Harrah has heard his friend works now for Bart Jason (Edward Asner). Thornton admits Jason offered him good money but he doesn’t know what he has to do to earn it…

Harrah explains that Jason showed up here around the end of the war with a pocketful of money and nobody could find out where he got it, but everybody else around here was broke… Having money, he started to grow… But now he needs more water… There’s only one place to get it… Trouble is somebody was there ahead of him, about 20 years ahead… His name is Kevin MacDonald (R. G. Armstrong).

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MacDonald got four boys and a girl… All worked real hard… They hung together through the rough times and how things were looking up, MacDonald was not ready to sell… So he’s holding and Jason was pushing, and the sheriff was standing right in the middle…

Warned that Thornton has gone to Jason’s, MacDonald has left his youngest boy out there to do a man’s job… He went to sleep… When Cole came by, Luke (Johnny Crawford) woke up, jumped up and started firing his gun… All Cole was seeing was somebody shooting at him from the rocks… Thornton, thinking himself the target, shoots and drops the boy … Luke explains the error then… To escape the pain of his mortal wound, he kills himself…

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Thornton takes his body to his fathers’ place, and after he explains what happened, his sister, Joey (Michele Carey), a wild cat in buckskin pants who didn’t believe him, tried to kill him… Her brother stops her and her father asks her to get in the house…

After Thornton leaves the ranch, Joey (Michele Carey) ambushes Cole at a creek, dropping him with her riffle bullet… He manages to get back on his horse and escapes to Maudie’s place, where Doc Miller (Paul Fix) treats him… The bullet was dangerous up against his spine, however, as Doc advises him to find a better surgeon for the bullet’s removal…

After a short time, Thornton leaves El Dorado…

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One of the best moments in the film came in a Cantina near the Mexican border when James Caan (Mississippi) enters the place and calls one of four men sitting at a dinner table, reminding him if he remembers him or if he remembers the blue hat he is wearing? Mississippi says he caught up with his other three companions and he killed them all, and that he was the last of the four… He asks him to stand up… and as the audience observed, Mississippi wasn’t wearing, at all, any gun…

Obviously, when Jason just brought his outfit into town, the action started…

Robert Mitchum is ‘the tin star with a drunk pinned on it.’ He was too mad to be scared and too sick to worry about it..

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Charlene Holt plays Maudie the gambler’s widow who throws her arms around Cole, sees Harrah, and bursts out laughing when she finds her old flame and her current one are friends… She tells the sheriff that Cole gave her a stake, and helped her get on her feet…

Michele Carey plays Joey, the wild girl who thinks that Mississippi looks a lot better without that silly hat…

Christopher George plays Nelse McLeod, a dark, thin-faced man with a scar on his eye…

“El Dorado” was the third of four Westerns that Howard Hawks made with John Wayne… Hawks’ massive reputation as a director of Westerns virtually rests on just two films (“Red River” & “Rio Bravo”) but these two are sufficient to reveal a highly skilled, intuitive filmmaker, and one who has managed to satisfy large audiences and serious critics alike within a commercial system…

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Directed by John Ford
Cinematography William H. Clothier

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford starring James Stewart and John Wayne. The black-and-white film was released by Paramount Pictures. The screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck was adapted from a short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. The supporting cast features Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef.

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In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

In contrast to prior John Ford westerns, such as The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Liberty Valance was shot in black and white on Paramount‘s sound stages. Multiple stories and speculations exist to explain this decision. Ford claimed to prefer the black and white medium over color: “In black and white, you’ve got to be very careful. You’ve got to know your job, lay your shadows in properly, get your perspective right, but in color, there it is,” he said. “You might say I’m old fashioned, but black and white is real photography.” Ford also reportedly argued that the climactic shoot-out between Valance and Stoddard would not have worked in color. Others have interpreted the absence of the magnificent outdoor vistas so prevalent in earlier Ford westerns as “a fundamental reimagining [by Ford] of his mythic West” – a grittier, less romantic, more realistic portrayal of frontier life.

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A more pragmatic interpretation cites the fact that Wayne and Stewart – two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, working together for the first time – were considerably older (54 and 53, respectively) than the characters they were playing. Filming in black and white helped ease the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that disparity. According to cinematographer William H. Clothier, however, “There was one reason and one reason only … Paramount was cutting costs. Otherwise we would have been in Monument Valley or Brackettville and we would have had color stock. Ford had to accept those terms or not make the film.

Who’s The Better Man Here? Answer: Neither.

22 June 2007 | by jvincent1 (United States) – See all my reviews

I just read the comments of someone from August 30, 2004, who had reached the conclusion that John Wayne’s character had stepped aside “for the better man,” played by Jimmy Stewart. From my view, nothing could be farther from the truth. For all Ransom Stoddard’s disdain for frontier violence, in the end, he was left with no choice but to pick-up a gun to finally silence Liberty Valance, something Valance knew better than to do with Wayne’s Tom Doniphon.

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Call Stoddard the idealist and Doniphon the realist, but don’t call him the better man. In 1946, John Ford directed My Darling Clementine, perfectly blending Wayne and Henry Fonda with his usual cast of characters to create a masterwork. Sixteen years later, he put Wayne together with Stewart (plus all the ol’ gang) and made another peerless film. There was a time I didn’t really “get” John Ford and John Wayne. One day, I awoke and now, the greatness of these two giants of the cinema is undeniable.

“This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

10/10
Author: mattyholmes2004 from United Kingdom
2 August 2007

“This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. – Maxwell Scott, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance In John Ford’s most mournful tale, the legendary director asks the question “How did this present come to be? Just how did an inferior race of men whose only weapon was that of law and books defeat the old gunslingers of the great West? Just what exactly happened to the Western heroes portrayed by John Wayne when law and order came to town? How did the wilderness turn into a garden? In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford depicts a world where everyone has got everything they wanted, but nobody seems happy with it… sound familiar to anyone?

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Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) arrives to Shinbone on a train with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to visit the funeral of an old friend named Tom Doniphon (John Wayne, remarkably the film opens where this iconic star is dead). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this funeral of a “nobody”? Through the use of a flashback, Stoddard tells us the tale of how he came to the town as a young lawyer but was immediately attacked by the psychotic villain Liberty Valance (terrifyingly played by Lee Marvin) who teaches him “Western law”. The rest of the film tells the tale of how the man of books eventually defeated the race of the gunslinger and what sacrifices had to be made for that to happen.

In truth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is more of a melodrama than a Western. Gone are the vibrant landscapes of Ford’s landmark movie The Searchers six years earlier, which was so proudly promoted as being in VISTAVISION WIDESCREEN COLOR and instead the film has given way to a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and not one shot of Monument Valley.

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There’s a lack of a real bar scene, lack of shots of the landscape, lack of horses, lack of gunfights. It’s a psychological Western, probably unlike anything ever filmed until maybe Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Why is this movie so good then? In basic terms, it’s about the sadness of progression and without giving way too much away the film tells a remarkable tale which truly does examine what Ford’s view of the West as promoted in his earlier work truly meant. It’s a tragic and pessimistic movie but it’s a rewarding one, with huge replay value and one that leaves you with so many more questions than it does answers.

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Do we prefer the legendary tale of our heroes or the truth? Are tales of people such as ‘The Man With No Name’ just more interesting than Wyatt Earp? Is living a lie as a successful guy better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the most complex Westerns that has ever been put on film and is a remarkable film when you consider it was directed by a guy who made his living telling grandeur tales of the American West. Well acted, very well written and is one of the most rewarding Westerns for replay value in the history of the genre.

Matt Holmes

http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com

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Ford’s Last Big One

7/10
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
28 July 2003

It’s a sad movie in many ways. Ford is closing the book on his meditations on progress here. The black and white photography itself is rather depressing — most of the scenes, including all the important ones, seem to take place at night, in the dark. And what do they show us? As Edmund O’Brien puts it, the West began with Indians and buffalo and the only law was survival. Then the cattlemen moved in and took the land over and the law was that of the hired gun. Now the West has been settled by hard-working farmers and turns into a garden, once the power brokers are out of the way. But it’s a wistful garden. The cactus roses have disappeared and been replaced by turnips. And the rowdy, raucous, plain-speaking heroes and villains have been replaced by pretentious blowhard politicians of th e sort that Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) has become.

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The framing story begins with Senator Stewart and his wife, Vera Miles, coming back to Shinbone for the funeral of the uknown Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). “Where are his boots?,” Stewart asks upon seeing Wayne’s body laid out, “Put his boots on.” (Ford claimed this incident was borrowed from Tom Mix’s funeral.) A few of the old crowd are still around but the streets of Shinbone are empty and are a tired gray. Everyone is now old. Stewart patronizes Wayne’s old retainer, Pompey (Woody Strode), giving him a handful of bills and saying, “Pork chop money.” Some “garden”!

Ford could be a sadistic director. He asked Stewart what he thought of Woody Strode’s old-age makeup: the white fringe of hair, the overalls, the slouch hat. Stewart said it looked okay, but Ford prompted him for criticism until Stewart finally admitted that, “Wahhll, it’s a little Uncle Remus, isn’t it?” It’s what Ford was waiting for. “I designed that outfit myself, and that’s exactly what I had in mind.” He called everyone over — cast and crew alike — and said, “Mister Stewart here thinks there’s something wrong with Woody’s wardrobe. Maybe he doesn’t like Woody’s wardrobe. Maybe he doesn’t like Negroes!”

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Well, if the present is filled with nostalgia, the past is lively enough, and the flashback, which is to say most of the film, is full of action and gusto. People just don’t eat in John Qualen’s restaurant. They eat huge platters of steaks, beans, potatoes, and deep dish apple pie. The steaks come sizzling from the vast greasy grill and are large enough to hang over the edges of the over-sized platters. Lee Marvin and his henchmen (Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin) enact their villainy with relish. John Wayne is, of course, the hero of the tale. You can tell because, in addition to his John Wayneness, he wears the only black and white outfit in the cast, which draws attention to his figure whenever it is on screen. In fact, though, Wayne does a reasonably decent job of playing Doniphon after his fall. When he enters the political meeting toward the end, banging open the swinging doors, staggering slightly, bearded, shabby, his magnificent white hat replaced by a battered gray one, slightly bleary, he looks and acts like a man who has been defeated but has not yet died, putting up a brave front with nothing left behind to prop it up. He’s not bad in this scene. For the most part, though, he plays John Wayne, the resolute, proud man of principle. Edmund O’Brien is the comic town drunk and editor, the Thomas Mitchell part, and is given some amusing lines, including quotes from Henry V. (Actually O’Brien was pretty good in MGM’s “Julius Caesar,” as Casca, making Shakepeare’s lines believable enough.)

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The principle Doniphon represents, however, is O’Brien’s second stage of the West’s development. He’s not only a rancher but a gunman, soon to be replaced by farmers and lawyers, but it’s only at the final shootout that he realizes it. He saves Stewart’s life the old-fashioned way, then gives up any plans of marriage to Vera Miles, gets drunk, and drives himself and Pompey back to the ranch he’d planned as a home. He burns the ranch down. He and Strode had a problem shooting the arrival at the ranch. Wayne lost control of the horses and Strode reached over to help. Wayne pushed him brusquely out of the way and Strode fell from the wagon. Angry, he threatened Wayne, and Wayne responded the way Wayne would respond. Strode, a former fullback, was several years younger than Wayne and in good shape. Ford stopped the altercation by shouting that the movie needed Wayne’s face in one piece.

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For all its darkness, however, the movie reflects some of Ford’s prejudices in his comic way. A pompous orator at the political meeting (John Carradine) announces in his stentorian public voice that he came here with “a carefully prepared speech” but is going to disregard it and speak the truth. Here he crinkles up the speech and throws it contemptuously to the floor. Someone picks the page up and uncrumples it to find it blank on both sides. The rhetoric is extremely funny — “The bullet-riddled body of an honest citizen?” — recalling Donald Meek in “Young Mister Lincoln.” During a carefully choreographed spontaneous demonstration after the cattlemen’s candidate has been nominated, a band plays, a cowboy rides up onto the speaker’s platform and twirls a lasso, and there is a brief shot of the Chairman staring appalled at the cowboy’s horse lapping water out of the chairman’s pitcher.

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But it’s still a sad comment from Ford. His earlier work brimmed with hope for the future. Here, the future has arrived and it makes one long for the past. It’s the way an old man might feel about life in general.

One of the great westerns of all time

10/10
Author: tjackson from Boston. MA
5 February 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

John Ford’s 1962 film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is an ode to the end of the classic western. It is a satiric look at the civilizing of the once wild American west where Ford deliberately uses stereotypical characters and situations to undermine and reexamine the very myths that he helped create. Ford’s world is one of moral certainty and untamed villainy where legends are born and cowboy heroes ride free amidst the broad natural landscapes of America’s West. In the west of Liberty Valance, the hero is not made nor born, but manufactured by the media. As the editor of the Shinbone Star says; “This is the West. When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”

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The legend concerns lawyer Ransom Stoddard, played in typical earnest aw-shucks fashion by Jimmy Stewart. Stoddard has been brought, bruised and beaten, to the western town of Shinbone following an altercation with a gang of stagecoach highwaymen, led by arch-villain Liberty Valance. As played by Lee Marvin, Valance is deadpan and over-the top evil. His uncompromising performance is one of the pleasures of the film. With his lethal black whip and his giggling and glowering henchmen (played by Strother Martin and Lee VanCleef), Marvin is unabashedly nasty and taunting at every turn. His nemesis is that stalwart icon of the heroic west, John Wayne as Tom Doniphan. His code of honor is as solid as his skill with a six-gun. Doniphan knows that might rules the west, and will inevitably vanquish evil. But Stoddard’s mission is to see that justice is done through the more civilized rule of law. Of his nemesis Valance, Stoddard says; ‘I don’t want to kill him, I just want to put him in jail!’ Not likely, in John Ford’s west.

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Into the mix come a parade of character actors whose vivid stereotypes have enlivened westerns for decades: Edmond O’Brien as the drunken but noble newspaper editor; Andy Devine as the whimpering, good-hearted, but cowardly sheriff; Woody Strode as the silent, noble black man, backbone of the west; and last and most essential is Vera Miles as Hallie, for whose heart our heroes compete. It is in that romantic triangle that the real heart of west may be won. In this way the Hallie, like the cactus rose she carries to Doniphan’s funeral, becomes a bittersweet symbol for the loss and the hope of the new west.

Ford makes Liberty Valance into a western that seems to examine itself as a western. He removes the window dressing to focus on the intricate play of characters and symbols. Gone is the Technicolor of the Searchers. This is in stark black and white. Gone are the outdoor landscapes of Ford’s west. Most of the film looks like it was on the back lot, and many scenes take place indoors. He moves his camera in on faces not vistas. The world of 1960’s America was changing and beginning to reexamine the usefulness of certain cultural mythologies.

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The new decade was about people; the grand ideals of postwar America were being reexamined and were about to become even dimmer with the assassination of President Kennedy. America was beginning to be about recognizing unique individualities, about embracing change, about individual rights, strong women, sensitive men. Ford didn’t like that much, I imagine. The film’s characters are flawed and cartoonish. I suspect his film was a wry satire on his own mythology and a critique of what he viewed as a softening of American society. Some critics didn’t get it, while others consider this one of his more remarkable films. There is no doubt that it is nothing short of brilliant the ability to balance the elements of satire and seriousness, comedy and melodrama.

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As the train leaves Shinbone, the truth forever gives way to the legend. The conductor leans over to light Stoddard’s cigar saying; ‘Nothing is too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.’ In that moment we are incredibly moved. This is, after all, about the creation of stories. But in those stories there live truths about human nature that are universal and forever.