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Crusty Colonel Yorke (John Wayne) is a tough C.O. at a remote cavalry outpost near the Mexican border on the Rio Grande when his son Jeff (Claude Jarman jnr), a West Point dropout, unexpectedly reports for duty, eager to redeem himself in his father’s eye. Yorke’s estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara), who hates anything to do with the army, arrives at the fort determined to do everything in her power to de-enlist the boy whose horsemanship, brinkmanship and courage under fire is put to the ultimate test when marauding apaches menace the fort. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Those who say that John Ford made the greatest westerns ever (Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, The Searchers) have never seen Red River (Howard Hawks) or have never read the biographical dictionary by noted British critic David Thomson. In it, he describes Ford westerns as “tediously rowdy, and based on cavalier treatment of American history.” He condemned the “offhand dismissal of Indians in (his) cavalry films,” remarked on the “tedious eccentricity” of his supporting players and stated that Ford was “often bigoted, grandiloquent and maudlin.” Thomson carefully excluded The Searchers from his summation, but he might have been thinking of Rio not so Grande when his book was first published in 1975…and again in his 1994 update, when he added: “my dismay is deeper now; my case is more damning.” 

All of his complaints are here in part three of Ford’s loosely connected trilogy which began with Fort Apache (1948), reached its zenith with She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and then declined with this perfunctory thing, with its phony sets and accelerated Hopalong Cassidy-style horseplay. In a behind the scenes tragedy, perhaps indicative of indifference, two stuntmen were drowned while filming a river crossing scene. 

The former Captain Yorke of Fort Apache has risen to the rank of Colonel at Fort Stock and he runs a tight barracks. When a new batch of recruits arrive he is surprised to find his son, a skinny kid who he has not seen for 15 years, among them. He warns that army life is not “a way to glory. It’s a life of suffering and hardship, an uncompromising devotion to your oath and duty.” And yet, there is little evidence of the “torture” promised, or “the work of ten men” that each men must do. There is a lot of shyacking going on…the Regimental Singers (the Sons Of Pioneers) are frequently called on to drone into dreary song, and dereliction of duty is rampant. Ben Johnson’s Trooper Tyree, a man wanted for manslaughter, is allowed to escape the law more than once and a soldier’s personal code of honour permits them to defy their CO by refusing to answer specific questions. 

This is sloppy scripting, given the initial weight placed on the Colonel’s edicts…but the sloppiness soon turns to sludge. When the women and children are evacuated from Fort Stock, bound for a “safe” haven, they are virtually unprotected from Indian attack. It’s no surprise when their pathetic escort is effortlessly wiped out by the apaches but the actual abduction is handled in such an off-handed way that a rewind is in order to comprehend how it happened. Ford springs a real screamer later on. 

The children (Wayne’s son Patrick is one of them) are held, unguarded in a captured church as hundreds of tequila-swilling Injuns rally to a war chant outside. Somehow, Yorke’s handful of troopers manage to enter the church undetected and succour the young’uns until the cavalry arrives. There is one priceless moment when the most precocious of the kids is making one hell of a racket and a trooper wonders what side she is on, but we are soon back to suffering again. 

Ford’s feeble idea for a running gag is when a soldier tediously repeats the word “yo” in reply to any command. And whenever Yorke’s estranged wife Kathleen (“What makes soldiers great is hateful to me”) makes an appearance, she is regaled by a chorus of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” until the song is hateful to us, as well. Thomson didn’t seem to notice that Ford was callously dismissive of women, too. O’Hara, devoid of her usual Irish fire, has a dog of a role in which she waits and whines and washes the troop’s dirty underwear. She even faints when the shooting starts. 

Published June 10, 2004

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(US, 1950)

CAST: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson


SCRIPT: James Kevin McGuinness

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

PRESENTATION: Black and white, 4:3 full frame, Dolby digital, English mono.



DVD RELEASE: April 8, 2004

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