THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012


famous thunderstorm scene in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

 # 19

SGT. QUINCANNON (Victor McLaglen):  "The army will never be the same when we retire."

CAPT. BRITTLES (John Wayne):  "The army is always the same.  The sun and the moon change, but the army knows no seasons."

DIRECTOR: John Ford;  PRODUCERS: John Ford and Merian C. Cooper;  WRITERS: Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings from a story by James Warner Bellah; CAMERA: Winton C. Hoch

CAST: John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O'Brien, Arthur Shields, Francis Ford, Harry Woods, Chief Big Tree, Tom Tyler, Frank McGrath, Jack Pennick, Fred Graham, Noble Johnson, Cliff Lyons, Mickey Simpson

This is the second in Ford's cavalry trilogy and, in general, the most highly regarded.  It is the only one of the three to be filmed in color, and there is no doubt that visually it is the better film, and one of the most beautiful ever filmed.

It has the look and feel of the Western paintings of Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell, which is exactly what Ford hoped to accomplish, and he and cinematographer Hoch succeed to a superb degree.  Hoch won an Academy Award for cinematography for his efforts.

However, because of the panoramic photography, it loses a lot on the TV screen and must be seen on a large screen to be fully appreciated.  The plot is episodic and slow in spots and overly-sentimental in others, but, particularly if viewed on a large screen, one can not help but like it.  J.A. Place put it perfectly when he wrote that "it is a symphony for the ears and a canvas for the eyes more than a narrative for the mind."
John Wayne leads the way with John Agar behind him on black horse

"Never apologize.  It's a sign of weakness." -- Capt. Brittles (John Wayne)

Joanne Dru began her acting career by winning roles in several classic Westerns.  Her second film was Howard Hawks' RED RIVER (UA, 1948), in which she co-starred with John Wayne and Montgomery Cliff.  From there she moved onto SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, only her third picture.  The following year she would co-star in another Ford classic Western, WAGON MASTER (RKO, 1950).  All in all, it was quite a good beginning for the young actress who was born Joanne Latitia Lacock, but changed her name to Joanne Marshall at the beginning of her acting career.  Howard Hawks then changed her name to Joanne Dru for her role in RED RIVER.  

Joanne Dru and John Agar

Ben Johnson is magnificent in several chase scenes aboard the famous movie horse, Steel, which alone is worth viewing the film.  Wayne's outstanding performance of a cavalry officer near the end of his career, the Monument Valley locations, and Johnson's horsemanship make the film an enjoyable treat.

Ben Johnson on "Steel"

Frank McGrath, who appears in many scenes as the bugler, does not speak a single word of dialogue, but lets the bugle do his talking for him.  Starting out as a stuntman, he would talk and talk and talk as Charlie Wooster, the cook, in the long running TV Western Wagon Train


"In a handful of motion pictures, John Wayne brought both power and sensitivity to his roles.  SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is among these.  His performanc as the grizzled Captain Brittles is brilliant, and peerless; it is impossible to think of any actor bringing Brittles to life so well.  [It] is a marvelously entertaining masterwork; proof that art can be fun." -- Brian Garfield in Western Films.

"John Wayne gives a commanding, yet restrained performance....Academy Award-winning Winton Hoch augments this nostalgic atmosphere with colors that glow like a campfire....No one invented and reinvented the Western like Ford....[Ford's] usual excellent production, with sweep, scope, entertainment." -- Stephen H. Scheuer

"Director Ford's stock company in fine form.  Wayne [is] excellent.  Beautifully filmed in color, but a bit top-heavy with climaxes." -- Leonard Maltin 

"[Ford's] action is crisp and electric.  His pictures are bold and beautiful.  No one could make a troop of soldiers riding across the Western plains look more exciting and romantic than the great director does.  No one could get more emotion out of a thundering cavalry charge or an old soldier's farewell departure from the ranks of his comrades than he." -- Bosley Crowther in the New York Times


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