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  Rio Grande Stop The Cavalry
Year: 1950
Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr, Harry Carey Jr, Chill Wills, J. Carroll Naish, Victor McLaglen, Grant Withers, Peter Ortiz, Steve Pendleton, Karolyn Grimes, Alberto Morin, Stan Jones, Fred Kennedy
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: The Rio Grande is where Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) of the United States Army is in charge of a collection of troops, since now the Civil War is over, the matter of the Apaches and other Native tribes who continue to pose problems for the settlers must be hemmed in - with violence if necessary. Indeed, today Yorke and his men return from a bruising encounter with the Apache and try to collect their thoughts and ponder their next move, but then he has more personal news when he hears his teenage son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr) has failed his exams at West Point. However, despite not having seen him since he was a baby, Yorke is about to meet the boy yet again...

Rio Grande was the final entry in director John Ford's so-called Cavalry Trilogy, preceded by the better regarded Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and essentially made quickly and cheaply as a favour to its studio Republic so Ford could be allowed to make his pet project, The Quiet Man, which was his next feature. A man of wild contradictions, Ford was always purposefully difficult to pin down on what he was actually thinking in any given film he made, never mind his private life, so it is tough to tell whether he took this a lot less seriously than his other Westerns or whether this dismissive attitude was part of his defence mechanisms in not getting to close to anyone.

Least of all any film critics or writers who wanted to analyse his work, something he always disdained to the point of aggressive self-deprecation, if such a thing was possible, and if it was, Ford was the man to do it. Yet as with the others in the Trilogy that he helmed, it quickly picked up a following, especially among buffs keen to elevate him as the ultimate Golden Age of Hollywood director, though he certainly had some competition for that crown, many of them a lot happier to be analysed after the fact, to boot. In the twenty-first century, his finest efforts retain their lofty status among the true aficionados, but given his preferred genre was the Western, he is not as recognisable.

Not Ford's fault, of course, it's just that Westerns faded away from their previous prominence in the nineteen-seventies as revisionism, which he was by no means averse to, took hold and the tropes of the genre moved into action and science fiction to prosper elsewhere. Also, star John Wayne has only become a more divisive figure as the years have gone by, and he was pretty forward about espousing his politics while he was alive, so decades later is representative of arch-conservatism and many less fervently political classic film fans have to make excuses for liking his work, which in the polarised climate of the new millennium often wasn't worth the exertion. Here, if not as iconic as his fighter in The Quiet Man, you can nevertheless see the star quality that made him ideal to portray leaders of men.

Maureen O'Hara was there too, playing his wife Kathleen who Yorke has been estranged from but in those divorce-resistant days will be won back over before the end of the movie, though as she was in her twenties at the time she didn't convince as Jarman's mother. She was as flavourful as ever, however, making something forceful out of what could have been wishy-washy in her first film with Wayne: his best screen romantic partner, it is widely agreed. This was practically a musical, with characters frequently bursting into song - vocal group The Sons of the Pioneers had their own separate credit - though threatened to become grim in the last act when the troops' children are captured by the Apache. Ford's stock players such as Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen were present too, and if the best you could say about Rio Grande is that it was "typical", for addicts of Westerns there was much to appreciate, if not convert the unconvinced, with a family versus duty theme for resonance. Music by Victor Young.

[Eureka release this title on Blu-ray with the following features:

Limited Edition O-Card (First print run only)
1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new transfer completed by Paramount s preservation department in 2019
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by western authority Stephen Prince
Scene specific audio commentary with Maureen O'Hara
A video essay on the film by John Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher
The Making of Rio Grande archival featurette
Along the Rio Grande with Maureen O'Hara archival documentary
Theatrical trailer
PLUS: a collector's booklet featuring a new essay by western expert Howard Hughes; a new essay by film writer Phil Hoad; transcript of an interview with John Ford; excerpts from a conversation with Harry Carey, Jr.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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