Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Rio Grande (1950) - An Olive Signature Blu-ray Review

Director John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950) is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

RIO GRANDE is not just one of my favorite Westerns, I have listed it as one of my Top 30 favorite films of all time. Olive's new Blu-ray release more than does it justice.

RIO GRANDE is a film which, like Ford and Wayne's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), is so close to my heart that it's challenging to write about.  (I did so briefly early last year for Classic Movie Hub.) I pretty much know the film by heart, yet it never gets old; instead it becomes dearer with each viewing, as once more I spend time with old friends.

RIO GRANDE is the final film in Ford and Wayne's informal "Calvary trilogy" which began with FORT APACHE (1948) and continued with SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. Some readers are no doubt aware that RIO GRANDE was part of a deal Ford, Wayne, and O'Hara made with Republic Pictures president Herbert J. Yates, who agreed to fund the making of THE QUIET MAN (1952) if they first made this Western.

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) commands a calvary troop at a fort near the Rio Grande.  To Yorke's surprise, his son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.), whom he's not seen in 15 years, shows up among a group of new recruits.  The young man enlisted after flunking math at West Point and losing his chance for a commission.

Yorke is even more surprised when his estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara) arrives at the fort shortly after Jeff, hoping to change Jeff's mind about frontier military service and buy him out of his enlistment. Jeff refuses to quit and gradually impresses his father with his character.  Meanwhile, Jeff's parents begin moving toward reconciliation, including coming to terms with an incident which drove them apart during the Civil War.

James Kevin McGuinness based his excellent screenplay on a Saturday evening post story by James Warner Bellah.  The combination of writing, directing, and acting ensures that every character is beautifully sketched, from the leads down to small roles like gallant Captain St. Jacques (Peter Ortiz) and kindly Dr. Wilkins (Chill Wills).

Aside from Wayne and O'Hara, whose touching performances here are among their very best, I especially love Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. as Troopers Tyree and Boone.  My entire family can quote some of their lines, and their horsemanship is beyond compare.  (For anyone who may not already know, yes, that's really Johnson, Carey, and Jarman doing the "Roman riding" early in the movie, not stuntmen!)

I also love that the movie is filled with music from the Sons of the Pioneers, including soloist Ken Curtis, which is not only beautiful but works to reveal character and move the story forward, notably during "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" and "My Gal is Purple."  The latter song, with Wayne standing at the river contemplating at sundown, is one of my favorite scenes in any movie.

There's also plenty of action to offset the more tender musical moments; the final charge on a church to rescue a group of children, all set to the incessant clanging of the church bell, is superbly staged.

The supporting cast includes Victor McLaglen, J. Carrol Naish, Grant Withers, Karolyn Grimes, Fred Kennedy, Steven Pendleton, and Alberto Morin.

RIO GRANDE was filmed in black and white by Bert Glennon. Much of the film was shot on location in Utah and Arizona.  The movie runs 105 minutes.

This Olive Films Signature Edition Blu-ray, with plentiful extras, is limited to 3500 units.  It looks and sounds wonderful.

Olive's extensive extras include an audio commentary track by Nancy Schoenberger; multiple featurettes, with Claude Jarman Jr., Patrick Wayne, Leonard Maltin, and Mark Wanamaker (the latter on the Sons of the Pioneers); a visual essay by Tag Gallagher; and the trailer. 

I found Jarman's recollections particularly enjoyable.  Jarman's interview with Ford ("Can you ride a horse?") sounded very much like a story William Wellman Jr. recently shared with some bloggers, including myself, on a Zoom chat about being cast in THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959); it was likewise a very short discussion where Wellman was asked the same question.  Ford spent such little time with Wellman that he was quite surprised to later learn he'd been cast in a small part.

Both RIO GRANDE and Olive's Blu-ray are most highly recommended.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

6 Comments:

Blogger barrylane said...

The best, most beautiful, and soulful of the Ford/Wayne westerns. Patrick Wayne completely sold it to me and everything you have written captures the spirituality of the great director, his wonderful group of players and technicians. An all-time favorite. I have the original Olive Blu Ray edition, but will almost surely go for the upgrade.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, a humdinger of a write-up on my personal favorite of John Ford's cavalry trilogy. I've read that many consider RIO GRANDE(1950) the least of the three cavalry movies, well not in my mind's eye. I'm in your and Barry's camp on this one. The cast is outstanding and their performances are really top-notch. The black and white images are superb, and The Sons of the Pioneers songs are poetry to the ear.

I first watched the cavalry trilogy on TV in the early 1970's in reverse order with RIO GRANDE first in line. Also, in the mid 1990's I watched it on AETN's(local PBS station) the GOOD TIMES PICTURE SHOW hosted by Ray Nielsen. Ray would interview by telephone someone who worked in the movie. That night it was Harry Carey, Jr. Carey told a story about their "Roman-style" horse-jumping exhibition in the movie. Carey said John Ford gave them three weeks to learn how to do it. When Ben Johnson suggested they might need more than three weeks, Ford cut him off. Ford told him, "I don't want to hear the story of your life, just Roman ride in three weeks." Needless to say, Carey, Johnson, and Claude Jarman did it, no stuntmen involved. Carey said that making the movie was "a lot of fun."

Laura, thank you and stay safe and healthy.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The opening notes of Victor Young's score will bring tears to my eyes. It is a wonder I can continue watching the movie, and yet I have countless times. Rio Grande becomes a part of you. My husband did not know the movie before he met me, but now he has joined the movie quoting Nolans in his familiarity with the script.

I imagine the beauty of the Blu-ray that you describe will bring Rio Grande to many more hearts.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON more than RIO GRANDE. Duke is playing older than his real age in RIBBON. I had only seen two or three of his movies at the time of his passing. When I saw RIBBON was on AMC in 1989. I had never thought anything one way or the other about JOHN WAYNE's looks. However, in one scene he is riding along and talking to another man. Then he smiled and I thought "He was an attractive man!" CLASSIC TV FAN

10:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I especially loved hearing from people who love this movie as much as I do -- especially as, as Walter notes, many consider this the least of the Cavalry Trilogy. Given that I mentioned RIO GRANDE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON are two of my all-time favorite films, it's probably clear that for me, #3 in the trilogy is, by far, FORT APACHE.

Barrylane, I'm interested that you rank RIO GRANDE the best! I probably give that spot to YELLOW RIBBON, but I do really love them equally, I think. RIO GRANDE creeps up in my estimation on each viewing. Ford and company make it look easy, but watching as many Westerns as I do, it's important not to take for granted the skill it takes to have every single piece fall into place as beautifully as it all does in RIO GRANDE. Thank you so much for your kind words on my review, as I do find it challenging to try to describe my most favorite films.

Walter, thank you as well for your kind words on the review! Regarding the Sons of the Pioneers, I have only to think of the songs and I feel emotional. I love the stories about the Roman riding. Claude Jarman Jr. talks about it in his short featurette. He's justifiably proud of it and that Ford shot it so you could tell it was the actual actors.

Caftan Woman, I agree, the music is so beautiful. I'm glad your husband has come to know the movie too. I couldn't count the times I've said or thought "Get it done, Johnny Reb!" or "Yo." LOL. I hope you'll have the chance to see the Blu-ray at some point.

Classic TV Fan, always glad to hear from another fan of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, Wayne gives a really beautiful performance in that movie. Wayne was definitely attractive and charismatic!

Best wishes,
Laura

8:29 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I've seen the first two films in the Cavalry Trilogy and obviously I'm going to have to add this one to my shopping list.

I slightly preferred FORT APACHE but YELLOW RIBBON has more emotional punch.

9:52 PM  

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