Friday, July 31, 2015

Film Review: Rio Grande (1950)

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 Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) is stationed on the Texas frontier, trying to defend the territory against marauding Apaches. His job is difficult not only because his regiment is undermanned, but because the Apaches ride across the border into Mexico where Yorke and his troops cannot follow them. Further developments arrive when, after flunking West Point, Yorke's son (Claude Jarman Jr.) comes to the fort as one of the new recruits and Yorke's estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara) comes to try to take their son back east.

 Directed by John Ford and filled with a classic cast, Rio Grande (1950) latched itself onto my list of favorite western films even before I finished watching it for the first time. Something about it felt so very real. From the beginning of the film when Lt. Col. Yorke and his troops return to the fort tired, dusty, and wounded from their patrol to when the new recruits are being broken into western troopers. As the Sons of Pioneers lead the troops in song while on patrol or while resting around the campfire, and even to the daring rescue towards the end of the film. Everything feels natural and genuine.

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 As I mentioned, this film has a stellar cast who all not only turn in great performances individually but work well with each other. John Waynes gives, in my personal opinion, one of his best performances. (As a quick rabbit trail, my opinion of John Wayne as an actor sways with each movie I see of his. With some I feel like he's just acting the John Wayne persona in each film and then, with others, I am sitting going "Wow! You really could act!" It really depends on the movie.) Anyhow, his portrayal of Lt. Col. Yorke is splendid as a man who is trying to do the best job he can in a difficult situation.

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 Maureen O'Hara turns in another good performance per usual as Mrs. Yorke and Victor McLaglen will bring a smile to your face in the role of Sgt. Maj. Quincannon as he tries to whip the newest recruits into shape. The actors who really grabbed my attention in this movie, however, were Claude Jarman Jr., Harry Carey Jr., and Ben Johnson. That trio really stands out as the newest batch of troopers, with Jarman Jr. playing Yorke's son. Not to mention, Carey Jr.'s character has some great lines. Or maybe it's just the way he delivers them.

 Anyway, this is currently my favorite western and I have my doubts as to if it will ever be replaced. The studio executives of Republic Pictures, who would only let John Ford make The Quiet Man (1952) if he made a western with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara first, have my undying gratitude.

 The Legends of Western Cinema Blog Week is currently going on! Visit Emma at A Lantern In Her Hand and Olivia at Meanwhile, In Rivendell to find out more about the event and read their posts.


  1. Great review! I've always felt that opening scene with the dusty troops returning and the women silently waiting for their husbands sets that tone of realism for the whole film. And that's a good point about John Wayne's acting, too; I've thought the same thing—and for me it's often one of his less-acclaimed performances that seems particularly good. (Have you seen Island in the Sky, by the way?)

  2. Yes! That opening scene really does set the tone. And I'm glad I'm not the only who thinks that about John Wayne's acting.

    No, I have not seen "Island in the Sky". Is it good?

  3. Yes, it is! It's an aviation film where a plane goes down in northern Canada, and the crew must survive in the bitter cold while other pilots work against time to find them. Tons of familiar faces in the cast, and I thought John Wayne was very good as the captain of the stranded crew.

  4. I think that if John Wayne had a particularly good director, co-stars, or role, those would push him to dig deeper into his acting. If he didn't have at least one of those to nudge him, then he sometimes does seem to be resting on his reputation.

    I just rewatched Angel and the Bad Man for the first time in a long time -- I'd forgotten how good it is, and how good he is in it!

  5. Hamlette - Yes, you're right. High calibre casts, directors, and roles really made the difference. I've noticed that with several actors, but it never seems more apparent than with John Wayne.

    Ah, I really enjoyed "Angel and the Bad Man". It is a good one and I like re-watching it, even though I have a few personal quibbles that Elisabeth Grace Foley touched on in her post here:

    Thanks for stopping by!


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