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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: Rio Grande

 

CO-PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC

RIO GRANDE (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: John Ford, 1950 (Olive/Paramount/Republic)

A vintage Western from the acknowledged master, John Ford, Rio Grande was the third and last of Ford’s celebrated Cavalry Trilogy — coming right after Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). A capstone to the series, this movie once again stars John Wayne, who once again plays a gallant, tough but troubled U. S. cavalry leader.

This time he’s Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, seemingly an older version of Captain Kirby York without the final “e‘), the part he played in Fort Apache. And the movie splits its (and Kirby’s) attention between Yorke’s problems with the local Apaches, who‘ve been on raiding missions near the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo) border, and his family squabbles with fiery wife Kathleen (played by fiery Maureen O’Hara), and stubborn son Jeff (played by Claude Jarman, Jr., the deer-loving boy in The Yearling), who‘s left officer school and enlisted as a trooper in the cavalry.

O’Hara’s Kathleen is there to rescue Jeff, while Yorke, understandably torn, feels obligated to play no favorites, even as he‘s also drawn to try to repair his marriage. Providing a lusty background are these Fordian stalwarts: Victor McLaglen as blustering Sgt. Quincannon, Ben Johnson as expert horseman Trooper Travis Tyree, and Harry Carey, Jr. as amiable sidekick Trooper Daniel “Sandy” Boone.

McLaglen and Johnson also played characters named Quincannon and Tyree in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, where Wayne was the much older Capt. Nathan Brittles. But those soldiers don’t seem related to their counterparts in Rio Grande, any more than Sandy is connected to the legendary pioneer Daniel Boone, unless the writers and Ford are tapping into some Philip Dick-style alternate universe. Most of the soldiers and Kathleen are haunted by memories of the Civil War: Tyree keeps calling neophyte Jeff “Johnny Reb,“ and J. Carroll Naish pops up as Yankee General Phil Sheridan.

Even aord buffs and aficionadoes, Rio Grande  has often been the least the three cavalry films — perhaps because it was shot quickly as a favor to Republic Pictures so Ford could go to Ireland and make for them his longtime pet project, The Quiet Man. But it’s also perhaps because the script, by studio vet James Kevin McGuiness (who died in 1950, the year Rio Grande was released), isn’t as good as the ones Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings wrote for the other two. (All three movies are based on stories by James Warner Bellah, the man who wrote the screenplay for Ford’s masterpiece The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,)

The mood and style of Rio Grande are more relaxed and easy-going and full of tomfoolery than the tensely dramatic, revisionist Fort Apache, and less lyrical and funny/sad than the elegiac She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. The beautiful black and white photography is by Bert Glennon, Victor Young wrote the music (as he later did, memorably, for The Quiet Men), and The Sons of the Pioneers (including Ken Curtis), wander around the campsite in a charmingly unmotivated way, singing harmonious western ballads.

Rio Grande may be the last and least of the Ford Cavalry Trilogy, but that’s a little like saying it’s the least shiny of the crown jewels. Any true Ford fan will love it. Wayne, who had been a star of some sort ever since Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail in 1930, became a front row superstar in the years between 1948’s Fort Apache and 1952’s The Quiet Man, when he began showing his age and temper more, and Kirby Yorke (or York), is one of the Duke’s archetypal roles.

One can feel him taking command of the screen, even as Lt. Col. Yorke takes command of his men — and he demonstrates with extreme effectiveness that most crucial quality Wayne always claimed Ford had taught him about movie acting: He listens to the other characters, acts as well as reacts.  That’s not as easy or as common as it sounds — though it’s easier when you have a fellow cast that includes the likes of O‘Hara, McLaglen, Naish, Johnson, Carey, Chill Wills and Wayne’s own son, Pat. The movie just missed being called Rio Bravo, a title Ford’s friend and colleague Howard Hawks later picked up.

Extras: Documentary The Making of Rio Grande, hosted by Leonard Maltin, and including interviews with Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr. and Michael Wayne; Trailer.

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Wilmington

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas