Rio Grande was filmed in the year of my birth. With that in mind and thinking how life has changed so much over the last 50 years maybe this film shows just how culture and values have changed. I had seen this film many times at the cinema as a child and on TV. In all honesty I didn't require reading any review to decide on purchasing. So how do I balance bias with objectivity? Not easy maybe but I'll try.
The concept for this film came from a short story printed in a New York paper. For those interested in such things this DVD comes complete with a short but extremely interesting extra about the making of the film and the politics behind its creation. This extra also contains most interesting interviews with co stars Ben Johnson (Trooper Travis Tyree) and Harry Carey Jnr (Trooper Daniel 'Sandy' Boone) both of whom went on to star many times with John Wayne.
The film itself comes in black and white format and is filmed amongst the most sensational of backdrops. John Wayne plays Lieutenant Colonel Kirby York while the delectable Maureen O'Hara is his wife Kathleen. There are times in this film when it is impossible to determine O'Hara's acting from her obvious affection for big Duke Wayne. Director John Ford makes excellent use of O'Hara's good looks as he does of facial expression amongst the excellent cast. This is non-more so evident than with supporting actor Victor McLaglan who at times steals portions of this film. His portrayal of the rugged Irish Sergeant Major Quincannon is most endearing.
In the early part of the film we see Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jnr circuit riding Roman style to prove their horsemanship to the delight of the watching McLaglan. Claud Jarman Jnr plays York's son Jeff, who having fluffed military academy, signs up as a recruit and is also pitched into riding Roman style. When you see this sequence just ask yourself if any of today's top stars would attempt a stunt like this?
The film throughout shows a somewhat tormented Wayne balancing his dedication to the military against his desire to rebuild family ties. In amongst this come parental concern, soldiers' law and his love for Maureen O'Hara. While O'Hara captures the hearts she also has some brilliant exchanges with McLaglan reducing the big man to tears at the waterside when washing his underwear.
As for Wayne this is a powerful performance that shows him at his best - in the saddle. He makes the part his own showing all the trademarks of what cinemagoers expected from the big man. But beyond the rugged exterior there is plenty to dissect in this performance.
The film opens with a sequence where although a word isn't spoken it sets the tone for the life of a frontier soldier. It is soon obvious that we are not just looking at a US army fort but at a way of life for a whole community. Director Ford cleverly combines a series of small sub plots in amongst the main body of the film. There are no jokes as such but the film is not short on humour most of which is provided by McLaglan ably supported by Chill Wills (Doctor Wilkins). Does Wills really slap McLaglan on the hand with that stick? You judge for yourself.
If you enjoy westerns then this is a must for your collection. It is saddled with being the third of John Ford's excellent trilogy of life in the US cavalry but stands comparison with both the brilliant Fort Apache and the timeless She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Don't be fooled into thinking any less of this film for it being the third as on its own merits this film is equally as good and enjoyable as its two predecessors.
I said at the beginning of this review that culture and values were something that stood up in this film. I don't intend to expound on those. I would only ask that as you sit back and enjoy this film you look out for these aspects and make your own mind up.
The quality of the casting of this film is exceptionally high. Throughout the film you get the idea that making this movie was fun and to be paid for making it was an additional bonus. Many an impressional young lad watching from the local cinema would go home wishing dearly that he could have fought with Wayne on the Rio Grande.
For me the cinema was invented as a means of entertainment. Rio Grande is darn good entertainment.