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EXCELLENT! A magnificent John Ford's western with John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, tons of humour and dozens of quotable one-liners
on 26 May 2014
Made in 1949, this second part of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy" (coming after "Fort Apache" and preceding "Rio Grande") didn't age one bit and still remains today a great viewing - me for one, I can watch it again and again and again... Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
Like "Fort Apache" and "Rio Grande", this film was adapted from a short story written by James Warner Bellah - later he would also co-author the scenario of "The man who shot Liberty Valance".
The film begins, when aging US Cavalry Capt. Nathan C. Brittles (John Wayne) is given one last mission, even if he is on the verge of retirement. He has to deal with a breakout from the reservation by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes - those Indians left the reservation after hearing news about the defeat of Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He must also by the same occasion escort two ladies, Abby "Old Iron Pants" Allshard (Mildred Natwick, splendid!) and especially the young and charming Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru, adorable), to a safe place away from the isolated outpost in wilderness. Things are a little bit complicated by two of his officers, 1st Lt. Cohill (John Agar) and 2nd Lt. Pennell (Harry Carey, Jr.), fighting for the affections of Miss Dandridge...
The film is frequently very moving and sometimes solemn, but also contains TONS of humour and the general tone is in the same time touching, heart-warming and optimistic - something mostly missing nowadays from the movies...
John Wayne (aged for the needs of the scenario by carefully applied make up and hair dye) is of course the main star of this film, but he certainly doesn't monopolise the screen time. In fact, another of the reasons why this film is such a masterpiece is the large time and latitude given to the secondary characters, especially Top Sergeant Quincannon, played wonderfully by Victor McLaglen and Sergeant Tyree, formerly known as Captain Tyree (in times when he served with Confederate cavalry), played impressively well by Ben Johnson. Do not miss also Private John Smith - he appears only in a short scene, but it is an extremely powerful one...
This film, even more that "Fort Apache", is a tribute to the works, fights and tribulations of US Cavalry in the Wild West plains in the years which followed the War Between States - and in this aspect also it succeeds greatly.
This is one of those films everybody should see at least once in a lifetime, a masterpiece made by one of the greatest directors ever, at a time when he was at the very top of his game... To buy, watch and keep ABSOLUTELY! Enjoy!