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Under-rated late Ford,
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This review is from: Two Rode Together [DVD] (DVD)
John Ford was his own worst enemy on his 1961 western, Two Rode Together. He claimed only to have done the film as a favor to recently deceased Columbia boss Harry Cohn, having already done similar material much more successfully in The Searchers. He let everyone know that even after he brought in one of his most trusted writers Frank Nugent (who wrote The Searchers) that it was "still crap". Many would still agree that the earlier masterpiece (not to mention the one that followed it - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) do over-shadow Two Rode Together, but there is a growing band of people (among whom I stand) who think the film deserves more of a serious look. The film may appear flabby, non-eventful and unduly sentimental with a tendency for letting main characters shoot the breeze, but it's really about those old stock Ford themes, male camaraderie and the creation myth of the taming of the wild west through the establishment of community spirit.
The friendship between cynical Marshall McCabe (James Stewart) and upright cavalry officer Lieutenant Gary (Richard Widmark) is wrung through the mill as they journey into Comanche country to reclaim captives taken by the indians. What Ford gives us here is a frontier very different from the one depicted in The Searchers. In that film there was still an arcadian element to the Monument Valley settings with white settlers duly pitching in and helping each other out in God's garden. Two Rode Together posits a very different frontier riven with racism, fears of miscegenation and wholly hypocritical in its religious standing. This is very well shown in the relationship that develops between McCabe and Elena (Linda Cristal). Initially convinced that reclaiming captives is a waste of time (he only does it for the money), McCabe falls for the Mexican Elena and learns the hypocrisy of the white community when he tries to integrate her into it during a classic Fordian hoe-down. This is possibly the best sequence of the film which shows Ford's very real concern for people showing faith through practice (Elena is a catholic and it would have been against her religion for her to kill herself when the indian chief Stone Calf - Woody Strode - took her as his wife) rather than through aloof 'holier than thou' piety shown by the affected hollow sentiments of the settler community. Ford was catholic himself of course and this theme is particularly emphasized in his last film, Seven Women (another under-rated film). The hoe-down also shows Ford's belief that America could never have been created without co-operation between the army and the civilians, Cary and McCabe both supporting each other to forge a better future. This prefigures the alliance between the lawman (Stewart) and the gunfighter (Wayne) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance who form a partnership to civilize the Wild West. In the present film that civilization is represented by the classic frontier couple, Cary and Marty (Shirley Purcell) who are a standard to which other settler folk must aspire to be acceptable (at least in the world according to John Ford).
The performances across the board here are natural and deeply affectionate. Ford can't help letting his sentimental streak rise to the surface on occasion, but the film's thematic complexity and Charles Lawton's wonderful location photography (shot on sets left over from John Wayne's Alamo shoot) more than compensate. The DVD is good quality with picture and sound very clear. This is probably the cheapest DVD I have ever bought on amazon.com (1.56!!) which makes it an essential purchase for any western-lover. It would be mandatory even at four times the price!