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The Duke and Ford ride the trail again...
on June 6, 2002
Joanne Dru teams with The DUKE again in this Technicolor marvel (after appearing together in "Red River" the year before). In this one, Dru plays a young romantic hopeful for both John Agar and Harry Carey, Jr.
Monument Valley never looked better. The stormclouds are stunning, even if the fake lightning is not. And the sunsets! Only Technicolor can capture the colors with such brilliance!
While I prefer "Rio Grande" and the lamentably-not-on-DVD-yet "Fort Apache", "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" plays more as a quiet homage to the cavalry than the actionfests of the other two films. Not that this film is sparse on action! However, the focus here is most definitely on the honor and wisdom of the old guard.
As usual, Ford has many subtle threads woven in to the plot of the film that enhance the story with backstories that are only hinted at. The most notable of these is the former Confederate soldiers, now part of the U.S. Cavalry. Their honor is intact, and they are still true to their ideals, despite wearing the uniform of the Yankee. There is, we know, much more to their story, but we see just what we need to. Any more, and the real story would get lost, the focus moved to the wrong place. How many modern directors make the mistake of letting this happen again and again and again? Too many, for sure.
Some people have complained that John Wanye was a lousy actor, which I've always chalked up to a refusal to recognize talent in a celebrity simply through differences in personal taste. Like "The Searchers", "Red River", "The Horse Soldiers" and "The Sands of Iwo Jima" (also starring the late John Agar), there are solid moments in this film when DUKE delivers. Just look as he "gives his report" to his wife and children, when he writes out his protest to his commanding officer, and again, when he gets the memento of the silver watch from his troopers. The viewer's taste notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that DUKE could act.
The usual excellent Ford supporting players abound. Ben Johnson, Arthur Shields, Harry Carey Jr., and of course, the lovable Victor McLaglen (yet again playing a man named Quincannon), are all on hand. Paul Fix has a cameo as a gun-runner.
Two real-life Indian chiefs also appear. Chief John Big Tree appeared in several westerns (including "The Big Trail" and "Stagecoach", both with The DUKE), and is famous for being the original model for artist James Fraser when he crafted the indian head nickel. Chief Sky Eagle cameos in his only film appearance.
A touching and poignant western, it is a must see for fans of Ford, The DUKE, The U.S. Calvalry, or the Old West.
And, incidentally, this film was not shot in a widescreen format. It was shot in a 35mm, spherical process, with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. In other words, it will show about the correct size when displayed on your standard TV screen.