She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), directed by John Ford

The middle entry in the "Cavalry Trilogy" between Fort Apache (1948) and Rio Grande (1950). This is the last one available on Blu-ray and the only one filmed in color. The background is an overly-dramatic aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn where the entire West is threatened by a widespread Indian revolt.

It's lighter and more sentimental than the others, the tale of an old soldier who is not quite ready to fade away. Capt Brittles is in his last week in the Army (always an ominous plot point) and the way he massages his hands we guess he has arthritis. He keeps hidden reading glasses. Rather than having his own romantic interest he visits a wife and daughters at the fort cemetery and serves as a rough cupid to younger lovers.

Given the recurring ensemble of talent Ford uses we sometimes imagine these films are episodes of one continuous story. All three have John Wayne and Victor McLaglen and probably others. In fact: McLaglen and Ben Johnson have the same character names here and in Rio Grande (1950).

McLaglen is always the drunken but loyal, brawling career Sergeant, and we love the big Irishman. But the eye is irresistibly drawn to Ben Johnson as Trooper Tyree, the quiet friendly scout who is master of his craft. I can imagine a reworking of these films to show the stories from his point of view; throw in 3 Godfathers (1948) and Wagon Master (1950) as well.

John Agar and flashing-eyed Joanne Dru are our squabbling young lovers and she looks deadly in uniform. The women ride sidesaddles; would that have been done in the 1870s southwest?


Available on Warner Archive Blu-ray. The image quality is just fair.