Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rio Grande

This is an odd movie.  Filled with father vs. son, husband vs. wife, Anglo vs. Apache, US vs. Mexico, officer vs. enlisted conflicts, Rio Grande can’t seem to make up its mind as to what sort of film it aspires to be.  Starring John Wayne—who sports a mustache--and Maureen O’Hara as husband and wife Kirby and Kathleen Yorke and directed by John Ford on location around Moab, Utah, I found it more interesting to identify familiar landmarks spotted throughout this 1950 movie than the plot was itself.

The Yorkes have a son, Jeff, played by Claude Jarman Jr., who flunked out of West Point and then enlisted in the Cavalry and got sent to, surprise, his father’s command in the Southwest.  Mom doesn’t approve and follows him West.  She reminds me of Mrs. Fielding in Six Strangers at Apache Springs—she is haughty and wants to return to the civilized East with her son.  Dad, who hasn’t seen his son in fifteen years, doesn’t immediately acquiesce and the rest of Rio Grande plays out as various battles among various groups of people. 

Chill Wills (Bixby in The Biggest Game in the West) is a doctor attached to the cavalry unit; his role is small but he is immediately recognizable.  Musical interludes sung by the Sons of Pioneers, masquerading as soldiers in the cavalry unit, are incorporated effectively into Rio Grande, which is 105 minutes long.  Links to their work are included below.

A twenty-minute bonus feature, The Making of Rio Grande, in color unlike the actual film, is well worth-watching.  Hosted by Leonard Maltin, it provides useful background information about how John Ford got Rio Grande made and includes interviews with some of the actors involved with the movie.

Sons of Pioneers website: