The second film in John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy" features John Wayne at his best and boasts some incredible, Oscar-winning Technicolor photography of Monument Valley. Capt. Nathan Brittles (Wayne) is a career officer in the US Cavalry marking the final days before his forced retirement from the service. In the wake of the massacre of Custer and the Seventh...read more
The second film in John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy" features John Wayne at his best and boasts some incredible, Oscar-winning Technicolor photography of Monument Valley. Capt. Nathan Brittles (Wayne) is a career officer in the US Cavalry marking the final days before his forced retirement
from the service. In the wake of the massacre of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry, the local Indians are becoming agitated, and, worse, confident. Brittles is assigned to escort two women (Joanne Dru and Mildred Natwick) from the fort to the stagecoach stop at Sudrow's Wells, but the Indians are on
the warpath and there is little chance now to evacuate the women from the area. Wayne gives one of the finest performances of his career here, in the first serious role Ford gave him. (Wayne himself later said that Ford never respected him as an actor until he made RED RIVER.) As Capt.
Brittles--the character a full generation older than the actor--Wayne is at his most human, a man who has made the Army his whole life, even sacrificing the lives of his family to its service, and now having to watch his Army career end on a note of failure. The passing of time is the film's
recurring theme, suggested as Brittles arrives late with his troops, is forced to retire because of his age, leaves a dance to speak to his dead wife; even the inscription on the watch the troopers give him, "Lest we forget," plays on this theme of time lost and recalled. Ford's main inspiration
for the film's scenic look was the western paintings of Frederic Remington. On the set, the director clashed with cinematographer Winton Hoch, a technical perfectionist who would endlessly fiddle with his camera while the cast baked in the sun. One day in the desert, when a line of threatening
clouds darkened the horizon, indicating a thunderstorm, Hoch started to pack up his equipment. Ford ordered him to continue shooting, and Hoch did so, but filed an official protest with his union. The shot that emerged, of a fantastic purple sky with jagged streaks of lightning reaching toward
earth in the distance, was breathtaking and helped Hoch win an Oscar for his work on the film. After decades of terribly washed-out color prints of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, the film has recently been restored to its original glory and may soon be available on home video in pristine condition.
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