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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Rio Grande (1950)

General Sheridan: You've got the dirtiest job in the Army, there's no doubt of that, Colonel.Colonel Yorke: I'm not complaining. I get paid for it.
- J. Carroll Naish, John Wayne

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 03, 2002

Stars: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara
Other Stars: Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr., Harry Carey Jr., Chill Wills, J. Carroll Naish, Victor McLaglen
Director: John Ford

Manufacturer: Technicolor
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:44m:49s
Release Date: January 15, 2002
UPC: 017153345629
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-C+B- C

DVD Review

It's no easy business, this man's army. Just ask Colonel Kirby Yorke, played by John Wayne, whose job it is to keep the Apaches at bay. His unit has been decimated by its clashes with the natives, and the bitter memories of the Civil War are just a recent memory. Making the West safe for decent white folks is rough enough, Yorke seems to think; muddying up the waters with love and fidelity to something other than the U.S. ArmyŚwell, there's just no room for that. Twin duties to country and family clash for Kirby: among the newest recruits is his son, Jefferson, whom he hasn't seen in fifteen years. Jeff got thrown out of West Point for failing math, lied about his age and joined up with the U.S. Cavalry; call it serendipity, or fate, or Hollywood, but he lands in the unit where the commanding officer is his father. Jeff isn't getting any special favors from the old man, that's for sure; as Kirby warns him, "You've chosen my way of life. I hope you have the guts to endure it." Showing up at the fort is Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara), Kirby's estranged wife and Jefferson's mother; she's come to take her boy back home. But his commanding officer (also his father) doesn't think that special privileges are a good idea, and Jeff isn't having any of it, either; he's here to prove his mettle. (And this being a John Ford movie, he does.) She can't get Jefferson out of the service, but they can at least talk about Dad: "What kind of man is he, mother?" "He's a lonely man. A very lonely man." Rio Grande has the elements of a classic Western—its leading man, its director, its location—and though the movie takes care of business, it feels a little uninspired. (The reasons for this are made pretty clear in the accompanying documentary.) Wayne of course plays a paragon of duty and fidelity, but the story doesn't give him much more to do than stand around laconically with a false moustache. Even his reunion with the wife he hasn't seen for years and the son he doesn't know is pretty uncomplicated and straightforward; the love between husband and wife is quickly rekindled, and Jeff's potential Oedipal struggle is reduced to a few words in the colonel's tent. On hand to whip Jeff and the rest of the young men into shape is Victor McLaglen as a sergeant; McLaglen is a great actor (in The Informer especially), but he's not well suited to being the comic relief, and much of his performance feels forced, as if William Demarest or someone should be playing this role instead. (This may be heresy, so let me preface this by saying I'm a huge John Ford fan, but the alleged comedy in most of his movies is usually more painful than funny.) The story is padded out with an abundance of songs from the Sons of the Pioneers, a singing group whose members are cast as soldiers in the regiment; everybody on screen takes it in stride that these boys in the service sing like angels, and in tight harmony. They're pleasant tunes, and the stunts on horseback are impressive—this is where familiar Ford hands Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. have their best moments—but you may find yourself wishing that the movie would just get on with it a little more. (Johnson is the focus of a subplot, in which the local authorities have a warrant for his arrest, and Mrs. Yorke takes a keen interest in the case. It feels a little labored, and some of the exposition is downright painful, and late in coming.) Ford pulls together a final showdown with the Apaches in the last half hour—Yorke's mission is to keep them from encroaching onto one side of the Rio Grande, and as the women and children are moved out, supposedly out of harm's way, the Apaches attack and kidnap the children. (One wonders if the seeds for The Searchers, one of the great Wayne/Ford collaborations, were planted here.) The daring mission to rescue the kids is the crucible on which the callow young soldiers become fierce fighting men; it's the classic journey in these sorts of movies, but it also means that the leading man, Wayne, isn't left with much to do. That doesn't mean he gets anything less than the lion's share of screen time—he's still John Wayne, after all.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Scuffs and nicks appear with some consistency, spoiling the reasonably good black & white cinematography. Lighting levels can be a little uneven, however, from shot to shot within a scene; it appears as if that's a weakness of the source material, not the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Limited but clean audio track, though the ambient noise level tends to vary. Dialogue is sufficiently crisp, and the frequent musical numbers sound good, too.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Leonard Maltin hosts The Making of Rio Grande (21m:12s) from 1988, which provides a brief overview of the film, including interviews with John Wayne's son Michael (it seems to be from the same shoot as his interview on the documentary accompanying Sands of Iwo Jima), along with cast members Harry Carey Jr., and Ben Johnson. (Just over Johnson's shoulder is the Oscar he won for The Last Picture Show.) Rio Grande is the third in Ford's cavalry trilogy, after Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but that seems more accidental than planned, as this was the movie that Ford, Wayne and O'Hara were obligated to make in order to secure financing for their next picture together, The Quiet Man. (Like the other two movies in the trilogy, this one was based on a story by James Warner Bellah that had been published in The Saturday Evening Post.) The trailer is for a re-release of the movie, and grandly promises "The Thundering Romantic Triumph of the United States Cavalry!"

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The craftsmanship and level of talent on hand for Rio Grande are unquestionably first rate, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this one was sort of phoned in. In many ways it's more interesting than it is enjoyable, but if you're hankering for a Western and only John Ford and the Duke will do, Rio Grande can slake that thirst.


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