A cavalry officer posted on the Rio Grande is confronted with murderous raiding Apaches, a son who's a risk-taking recruit and his wife from whom he has been separated for many years.A cavalry officer posted on the Rio Grande is confronted with murderous raiding Apaches, a son who's a risk-taking recruit and his wife from whom he has been separated for many years.A cavalry officer posted on the Rio Grande is confronted with murderous raiding Apaches, a son who's a risk-taking recruit and his wife from whom he has been separated for many years.
The characters are very well developed throughout. Lieutanant Kirby Yorke (John Wayne), a northerner, lost the family 15 years earlier but never gives up finding a chance to rebuild the old relationship with his southern wife, Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara) and their son Jeff. His "rio grande" is duties and strict orders that make a barrier for a happy life within the family. Kathleen Yorke tries to get her son out of the cavalry; however, Jeff decides to protect honor rather than his comfort. She also aims at rebuilding the family ties with Kirby but is aware that it requires much sacrifice. Their relationship is built upon a high respect for the freedom of both and a very delicate love between a man and a woman. Jeff (Claude Jarman), their son, attempts to do right and seeks for the honorable deeds. The blink of ambition in his eyes is noticeable in every scene with him. There are also other characters that the movie shows in a very psychological light (consider Travis Tyree played by Ben Johnson).
The cast give memorable performances but the pair of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara shine above all. Wayne seems to have been born for the role and, although he played in two previous parts of John Ford's cavalry trilogy (FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), he gives his best performance in RIO GRANDE. Wayne wonderfully emphasizes grandeur, feeling of duty and a husband who reflects on his past mistakes in marriage. Maureen O'Hara has something aristocratic in her behavior as well as in her appearance, which helps her portray a southern lady who used to live a rich life on a plantation. She also stresses her attempts to rebuild the past mistakes; however, she seems to be driven by completely different factors.
Music is absolutely wonderful for this genre. The ballads supply the movie with sentimental mood. Yes, they are deadly sentimental, but they in no way make you sad but rather lifted to high emotions. Here comes to my mind a very poetic scene when Wayne and O'Hara are serenaded by troop soldiers on one moonlit night. Their faces strongly express profound emotions and nostalgia for the better life together. This is so well played that anybody who sees the pair will be able to deduce some reflections from their faces.
Some people said that the Apaches are showed as real monsters in RIO GRANDE. It is important to state here that they are showed exactly in the way they were perceived rather than what they were really like. These were very "wild" tribes in the eyes of the white people and that is what the film shows. As a matter of fact, both the Apaches and the cavalrymen defended their values and John Ford did not forget about it.
And coming back to the thrilling atmosphere of the movie, there is one more aspect that needs to be mentioned - the locations. The Monument Valley supplies the scenes with authenticity as well as drives viewers into a wonderful mood. It simply leaves an unfading trace in memory as do the cast, the content, and everything about RIO GRANDE.
What to say at the end?... The last part of Ford's cavalry trilogy, though 55 years old, is a classic attempt to bring all that is valuable onto screen - HISTORY MEETS SINGLE INDIVIDUALS! Aren't our lives constructed in such a way that we all have our own "rio grande", such a barrier that closes us from happiness? I leave this universal question open to every open minded reader as John Ford implicitly did more than 50 years ago to every open minded viewer. Anyway, the film is unarguably worth seeing!
- Jul 24, 2005