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Rio Grande/B,A

Republic/1950/105m/FS 1.33

     The last of John Ford’s cavalry movies is the most sentimental. It was almost as if he was revving up his emotions for The Quiet Man, that wonderful bit of romantic blarney set in picturesque Ireland.
     It's Indian country in the 1870's and Lt. Colonel Kirby York is a veteran cavalry officer given the task of hunting down renegade Apaches who are using the border with Mexico as an escape route. Into this dangerous world rides young Trooper Jeff York, Kirby's son whom he hasn't seen for years. While moved by seeing his boy, York tries to balance his military ethics with the emotions he is feeling. Before you can brush the dust from a uniform, Kathleen, York's estranged wife arrives in camp to try and bring her son back from the frontier. It is inevitable that the Colonel and his lady are thrown together and discover their deep feelings of love cannot be contained. It's also inevatable that young York must prove himself as a soldier and Colonel York must prove himself human. It all happens with satisfying predictability, broken up by some surprising romantic moments and some outstanding trick horseback riding.
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Ford's master shots are splendidİRepublic

     John Wayne is really quite marvelous as Kirby York, the ramrod career colonel. Wayne communicates York's conflicting emotions well, struggling with the sword up his backside and desire in his heart. I like the smaller moments in Rio Grande when the actors are not dwarfed by the great outdoors. The quiet night scenes which Ford infuses with music and serenades are especially lovely. Maureen O'Hara makes her first appearance opposite Wayne as Kathleen and she is feisty and beautiful as can be. Claude Jarman, Jr. is somewhat flat as Jeff York, but Ford regulars Victor McLaglen, Harry Carey, Jr. and Ben Johnson more than make up for it with their colorful antics.
     Ford's compositions that rarely contain less than a two-shot remind me how important actors are to each other. There's a lovely scene in which Wayne and Maureen O'Hara are serenaded by soldiers of his troop. Watch Wayne's reactions. You can see him thinking about all that went wrong with his marriage, the reticence and desire that exist in his longing sideways glance at O'Hara. It would not work cut with a close-up of Wayne, cut to the singers, a close-up of O'Hara, cut to a close-up of Wayne. That's how it would be cut today, robbing the beauty and intimacy of the scene. Am I wrong here? I fear not. Ford commands the master shot with all the polish of a pro of more than 100 films including some great silent films. The opening scene of the troops returning from battle is elegant in its simplicity and earnestness. The later scene that recalls this first scene is all the more powerful coupled with the remembered images of the powerful emotional opening.
     Typical of the Ford production, music is integrated into the plot. The company quartet croons romantic idylls to the Yorks during their reunion. Played by the Sons of the Pioneers, the echoes of the West ring out through each lyric. Victor Young's score is lushly sentimental, integrating historical folk music themes.
     Rio Grande is a gorgeous DVD transfer. Blacks have a lustrous quality without losing detail. Contrast is outstanding with a natural range of grays. The image is consistently sharp with no evidence of unwanted artifacts. The Dolby Digital Mono sound is clean and pure and does justice to the lovely music. Included a part of this special edition is Leonard Maltin's featurette "The Making of Rio Grande." The featurette is as romantic as this Ford Western with some nice interviews with Ford's actors and a healthy slice of scenes from the film.