Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen, J. Carrol Naish, and Chill Wills in Rio Grande (1950)


(director: John Ford; screenwriters: James Kevin McGuinness/from the Saturday Evening Post story Mission With No Record by James Warner Bellah; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Jack Murray; music: Victor Young; cast: John Wayne (Colonel Kirby Yorke), Maureen O’Hara (Kathleen Yorke), Ben Johnson (Trooper Travis Tyree), Claude Jarman Jr. (Trooper Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Yorke), J. Carrol Naish (Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan), Victor McLaglen (Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon), Harry Carey Jr. (Trooper Daniel ‘Sandy’ Boone), Chill Wills (Dr. Wilkins, regimental surgeon), Harry Carey Jr. Grant Withers (U.S. Deputy Marshal); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Merian C. Cooper/John Ford/Herbert J. Yates; Republic; 1950)

“A minor but enjoyable John Ford and John Wayne collaboration.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rio Grande was the last of the 7th Cavalry trilogy after the 1948 “Fort Apache” and the 1949 “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” A minor but enjoyable John Ford and John Wayne collaboration, that grieves for the past, offers fine characters in supporting roles (especially Victor McLaglen as the oafish master sergeant) and many of the usual quirky Ford cinematic moments. Writer James Kevin McGuinness based it on the Saturday Evening Post story Mission With No Record by James Warner Bellah. It’s richly absorbed in the whimsical aftermath of the Civil War and captures a feel for the rugged life on a frontier fort. It’s also overloaded with corn, especially from the songs of the regimental singers called the Sons of the Pioneers. The songs were written by Stan Jones and Dale Evans. The eight tunes include: “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”, “My Gal Is Purple”, “Yellow Stripes”, “Footsore Cavalry.”

Kirby Yorke (John Wayne), sporting a fancy mustache, is a colonel at a remote army outpost along the U.S.-Mexico border where the Apaches go on raids. Requesting an additional 180 men to put them down, Kirby instead gets 18 and one of them is his own son Jefferson (Claude Jarman Jr.) — recently booted out of West Point for flunking his subjects. Jeff immediately enlisted to prove his manhood.

Kirby has been divorced for a number of years and is surprised when his ex-wife Kathleen (Mauren O’Hara) shows up. When she requests to buy her son out of the army, Kirby refuses to do the paperwork and Jeff refuses to leave the army. Kirby tells his estranged son to expect no preferential treatment, but begins to renew his relationship in a tender way with the woman he still loves.

During an Apache raid on a Cavalry led caravan the white children are taken and Jeff teams up with Reb horseman Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Daniel ‘Sandy’ Boone (Harry Carey Jr.) to be part of the rescue effort. The Cavalry goes into Mexico (it’s not exactly legal to cross the border) and through the heroics of the three friends they rescue the children. In the process, Kirby patches up his marriage and the Northerners and Southerners prove they can work together against a common enemy.

The people at Republic said if Ford makes this popular Western they will back his pet project of the 1952 “The Quiet Man,” which also starred Wayne, O’Hara and McLaglen. The studio was thrilled that both films turned out to be box-office hits.