Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
After Custer and the 7th Cavalry are wiped out by Indians, everyone expects the worst. Capt. Nathan Brittles is ordered out on patrol but he's also required to take along Abby Allshard, wife of the Fort's commanding officer, and her niece, the pretty Olivia Dandridge, who are being evacuated for their own safety. Brittles is only a few days away from retirement and Olivia has caught the eye of two of the young officers in the Company, Lt. Flint Cohill and 2nd Lt. Ross Pennell. She's taken to wearing a yellow ribbon in her hair, a sign that she has a beau in the Cavalry, but refuses to say for whom she is wearing it.Written by
"...wherever they rode, whatever they fought for, that place became the United States."
The second of John Ford's cavalry trilogy that deals with the life of the professional soldier is the only one that was photographed in color. Lucky are we, the cinema fans two generations away.
She Wore A Yellow Ribbon has John Wayne the embodiment of the thirty year army man. The year of the action of the film which is 1876 has Wayne mentioning in passing that he was at the Battle of Chapultepec in the Mexican War which started in 1846. Wayne's Nathan Brittles was by his account a dirty shirt tailed runaway from his father's Ohio farm when he joined the army. And now he's reached mandatory retirement. He's married and has had a family who he's lost for reasons John Ford doesn't explain in the film. But Wayne dutifully, "makes his report" at their gravesides every night he's at the post.
Wayne's seen a lot of military history and a lot of tragedy. With no family left, the United States Cavalry is his home and family. He doesn't like the idea of retiring at all. In a later Ford film, The Long Gray Line, Martin Maher says that all he knows and holds dear is at West Point. Wayne could have said that line himself here.
Even though George O'Brien is the commanding officer at Fort Stark, Wayne is the father figure for the whole post. And not like some of the others don't behave like children. The whole romantic rivalry between John Agar and Harry Carey, Jr. over Joanne Dru seems pretty childish. Cute while in the safety of the post, but when out on a mission downright dangerous and Wayne like the good father scolds his kiddies.
With some makeup to grey his hair and wrinkle him a might, Wayne turns in one of his finest performances on the screen. Harry Carey, Jr. wrote what is probably the most evenly balanced portrayal of the Duke in his memoirs In the Company of Heroes. They didn't always get along, but Carey says Wayne was an inspiration to him and the other younger cast members. In fact during the scene with the gunrunners Paul Fix and Grant Withers being killed in the Indian camp while Wayne, Carey, and Agar watch on the ridge, the whole idea for the chaw of tobacco bit came from Carey himself, but that Wayne encouraged the improvisation as he was wont to do.
Other than the Duke, my favorite portrayal in the film is that of Ben Johnson as Sergeant Tyree. Wayne recognizes in him a younger version of himself. In fact Tyree is a former Confederate Army captain, a fact brought out in the death scene of "Trooper Smith" another former Confederate who in fact was a general in that army. Ben Johnson was a real cowboy, a horse wrangler who John Ford gave a chance to act. He graced many a film with his presence and won himself an Oscar to cap his career in The Last Picture Show.
Like in Fort Apache and Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the story of the professional soldier and the sacrifices he makes when he gives up his civilian status to serve his country. It's a universal theme, not just confined to the USA. No one embodied that theme better than did John Wayne as Nathan Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
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