John Ford‘s Cavalry Trilogy should be seen as one of the centerpieces of his legendary career. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) is at the heart of that centerpiece. It’s arguably Ford’s most romantic and colorful ode to the West, with little in the way of plot, but big in heart. It’s more about spending 103 minutes with these characters.
John Wayne stars as Capt. Nathan Brittles, a hard-bitten soldier who tells everyone, “Don’t apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.” At the start of the film, he has a week before he gets to retire, but he is faced with one last challenge: getting his commanding officer’s wife and daughter safely to the stagecoach. For most filmmakers, this would be enough plot to fill a two-hour movie. For Ford, whose film is based on a story by Saturday Evening Post writer James Warner Bellah, this is only the first half. During the rest of the film, Brittles does his best to avoid a bloody battle with nearby Indians, who threaten young soldiers he has become a father figure to.
The film’s subplot concerns a love triangle between Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru), 1st Lt. Flint Cohill (John Agar) and 2nd Lt. Ross Pennell (Harry Carey, Jr.). The humor in this story is pure Ford. The spoiled Pennell thinks he’s got the girl, but she’s really pining for the experienced soldier. I can’t imagine the scene at the gate, where Pennell tries to go “picnicking” with Olivia, happening in a movie directed by anyone other than Ford. (I just love the way Wayne says “picnicking” over and over again. It’s brilliant.)
There are also little details and humorous bits that Ford sprinkles throughout the film that might take multiple viewings to get. There’s Sgt. Tyree (Ben Johnson) always referring to Brittles and the U.S. Army as Yankees because he’s a former Confederate. There’s Quincannon (Victor McLaglen) bumbling around. The sequence where Quincannon struts around in civilian clothes serves almost no narrative purpose, but it’s there because it’s hilarious.
There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe how beautiful this Blu-ray presentation is. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is the only film in the Cavalry Trilogy filmed in the three-strip Technicolor process and the Blu-ray was sourced from the original negatives. Winton Hoch won the Best Color Cinematography Oscar for the film and his photography is beautifully captured on the Blu-ray. I think this might be the best looking Technicolor film I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray. It’s that good.
- John Ford Home Movies: The Blu-ray extras are the same as those on the original single-layered DVD from 2006. “John Ford Home Movies” is a four-minute collection of home movies from Dan Ford, Ford’s grandson.
- Theatrical trailer
Of course, more content would have been nice, but She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is entertainment that can stand on its own, without over-analysis. Ford was a director who put entertainment first, and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is certainly first-class entertainment.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing this disc to review!