Two Rode Together (1961)
Devine Comedy as Stewart and Widmark Ride Together
You know, sometimes it takes a lot more courage to live than it does to die - Marshall Guthrie
There are serious westerns, there are comedy westerns and then are those which try to walk the middle ground delivering drama with a touch of humour. Most movies which attempt to incorporate both fail to find the right blend but one such movie which does it right is "Two Rode Together" starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark. Although strangely it was a failure when released with director John Ford admitting after that he only made it for the money, yet watching "Two Rode Together" now it is more than adequately entertaining.
With the US Army being pressured by a group of travellers wanting them to go into Comanche territory to rescue long lost relatives, they are forced to call on the services of Marshall Guthrie McCabe (James Stewart - Shenandoah) whose only priority is how much money he will make. With First Lt. Jim Gary (Richard Widmark) sent to accompany him on his journey into Comanche territory the two of them manage to trade for two captives, except having been held by savage Indians for several years fitting back into civilization is problematic.
As a movie which blends drama with humour there are two sides to "Two Rode Together". Firstly you have the dramatic storyline about the rescue of those who have been kidnapped by Comanche's and the difficulty of fitting back into civilization after living with the savage Indians for years. In fairness it's not overly dramatic, the rescue mission lacks any real excitement as Guthrie trades for them and the occasional moment of gunfire or fisti-cuffs is seriously restrained. But it actually works and raises the interesting point about those who have been held hostage for so long that fitting back into normal life is not easy. It almost feels like it's trying to make a statement that those in the movie which have been living with the Comanche's for years are better of staying with them, although thankfully falls short of becoming preachy.
Thrown into this dramatic side are the almost comical obligatory romantic storylines. Firstly Lt. Jim and Marty then Guthrie and Elena but in all honesty they have no real purpose, almost having the feeling of being included because westerns always had some sort of romantic/ love interest storyline.
The other side of "Two Rode Together", the humorous side is where it actually works best. The antagonistic comedy of grumpy Guthrie and upright Jim works brilliantly in that sense of a buddy movie. But there are other moments, snappy one liners, double takes and the always brilliant Andy Devine as Sgt. Posey lurking in the background lending both his size and whiney voice to many funny moments. In fact one of the best features Posey battling drunken cowboys, basically bouncing them of his rather rotund frame.
The thing is, is that the balance between drama and humour is spot on, so we get a build up which delivers a range of humorous scenes, then it focuses on the drama of the rescue and returning to civilization before closing off with a touch more humour. It stops it from making the drama inconsequential and the comedy feel out of place by generally separating them.
I would be lying if I said that this was a brilliant performance from either of the stars with James Stewart delivering light hearted humour in amongst power monologues whilst Richard Widmark gives us the handsome hero, a sort of Steve McQueen style performance. But it works especially in their scenes together as Guthrie's grumpiness and mean spirit works well against Jim's more upright persona. Funnily both Stewart and Widmark were critical of "Two Rode Together", Stewart felt the darker side of his character wasn't shown whilst Widmark who was in his mid 40s felt he was too old to play a young Lieutenant.
Aside from the leading duo of Stewart and Widmark, Shirley Jones is delightful as the tomboyish Marty and Linda Cristal is stunning beautiful as Elana. But that is not being harsh to just mention their looks because their characters are slim, there as love interests for Guthrie and Jim and whilst age differences are startlingly obvious it sort of works.
What this all boils down to is that "Two Rode Together" is neither a great western or a great comedy but finds that middle ground so that it delivers both humour and drama without it ever feeling like it's cheap. Stewart and Widmark work brilliantly together and it is the antagonistic friendship which makes for most of the entertainment. But the almost message about life as a hostage is quite true and adds a little depth to the otherwise straightforward storyline.
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