A Brittle Western for The Duke
There is no denying that "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is beautifully shot or that it features John Wayne delivering one of his finest performances but there is something about it which just doesn't work for me, does really gain my interest or manages to sustain it through out the drama. It's not that it doesn't have a storyline, centrally we have an old Cavalry Captain struggling to hand over the reigns to younger officers and there are sub stories such as a romance. There is also plenty of action and a few moments of inspired dialogue. Yet still "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" just didn't grab me and the only reason I can think of is that for all that is good about the movie there is also plenty which is bad.
With just a few days left to his retirement, Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne - True Grit) finds himself out on one final patrol in the hope of stopping a huge attack by the native Indians. Forced to take women on the patrol things don't go to plan and Brittle finds himself facing some tough choices about handing over command to younger officers when their mission becomes imperilled.
The actual central storyline, the story of Captain Nathan Brittle counting down the days to retirement but deep down fighting an inner turmoil as to not only what will he do but also handing over leadership to younger officers is quite good. It has plenty of depth and various clever scenes deliver this aspect beautifully as we appreciate that battle which Brittle is going through, knowing that he learned the hard way as a young Cavalry man but doesn't want those beneath him to do the same. But beyond this central storyline and the others end up being weak such as a romance which is so underplayed it is painful. It feels as if director John Ford took great joy in focusing on this central storyline but couldn't give a monkeys about the subplots which should have helped build the main story. It has the knock on effect of making "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" a rollercoaster which is interesting one minute and dull the next.
What also doesn't help matters is the mixture of styles as Ford tries to combine a bit of light hearted comedy within the drama. So we get various over the top and completely false scenes such as Top Sgt. Quincannon love of drinking which leads to an almost slapstick bar brawl. It just doesn't work, going a little too far and making it cheesy rather than amusing. There are other elements, the weak romance which ends up making "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" a little disjointed and jarring.
But there is no denying that "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is a beautifully shot movie. Scenes against a fiery sunset are spectacular so are those which take in the impressive landscapes which are to be honest mesmerising. And at the same time the various action scenes, and there are plenty, are equally stunning, dramatic, violent and basically brilliant.
Plus of course there is John Wayne whose acting is head and shoulders above everyone else. Despite being often criticised for just playing himself, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is one of those movies where he acts, he creates a different character in this case a Captain who is facing up to retirement. And what is so great is that Wayne finds the right balance of solemness and nostalgia to make us empathise with Captain Brittle. We can feel his pain as he counts down the days as well as a fear of not knowing what he will do as army life is all he knows. It is in fact a clever performance from Wayne because it's not in what he says that we understand his feelings by what he doesn't say, a look, the way he holds himself it tells the story brilliantly.
In fact so good is John Wayne's performance that pretty much everyone else look like amateurs. Joanne Dru, John Agar, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen as Quincannon all deliver solid performances but every single scene is dominated by a powerhouse performance from The Duke.
Of course for those who love to look for hidden depths and subtle meanings within movies will not be disappointed. John Ford delivers plenty of depth, you have the whole the old knowing better than the young as well as showing the brute force of the Cavalry when it came to taking on the native Indians. And so for those who want more than just face value entertainment will find various themes to discuss, deliberate and cogitate.
What this all boils down to is that "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is a good movie, it is beautifully shot and features one of John Wayne's greatest performances. But for me it jars as it goes from one element to the next and the knock on effect is that it struggled to keep my attention. Maybe those who like looking for hidden depth will enjoy it more than those who are just looking for face value entertainment.