Rio Grande

"Rio Grande" is part of a John Ford Trilogy that includes
"Fort Apache" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."
This was the film that Republic Mogul Herb Yates insisted be made before
he would finance "The Quiet Man."  Yates felt that "Rio Grande" box office would
make up for the loss he would take on "The Quiet Man." Fortunately he couldn't have been
farther from wrong...both films were hits - and both became classics - as did the pairing of
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.


     Director: John Ford
     Script: James Kevin McGuinness
     Director of Photography: Bern Glennon
     Music: Victor Young
     Producers: John Ford, Merian C. Cooper
     Production Company: Argosy Pictures
     Distributor: Republic


     "My Gal is Purple, "Footsore Cavalry," "Yellow Stripes," by Stan Jones.
     "Aha San Antone," by Dale Evans
     "Cattle Call" by Tex Owens
     "Erie Canal," "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "Down by the Glen Side,"
     "You're In the Army Now," sung by the Sons of the Pioneers

Based on James Warner Bellah's story "MISSION WITH NO RECORD."
Filmed in Monument Valley and Mexican Hat, Utah. Released November 15, 1950.
Running time: 105 minutes. Distributor: Republic


     John Wayne: (Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke)
     Maureen O'Hara (Kathleen Yorke)
     Ben Johnson (Trooper Tyree),
     Claude Jarman, Jr. (Trooper Jeff Yorke)
     Harry Carey, Jr. (Trooper Daniel "andy" Boone)
     Chill Wills (Doctor Wilkins)
     J. Carroll Naish (General Philip Sheridan)
     Victor McLaglen (Segeant Quincannon)
     Grant Withers (deputy marshsal)
     Peter Ortiz (Captain St. Jaques)
     Steve Pendelton (Captain Prescott)
     Karolyn Grimes (Margaret Mary)
     Alberto Morin (Llieutenant)
     Stan Jones (sergeant)
     Fred Kennedy (Heinze)
     Jack Pennick, Pat Wayne, Chuck Roberson; the Sons of the Pioneers
     (regimental singers): Ken Curtis, Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman, Shug Fisher,
     Tommy Doss.


Note: With the legendary Victor young in charge of sound track and the "Sons of the Pioneers" singing  traditional songs, music figured prominently in "Rio Grande." (Director John Ford also frequently provided music on his sets to get his cast in the mood for the scenes they were playing) . "Rio Grande" also has the distinction of being the very first film in which Maureen and Duke were paired and was the forerunner of "The Quiet Man."

Col. Kirby Yorke emerges in this story as a man with a successful military career in the Army, but is postured with a very lonely existence. Estranged from his wife, Kathleen and son Jeff, since the Civil War, Kirby Yorke tries to escape the memories of 15 years ago when, in the line of duty as a Union soldier, he was forced to give the orders to burn down Kathleen's Southern plantation. The first scenes set the stage of a typical western military base of that era; horse soldiers returning from a mission with families waiting anxiously, hoping their husbands or fathers will be numbered among the survivors. Later, a battle weary Kirby Yorke shares a cup of coffee with General Sheridan and is told that his son, Jeff, has flunked out of WestPoint. The news is disturbing to Kirby and coincidentally, the next day he is in for another surprise. Kirby finds that his son is among the new recruits dispatched to his post for training. Emotions run high for Kirby as the son who is a stranger to him is now under his command. He meets with Jeff briefly before his training in rigid military decorum. The purpose is to let him know that because he is son of the post commander, twice as much will be expected from him as a recruit. Jeff is not shaken by this demand and is dismissed. Kirby, then alone in the tent, walks around from his desk to where his son had been standing and playfully compares his own height against that of his long, lean son. Kirby now assumes the unfamiliar, but proud role as a father.

Lots of action scenes follow involving the recruits that are enhanced by the unequaled talents of Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr. (along with many gifted stunt men). Both Ben and Harry play very loveable characters and display the finest horsemanship you will ever see on film (no stunt doubles fpr the Roman riding scene).

Little does Kirby Yorke realize that Jeff's arrival was just the beginning. Prompted by her disdain for the military and fear of losing her son in battle, Kathleen takes the long journey from the south to the fort. She plans to buy Jeff's release from the Army. Kathleen arrives at the fort and faces her husband after their long separation. It is a moving reunion performed with the finesse that would become typical of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. They spoke volumes in a single glance. Two very stubborn people, obviously still very much in love, but with prejudices and wounds that needed to heal and perhaps even be compromised.

The rigors of the Indian raids and military strife soon takes center stage and Kathleen, faced with the reality of it all, soon relents to her love for her husband, and her duties as a military wife.. The film ends on a happy note with Jeff returning from a dangerous assignment unscathed, and Kirby recovering from a battle wound. The rousing music of "Dixie" in honor of Kathleen's Southern roots finishes off the final credits.

Nots: One of the absolute greatest scenes of this film that displays Ford's genius of lighting and composition is Kirby saying good night to Kathleen on her first night at the fort. A singular chimney lamp is burning in the darkened tent and Kathleen is a silhouetted, looking most sensual, with head bowed as she sadly watches her husband prepare to leave to sleep elsewhere. She softly says, "I'm sorry to dispossess you." He replies, I dispossessed you more forcibly 15 years ago." This kind of restraint and sexual tension was something that Wayne and O'Hara did so well. Years later In "McLintock" there was a similar first meeting after an estrangement. This time Maureen's name was very similar - "Katherine." Their chemistry was the same, two opposite forces meeting and resolving their differences, with an "at arms length" erotic build up to a happy ending.

During research on this film I was amazed to learn that the song "I'll Take You Home  again Kathleen" was not Irish at all, but actually written by a German man, for his love. However, it apparently took on the form of an Irish lover's lament and his historically sung as an Irish song.

Behind the Scenes:

Maureen spoke a bit about the intense heat while filming Rio Grande. They were near a little Mormon town, Moab, Utah, and stayed there at night, but out on the desert while filming.  They dug deep long trench-type holes and put water soaked canvas over the top. The cast and crew could seek refuge in there and remain a little cooler at least when they weren't needed on the set. 
The following comments are from a book by Harry Carey, Jr. "Company of Heroes" that was recently published (if you are interested in obtaining a copy write to Harry Carey, Jr. at P.O.Box 3256, Durango, Colorado, 81302.) "Dobe" (his nickname) recounts the many stories from his life as an actor in the John Ford Stock Company. Dobe made several films with Maureen, including "Rio Grande."

"The Old Man (Ford) enjoyed directing Duke in this role and of course Maureen was with us to make it all the more beautiful. She was so gorgeous it took your breath away to see her every morning. I wished I was a leading man and could to a love scene with her, like Duke did. Uncle Jack put that scene off until the last day of shooting. Duke had said during the whole last week of shooting to anyone who would listen (except Jack, of course) "Christ, we're right here on the set. We could shoot that scene easy now-where I have to take her in my arms and kiss her-he's duckin it. He hates to direct a love scene. You watch-he'll put it off 'til the last goddamn day!" Duke was right. That's exactly what happened."

"Rio Grande" was another one of Ford's 'vacation' pictures. The filming was extremely easy for him - no strain on him at all. Only a cinematic genius is capable of achieving that day in and day out. He played a lot of his scenes in a master shot. He didn't go in for close-ups too much, unless he really wanted to punch up a scene. He used what is called a loose shot. That is to say, he left some room on either side of the frame of the lens so there was a margin for error. When using livestock or horses, well, unexpected things
happen. A horse might rear up or spin around. Ford liked to have that in the shot, and if you are too tight, like most directors today, the whole thing is lost, because the subjects are out of the frame."|

                         Essay copyright 1998, June Parker Beck