The second installment of John Ford’s famous cavalry trilogy (which also includes Fort Apache and Rio Grande), this meditative Western continues the director’s fascination with history’s obliteration of the past. It features one of John Wayne’s more sensitive performances as Capt. Nathan Brittles, a stern yet sentimental war horse who has difficulty preparing for his impending military retirement. All things considered, he refuses to leave before fulfilling his obligation to the local Indian tribe. It’s a film about honor and duty as well as loneliness and mortality. The combination of melancholy and farce evokes comparisons to Shakespeare. Best of all, the scene in which Wayne fights back tears when receiving a gold watch from his troops is unforgettably bittersweet. (Bill Desowitz) —Viennale
Maine-born John Ford (born Sean Aloysius O’Fearna) originally went to Hollywood in the shadow of his older brother, Francis, an actor/writer/director who had worked on Broadway. Originally a laborer, propman’s assistant, and occasional stuntman for his brother, he rose to became an assistant director and supporting actor before turning to directing in 1917. Ford became best known for his Westerns, of which he made dozens through the 1920s, but he didn’t achieve status as a major director until the mid-‘30s, when his films for RKO (The Lost Patrol 1934, The Informer 1935), 20th Century Fox (Young Mr. Lincoln 1939, The Grapes of Wrath 1940), and Walter Wanger (Stagecoach 1939), won over the public, the critics, and earned various Oscars and Academy nominations. His 1940s films included one military-produced documentary co-directed by Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland, December 7th (1943), which creaks badly today (especially compared with… read more
For all the beautiful painterly effects (the color scheme to which Pedro Costa so famously reacted to while stoned) what registers to an equal if not greater degree is the sense of gesture; Wayne suddenly pulling out a pair of reading glasses, the repeatedly interrupted embrace of the two lovers, the pats on the back. Ford's characters aren't just dots on the landscape, but what seemingly justifies its existence.
The world of this film is bleak, surrounded by death, a funeral atmosphere, and the enemy is not a concrete form but rather the land itself. However, the people of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON exist within these bearings. Memories of long gone loved ones still persist, and old age must still give way to youth. People live on, and blood, rather than making the land theirs, make them part of the land instead.