This is a solid film with beautiful uses of location and a nice little ensemble of characters that take us on a journey into hostile territory, not only on the trail but in the hearts of the men and women that went on the journey.John Wayne is true to form here as well as he thunders his persona across the screen.
Sentimental and melancholy, a conscious meditation on the end of the American Old West, smarter and sadder than it appears. Key scenes take place at thresholds: sundown, sunrise, midnight, gates and doorways. Its characters, and Brittles' last mission, synecdoches for America's larger spiritual journey. John Wayne can act, and this is proof: acknowledging the fatigue of a lifetime of pressure. Lest we forget, indeed.
Cinematography by Winton C. Hoch, technicolor color director by Natalie Kalmus. The sound of this film continues to annoy me a little, with the ubiquity of songs and a voice-off overblown in its ideological function. But the incredible beauty of its pictorial composition exceeds and resizes my objections, putting it at the level of one of the most extraordinary cinematic objects of the 40s.
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.