Though he died over 40 years ago aged only 72 John Wayne remains as one of the all time great Hollywood icons having made 179 films despite having been christened Marion Morrison. Wayne made 30 films before he hit the big time playing the led in Stagecoach. It was the great John Ford who directed the film and had taken a chance on casting Wayne and they would go on to make further great Westerns together of which Rio Grande was one. The 1950 film was the final part of a ‘Cavalry trilogy’ that had started in 1948 with Fort Apache followed by 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and it was the first of five on screen partnerships Wayne would share with Maureen O’Hara (three of which would be directed by Ford).
In Rio Grande Wayne plays Lt Col Kirby Yorke attached to the Texas frontier in 1879 to protect settlers from attacks by apaches. When Yorke’s son – a West Point flunkee turned army private – is assigned to his fathers regiment , tensions flare upon the arrival of Yorke’s estranged wife Kathleen (O’Hara) who wants their teenage son out of Yorke’s unit. Its only after Apache’s attack that the stakes of Yorke’s mission escalate and he must travel to Mexico where the Apaches are hiding out. With his son and two old recruits Yorke faces his toughest battle!
Wayne and O’Hara’s on screen partnership is probably best remembered for ‘The Quiet Man’ made two years later which Ford also directed but the film would never have been made if it wasn’t for Rio Grande as the studio were certain that The Quiet Man would lose money so only agreed to it being made if Ford made a western to cover the costs. Rio Grande is one of many great westerns that Ford and Wayne made and Wayne’s son Patrick made his first uncredited appearance in it and went onto appear in further films that his father made before establishing himself in his own right and though never the star that his father was Patrick Wayne did land the lead role of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger featuring some of Ray Harryhausen’s best stop motion work. Rio Bravo had a good cast with many of Ford’s regulars including the ludicrously named Chill Wills. Just as bizarre was O’Hara’s on screen son, Clayde Jarman Jr was actually only 14 years younger than her. According to O’Hara’s own autobiography Rio Bravo had its own tragedy when she claimed that several stuntmen were killed when they fell off horses that were crossing a river with their bodies allegedly never being found.
Released on blu ray for the first time in the UK Rio Grande has Wayne casting a huge shadow in the lead role as he takes on the Apaches (actually played by real life Navajo’s apparently unaware that they were portraying Apaches). Typically of many of Wayne’s films this shares his conservative leanings which became increasingly prevalent in his later films notably The Green Berets as Wayne was proudly patriotic despite being of Irish descent himself. Rio Grande has been transferred by Paramount’s preservation dept back in 2019 and it is sharply executed with the disc including a number of extremely informative bonus features with a scene specific audio by the late Maureen O’ Hara. Add to this a feature commentary by Stephen Prince ,an expert on westerns, a video essay on director Ford, and archived documentary with O’Hara making of and also the obligatory trailer it makes the Rio Grande blu ray a worthy addition for any fan of the genre.
Here’s the Rio Grande trailer…….
RIO GRANDE IS AVAILABLE ON BLU RAY ON 20TH APRIL 2020