Directed by John Ford
July 26, 1949 (Premiere-Kansas City, KS)/October 22, 1949 (US)
On the eve of retirement, Captain Nathan Brittles takes goes out on a patrol one last time. Tasked with evacuating a group of women, he finds this job made much more difficult.
John Wayne is in good form as Nathan Brittles. He is a man that has his regrets but feels drawn to the army. It is not a negative connection for him but rather a significant portion of who he is and something he is satisfied with. Brittles is a man of the people or in this case a man of his troops. The story is as much about the trip and the dangers the characters encounter as it is Brittles learning to let go of his old life though at the very end he does get a way back in. He is faced with the hard reality of retirement but wants to remain to care for his men and make sure they are okay since they are his only real family at this point.
The story is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of Custer’s Last Stand. What is going on with the local tribes is a direct result of those real events because some Cheyenne and Arapaho have left their reservations and Brittles must escort his commanding officer’s (George O’Brien) wife (Mildred Natwick) and niece Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru) to an eastbound stage to be safe from a new Indian war. The tension is kept high with the lingering threat in the background.
In this movie there are a few recurring John Wayne players but then again these are people that also worked with John Ford regularly, so it is practically expected. We have John Agar as Lieutenant Flint Cohill and Harry Carey Jr. as Lieutenant Ross Pennell. Agar had previously been in Fort Apache with Wayne.
This film is part of what is referred to as Ford’s Cavalry trilogy of films which also includes Fort Apache from 1948 and Rio Grande from1950. It has been called the best of that official unofficial trilogy and I think it does just edge out stage Fort Apache. Wayne is more comfortable in his style here. The film itself takes its name from a song called “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” but in the film it is implied that it comes from a yellow ribbon worn in the hair of Olivia for whose affections both Cohill and Pennell are vying.
It is yet another great western from the legendary Western director John Ford. The movie does a good job of mixing action and humor in a character driven story. Brittles is unsure about leaving the army which appears to be the only adult life he has known. Cohill is jealous and Olivia is apparently toying with him. Seriously. She is jerking him around and using Pennell to make him jealous for no discernible reason other than to toy with his emotions it seems. Jenny from Forrest Gump could learn something from her. Do not play with someone’s heart for poops and giggles, but I digress…
The film has some fantastic cinematography and lovingly embraces the vistas of the West as well as the rich color palette of the sets and the environment. This was in the early days of color film and back in those days they went all in with color. Early color film directors or directors still in the early stages of using color tried to, well, paint pictures rather than composing shots. This was the second John Ford movie in Technicolor and every color is just so rich.
She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is based on two stories by Western pulp writer James Warner Bellah that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post: The Big Hunt from 1947 and War Party from 1948. Both were merged into a single story by screenwriters Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings. The characters are strong and entertaining, and the story is solid.
She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is a good film that is beautiful to see as well as very entertaining. It has a strong and entertaining story. Watch it!