She Wore Yellow Ribbon film
She Wore a Yellow RibbonIt is hard to imagine a better, more stirring and heartfelt tribute to the military spirit than John Ford's sublime, lovingly rendered She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It is a love letter to the uniformed military man, and especially to the frontier men of the U.S. Cavalry, from a director who has always been enthralled by the army life. Ford loves the routine and ceremony of the army, he loves the salutes and formal language, he loves the rigidity of the formations and the close, affectionate bonds that form between the men. Most of all, though, he loves the look of things: the bright blues and golds of the uniforms, which never seem to fade no matter how dirty and dusty they get; the red and white standard flag held high above the ranks; the glint of the sun off the polished silver of a sword or a bugle. There's real poetry in Ford's representation of these men, an eye for the beauty of the military life that's almost entirely divorced from the facts of military combat and bloodshed. This is an idealized vision of the military, in which nearly nobody suffers so much as a wound; only one cavalryman actually dies on screen in the entire film, and it's a frequent occurrence for the troops to emerge from a fierce, violent battle only to announce, "no casualties."
Ford almost seems to prefer his military men when they're at rest and at peace, rather than in the middle of a battle. The most lovingly photographed sequences — and there are many, in a film where virtually every other frame is awe-inspiring — are simple shots of the cavalry riders winding through a valley beneath a towering rock, or scenes where the commanding officers inspect a line of troops in the morning. When the plot turns to the inevitable skirmishes with Indians, they seem almost perfunctory in comparison, though still exciting and dramatic. It's as though Ford knew he had to include them but did so only for the sake of that obligation. It is surely no coincidence that the film's narrative arc concerns halting a war rather than fighting one. This is basically a film about the desire for a peacetime army, which for Ford would surely be the ideal army: then one could admire all the shiny buttons and tight rows of men without the possibility of bloodshed and violence to interrupt the ceremony.
Ford's previous film about the cavalry, Fort Apache, acknowledged the harsh consequences of military service, accepting the darker side of military discipline and the possibility that vain, selfish commanders can needlessly waste the lives of blindly obedient young men. There is no trace of that subtext or anything like it here, in a film where obedience and respect for elders are the highest virtues a man can possess. This film is about the director's profound and unabashed love of the military and the men who serve in it as much as it's about anything. Indeed, there's little enough room in the film for anything else. It is a film almost entirely devoid of real drama, though there are plenty of smaller conflicts to suggest that drama might be somewhere over the horizon. The film centers on cavalry officer Nathan Brittles (John Wayne), a sixtyish man on the verge of entering a forced retirement; the army has decided he is too old and has entered his resignation for him. As he forlornly counts down the days, along with his jovial Irish sergeant Quincannon (Victor McLaglen), he is assigned one final mission: to escort his superior officer's wife and niece away from the fort while scouting out and chasing off the aggressive Cheyenne patrols encroaching into the area.