Picture John Wayne.
Got it? Now try to picture him with a mustache. No? Me neither, which is why it took me so long to believe that the Colonel in Rio Grande was the Duke himself.
It’s just another nail in the coffin of the mustache (unless you are a 1970s porn star or a British Sergeant Major, in which case it is still the preferred mode of facial adornment). This one will take me a while to recover from.
Even the producers knew the ‘stache was a bad call, as the film posters show Wayne bare-faced, something that doesn’t occur in the film itself.
If all this talk about facial hair leads you to suspect that there isn’t anything special about the film, you are correct. Just another Western. It is a bit different from the last one we reviewed in that here, the indians are 100% the bad guys, but it could have been the Mexicans, a band of outlaws or the aliens from Mars Attacks, as they were just there to provide an antagonist. At least the indians in Winchester ’73 were pissed for a very good reason (the fact that white settlers had stolen their land).
It’s kind of hard to spot why this one made it onto the 1001 movies list except to say that it was probably the second best of the westerns on the list so far. This one is a cavalry flick as opposed to a cowboy film, as well, which might have helped its cause. Entertaining, but not memorable.
The central part of the story tells about a mother whose son is sent to this particular frontier unit. The woman, of course, happens to be Wayne’s character’s estranged wife, and the boy, the son. But he is treated like any other trooper, etc.
The singing interludes are full of talent but completely out of character with the film. They feature the Sons of the Pioneers (including Roy Rogers) and jarred almost as much as Wayne’s mustache.
Interestingly, one scene shows the indians kidnapping a group of kids which, combined with the fact that the character of Wayne’s son was also pretty young at the time of filming means I can give a shout out to two surviving actors on this one: Claude Jarman Jr. and Karolyn Grimes. If either is reading, hello!
In summary, the acting is good, the film is entertaining. Certainly a good film, and one I enjoyed watching. But I didn’t find it terribly groundbreaking or particularly memorable.
Recommended if you like Westerns.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most recent book is Jungle Lab Terror. You can check it out here.