A generally entertaining Western starring John Wayne, "Rio Grande" offers fine performances and incredible scenery, but it never quite manages enough power or compelling drama to drive it towards the top of an already classic-loaded genre. The film stars Wayne as Lt. Col. Yorke, a leader at a small fort near the Mexican border. The year is 1879, and although the Lt. has requested a legion of soldiers to fight against the legions of attacking indians, he finds himself with only a small group of not entirely battle-ready soldiers - including his son.
Yorke faces another situation when his estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara) visits the fort in order to take her son back from the Army. Still, son Jefferson is there to prove himself after failing out of West point and there's nothing she can do - he can't leave and doesn't want to quit. Although Yorke doesn't want to get tangled up in romance again, the sparks are noticable when his wife greets him again as she steps upon the grounds of the base.
There are a few concerns with "Rio Grande", the most notable of which is the first 40 minutes, which offer a rather slow start to the film. The reunion between the O'Hara and Wayne characters is well-played, but the whole situation between Wayne's character and his son is not really dealt with in a way that's very interesting or dramatic. However, the performances are quite good. While John Wayne has been better, his commanding performance manages to add urgency and intensity to even the script's least-interesting dialogue. Maureen O'Hara is marvelous in scenes with Wayne, while also sincerely caring in scenes with their son. The supporting players are also terrific and John Ford provides skilled direction. The black and white cinematography by Bert Glennon (the TV series "Maverick") is also a highlight, as are the well-staged battle scenes.
Overall, "Rio Grande" is a fine Western that offers good performances, drama and the occasional battle, but its plot is somewhat formulaic and there are stretches that drag. A fine Western, but I wouldn't quite consider it to be among the classics of the genre.
VIDEO: "Rio Grande" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by Artisan Entertainment. This remastered version replaces the now out-of-print original release from Artisan, which I have not seen. While this is new presentation is certainly not without some noticable faults, it's a fairly nice remastering of the now 52-year-old picture. Sharpness and detail are standard, with the picture offering fairly crisp images, but little in the way of fine details.
There are some minor faults scattered throughout the presentation. The print seems surprisingly crisp and clean for the film's age: whil some noticable specks, marks and other instances of wear occasionally pop up, there are lengthy stretches where the print looks pleasingly clear. Some slight instances of edge enhancement and shimmer appear, although no pixelation or other faults were noticed. The black and white image remains rich and solid, although a few scenes look a bit dark. Still, while not a stunning presentation, this is a crisp, fresh new offering.
SOUND: There are two soundtrack options available: a restored mono soundtrack or an "enhanced original" soundtrack that offers a 3.0 presentation. Both soundtracks are enjoyable, but don't exceed what one would expect from a fairly low-budget offering in the genre. Dialogue is clear, but other elements of the soundtrack (sound effects, music) are tinny and sometimes a little harsh.
MENUS: Nicely done animated main menu, along with animated transitions.
EXTRAS: This "Collector's Edition" of "Rio Grande" provides a few supplements. New is a scene-specific commentary by Maureen O'Hara, who provides her memories of working on the film during the scenes she's in. Although this isn't a full-length track, it's still worth a listen for fans. Other than that, there's not a whole lot - we get "The Making of Rio Grande", a 21-minute piece hosted by Leonard Maltin and a shorter featurette, along with some trailers for other Artisan Westerns. The Maltin documentary is an informative piece, going behind-the-scenes to offer some interesting insights into the production (such as how this film was made in exchange for financing "The Quiet Man"). The other documentary is listed as a "minidocumentary", which makes it sound quite a bit quicker than its running time of 18 minutes. It features additional interview footage with star Maureen O'Hara.
Final Thoughts: "Rio Grande" is an enjoyable Western drama that succeeds largely because of John Wayne's commanding performance. Artisan's DVD edition provides a crisp, enjoyable new presentation, along with fine audio and supplements. Recommended for fans.