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Rio Grande (Oliver Signature Collection)
I didn't know that much about Rio Grande other than it was a film starting John Wayne, directed by John Ford. And in briefly looking at the synopsis, it rung a little bit to me like the larger film the two made a few years later (The Searchers), but I was wrong! The pair had been humming for a little while now, with Grande serving as the third film in the "Cavalry Trilogy" for the actor and director, the previous two being Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. And I'm slowly working through old Wayne films, and figured I'd give this a spin.
James Kevin McGuinness wrote the screenplay, which finds Wayne as Kirby Yorke, an Army colonel manning a post in Texas and defending his small group against Apache attacks. His estranged son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr., Hangman's Knot) is transferred to his unit after flunking out of West Point and decides to enlist anyway. Jeff earns the respect of the troops by working hard and not seeking any preferential treatment from that, not that he would give it. Kirby's ex/Jeff's mother (Maureen O'Hara, Miracle on 34th Street) comes to bring Jeff home, an added family stress on top of pressure Kirby is receiving from his chain of command.
Having Kirby deal with the dual burdens of family coming back into his life while maintaining spirit and keeping his troops alive while the Apaches attack them and retreat into the safety of Mexico was more complicated than I would think a film in 1950 would have, but Wayne carries this as you would expect. The humane side of him comes out as he gets more time to spend with his son and wife, and O'Hara's scenes with Wayne had to have sown the seeds for the two to work together in Quiet Man, and she is a marvel to watch here.
The chemistry between Wayne and Jarman is also worth a note, especially in a moment late in the film when Kirby has to show his son his vulnerability in a moment that gives Jeff a chance to show his maturity simultaneously. It is a poignant moment that was touching. Jeff's earning his keep amongst the troops/John Ford stock company actors like Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. (while Victor McLagen also appears as the Sergeant Major) helps make the experience engrossing while the story builds to a tense ending.
Rio Grande becomes another in a underrated list of Wayne films that give him a chance to explore his softer side, which he does very well in the scenes with O'Hara and in the second and third acts with Jarman, while giving you a chance to appreciate the task he has at hand with his military position. There are some nuances within this installment that are fascinating to watch unfold over the course of the film, but it serves as a worthy end to this mini run of films within the larger collaboration of Ford and Wayne, and served as a nice break for the two before they reunited to elevate film further.The Blu-ray:
I don't know (and it's not said) what kind of effort was taken into a ‘new high-definition digital restoration' that the packaging touts, but the 1.37:1 presentation of Rio Grande is impressive. Light and shadows look good in various degrees of gray, black or white, and image detail in a moment when Kirby and Jeff in a tent makes you almost see the scratch on the roof of the tent and a glance at fabric, which for a film of this age is kind of amazing. Film grain is present and generally consistent and the overall look is good.The Sound:
The associated mono track is fine. Not much more you can really get from it, the Sons of the Pioneers' music sounded good, dialogue was consistent and the battle sequences almost sound immersive. I'm unsure if they did a new soundtrack for it, but it's fine.The Extras:
Not being familiar with Olive I didn't know what to expect but was impressed by the output. Nancy Schoenberger is an author who wrote a book on Ford and Wayne and contributes a commentary on the film that shares biographical information on the two along with various other members of the ensemble, the production itself and some of the meaning in scenes in the film. There are large chunks of silence during viewing but it's a nice complement to the film. Next is "Bigger Than Life" (13:10), a recent interview with Jarman where he talks about working with Wayne and on set as a 16 year old next to him and Ford. He also gets into working in Hollywood as a whole and it's a nice look at the film. "Strength and Courage" (10:38) is where Patrick Wayne talks about his Dad and his impressions of Wayne and Ford on set together, and thoughts on some other cast members than he saw again through the years. He also gets into the discussion on Wayne's final weeks of life and his life, death and legacy, and it is heartfelt. "Telling Real Histories" (13:21) is a focus on native Americans and their role in this film, in cinema in general and the dynamics between tribes with Raoul Trujillo, who also shares his backstory to boot in a nice piece on that particular era in cinema. "Songs of the Rio Grande" (5:37) peeks into the music of the film, and there is a vintage making of on the film (21:15), hosted by Leonard Maltin and includes interviews with some more of the cast, and gets into the detail and background of the production and the players in it. Tag Gallagher shares a visual essay (10:26) on some moments in the film and there is a text reproduction of another essay that comes with the movie (which is housed in a clear Blu-ray case), and the trailer (1:33) wraps up an impressive package.Final Thoughts:
With Olive coming back to Rio Grande after putting together a release in 2012, they vaulted over the bar they set, and might have been a late entry into the best Blu-ray releases of 2020. Technically the transfer is nice, and the extras are Criterion-level good, so if you haven't seen it, get on it and be pleasantly surprised.