• Rio Grande (Olive Films) Signature Series Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: November 17th, 2020.
    Director: John Ford
    Cast: Harry Carey, Jr., Claude Jarman, Jr., John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Merian C. Cooper, Ben Johnson
    Year: 1950
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    Rio Grande – Movie Review:

    In director John Ford's 1950 film, Rio Grande, made for Republic Pictures, John Wayne plays Lt. Colonel Kirby Yorke, a well-respected member of the United States Cavalry. Yorke is in charge of a camp and its inhabitants, a group of hardened military men, which is located in the Western part of the country where the Apaches are still very much a threat. There's also the issue of the American/Mexican border to deal with, in that when the Apaches cause problems for his men, once they cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, his men are powerless to retaliate.

    Kirby's own son, Jeff (Claude Jarman, Jr.), recently booted from West Point, is included with the new recruits that have just shown up at his post. It's not quite the happy reunion you might hope for, as they haven't seen each other in a decade and a half. Of course, he's concerned for his wellbeing. After all, this is dangerous territory, but being a stoic military type, Kirby plays by the rules and certainly can't show his son any favoritism. Meanwhile, Jeff has got a bit of a chip on his shoulder and is out to prove himself and make up for his past failures.

    A short time later, who should arrive but Kathleen (Maurleen O'Hara), Kirby's wife and Jeff's mother. She's hoping to get her son out of the military and bring him back home with her, but neither man is having anything to do with this idea. Still, with his wife around, Kirby can't help the romantic feelings stirring in him, something he hasn't felt in a long, long time. But of course, there are still military matters to attend to, and those Apaches aren’t going to take it easy just because Kirby wants to rekindle the flame that once was in his marriage. Meanwhile, a trooper named Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson), from Texas, is wanted for the murder of a Yankee, something that he can't hide from quite as easily as he had hoped.

    Written by James Kevin McGuinness from a short story by James Warner Bellah, Rio Grande holds up well, a genuinely stirring mix of action, drama and romance. The cast is very strong, with Wayne proving he could handle romance and drama very effectively and creating some believable, even moving, chemistry with Maureen O'Hara, who is every bit as good in her role as Wayne. It would have been very easy for Wayne to overshadow her, given that he's got such a domineering screen presence, but that doesn't happen here, a testament to both her significant skills as an actress and Ford's directing style. These two do most of the heavy lifting, in terms of the film's hefty dramatic quotient, but Claude Jarman, Jr. does nice work as Kirby's son and the always reliable Ben Johnson steals a scene or two in his supporting part.

    As you'd expect from a John Ford western, the movie delivers on the action front as well. Bert Glennon's cinematography is excellent, the 1.37.1 frame never feeling too tightand proving that not all of the best westerns have to be shot wide (though obviously man of them are). There are some tense shoots outs in the film and some thrilling bits of stunt riding to take in. Shot on location in Utah, the movie takes a nice job of taking advantage of the epic scenery provided. The use of music is pretty solid as well, with some choral numbers from The Sons Of The Pioneers used to considerably less corny effect than you might expect.

    Rio Grande – Blu-ray Review:

    Olive Films releases Rio Grande on Blu-ray in a 1.37.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc. Overall this transfer is more than solid. There is some mild print damage here and there and some very noticeable fluctuations in the density of the grain in the film (though that could be a result of the original photography) but generally speaking the picture is very good. Detail is strong overall, and there’s nice depth and texture here as well. Black looks deep and rich, and whites are clean, we get a nice greyscale here as well. There might be a tiny bit of crush in some of the darker scenes but there aren’t any obvious compression artifacts nor are there any noticeable problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Master Audio track. There are no alternate language options, although English subtitles are provided. No problem to report here, the audio sounds very good. The levels are nicely balanced, the track is free and clear of any hiss or distortion, and dialogue sounds clean and natural. The score also has a bit more range to it than you might expect for an older mono mix.

    Extras start off with an excellent commentary from Nancy Schoenberger, the author of Wayne And Ford: The Films, The Friendship and The Forging Of An American Hero. Clearly very well-versed on the film and those who made it, we get a lot of historical context here for what plays out in the movie, including some information on the history of the cavalry, thoughts on the production of Rio Grande, how it compares to other pictures that Ford and Wayne made together during this period in their respective careers, the themes that the story explores and quite a bit more.

    From there we dive into quite a few featurettes, beginning with the fourteen-minute Bigger Than Life in which Claude Jarman Jr. talks about how he met John Ford and was cast in the film as Wayne’s son, his relationship with Wayne and Ford and other adventures that he had in Hollywood. The eleven-minute Strength And Courage interviews John Wayne’s son, Patrick Wayne, about his time on the set. He had a small part in the film and was around his father a lot while the movie was being made and he shares some interesting memories of working both with his dad and with John Ford. Telling Real Histories is a new fourteen-minute interview with Raoul Trujillo who talks about the way that the Indian characters that feature so prominently are depicted in the film and his thoughts on what it was like to work on the movie. Songs Of The Rio Grande allows Marc Wanamaker to spend six-minutes going over how and why the music of The Sons Of The Pioneers wound up being used in the movie. The Making Of Rio Grande is a twenty-two minute vintage featurette that is hosted by Leonard Maltin and which examines the history of the movie as well as the relationships that Ford had with his cast as well as the relationship that existed between Wayne and leading lady Maureen O'Hara. We also get an eleven-minute video essay from Tag Gallagher entitled Cavalry that offers up a bit of historical context for the film.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is the original theatrical trailer for the film, a text essay on the film by Paul Andrew Hutton, menus and chapter selection options.

    Olive also includes an eight-page color insert booklet that contains a printed hardcopy version of Hutton's essay. This release also comes packaged with a nice side-loading slipcover. Overall, it’s quite an attractive package.

    Rio Grande – The Final Word:

    Rio Grande has it all – action, adventure, drama, romance and more! Ford’s direction is top notch and both Wayne and O’Hara deliver some of their finest work here, with a strong supporting cast propping them up. The film holds up well, and Olive Films, as part of their Signature Series line, has done a very nice job bringing it to Blu-ray with a strong presentation and a nice, thorough array of interesting extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Rio Grande Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      Nice review! There are so many terrific scenes in this film - McLaglen and his "medicine", J. Carrol Naish (who was never better than here) and Wayne talking about the military campaign, Johnson stealing Naish's horse...etc. I go back and forth on which is the best of the trilogy, this or SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. FORT APACHE is just a hair behind.