She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

Not quite as plotless as I’d thought, seeing it as a youngster. The impression had come from the fact that the dramatic spikes are balanced and even countered by a deep, practically transgressive interest in plain logistical detail. Procedure is everywhere, and preparation, such that much of the film seems to be intentionally avoiding conventional incident and excitement. But that’s only true to the life, isn’t it? Sometimes you have to go on guard duty, or step to the back of the file. The great thing is that these digressions definitely start feeling just as or more important than conventional conflict. Director John Ford more or less makes out of them a set of rituals, even sacraments. Rituals and sacraments are not naturally occurring of course, but they symbolically lead us to the most basic of truths. In other words, to the sacred. Ford knockabout notwithstanding (cf. the ridiculous, fabulous fight at the end with ancient Victor McLaglen defeating most of the regiment), that’s absolutely what happens here.

The Nation is the holy thing of course, and the Military is presented as the priestly class. It goes without saying that the filmmakers subscribe to all of these notions. Dangerous, you’d think, except that they pull it off. The rituals aren’t at all unseemly, and no one gets remotely wild-eyed about them. In fact, like altar boys and 14 year old LDS Teachers preparing the sacrament, the young men too frequently forget the import of it all. That’s precisely where the film moves beyond mere piety (cf. Ford’s The Fugitive) to actual religion. Notice all of the decencies and courtesies that are extended to those battling young officers, to the frivolous young women, and especially to the defeated Native Americans. The John Wayne character is profoundly up to every strategical or diplomatic challenge, which is natural, maybe even appropriate in this time of the Marshall Plan, this time of actual, if partial charitable reconstruction. There’s the possibility of force, and the fact of mortality, but mostly, they do their duty. Revisionist views must be considered, but this classic statement has so much integrity, so much belief and devotion, that it isn’t really open to dismantling.

Wayne is quite monumental, actually. Natwick! And, of course, this otherworldly use of Utah’s Monument Valley. Colour, and tempest, and the operation on that injured man, and the yelling chief, and the way it all, impossibly, appropriately works out. Irresistible, and very moving stuff.

Trying some tweets:

Saw #SheWoreaYellowRibbon. Dr. Johnson’s observations about patriotism are about true, it often seems. …

… But not always, it would seem here.

#SheWoreaYellowRibbon. Grows with each viewing, one of those Ford films which exactly measures up to its/his exalted reputation. Lovely!