Rio Grande (film)

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Rio Grande
Rio Grande poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Uncredited:
Merian C. Cooper
John Ford
Screenplay by James Kevin McGuinness
Based on Mission With No Record
1947 story Saturday Evening Post
by James Warner Bellah
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release date
  • November 15, 1950 (1950-11-15)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.25 million (US rentals)[1]

Rio Grande is a 1950 Western film[2][3] directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. The picture is the third installment of Ford's "cavalry trilogy," following two RKO Pictures releases: Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949).

John Wayne plays the lead in all three films, as Captain Kirby York in Fort Apache, then as Captain of Cavalry Nathan Cutting Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and finally as a promoted Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke in Rio Grande (scripts and production billing spell the York[e] character's last name differently in Fort Apache and Rio Grande).

The film is based on a short story "Mission With No Record" by James Warner Bellah that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on September 27, 1947, and the screenplay was written by James Kevin McGuinness.[4][5] The supporting cast features Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman, Jr., Harry Carey, Jr., and Chill Wills.


Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) is posted on the Texas frontier to defend settlers against attacks by marauding Apaches. Col. Yorke is under considerable stress between the Apaches using Mexico as a sanctuary from pursuit and by a serious shortage of troops of his command. The action of the movie is set in the summer of 1879 ("fifteen years after the Shenandoah").

Tension is added when Yorke's son (whom he hasn't seen in fifteen years), Trooper Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman Jr.), is one of 18 recruits sent to the regiment. He had flunked out of West Point but immediately enlisted as a private in the Army. Not wanting to give any impression that he is showing favoritism towards his son, Col. Yorke ends up being harsher dealing with Jeff than the others. By his willingness to undergo any test and trial, Jeff is befriended by a pair of older recruits, Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) (who is on the run from the law) and Daniel "Sandy" Boone (Harry Carey, Jr.), who take him under their wings.

With the arrival of Yorke's estranged wife, Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara), who has come to take the under-age Yorke home with her, further tension is added. During the war, Yorke had been forced by circumstances to burn Bridesdale, his wife's plantation home in the Shenandoah valley. Sgt. Quincannon (Victor McLaglen), who put the torch to Bridesdale, is still with Yorke and provides a constant reminder to Kathleen of the episode. In a showdown with his mother, Jeff refuses her attempt by reminding her that not only the commander's signature is required to discharge him, but his own as well, and he chooses to stay in the Army. The tension brought about in the struggle over their son's future (and possibly the attentions shown to her by Yorke's junior officers) rekindles the romance the couple once felt for each other.

Yorke is visited by his former Civil War commander, Philip Sheridan (J. Carrol Naish), now commanding general of his department. Sheridan has decided to order Yorke to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico in pursuit of the Apaches, an action with serious political implications since it violates the sovereignty of another nation.

If Yorke fails in his mission to destroy the Apache threat he faces the threat of court-martial. Sheridan, in a quiet act of acknowledgment of what he is asking Yorke to risk, promises that the members of the court will be men "who rode down the Shenandoah" with them during the Civil War. Yorke accepts the mission.

Yorke leads his men toward Mexico, only to learn that a wagonload of children from his fort, who were being taken to Ft. Bliss for safety, has been captured by the Apaches. After permitting three troopers—Tyree, Boone and Jeff—to infiltrate the church in the Mexican village where the Indians have taken the children, Yorke leads his cavalry in a full-scale attack, rescuing all of the children unharmed, though he himself is wounded. He is taken back to the fort by his victorious troops, where Kathleen meets him and holds his hand as he is carried on a travois into the post. After Yorke recovers, Tyree, Boone, Jeff and two others receive medals. At the ceremony, Tyree is given furlough to continue his run from the law, stealing Sheridan's horse for the purpose. As the troops pass in review, the movie closes.


John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara & Claude Jarman Jr. in Rio Grande - publicity still


The film contains folk songs led by the Sons of the Pioneers, one of which is Ken Curtis (Ford's son-in-law and best known for his role as Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke).[6] Bob Nolan had previously serenaded Charles Starrett lead actor in Rio Grande directed by Sam Nelson in 1938.


Ford wanted to make The Quiet Man first, but Republic Pictures studio president Herbert Yates insisted that Ford make Rio Grande beforehand, using the same combination of Wayne and Maureen O'Hara; Yates did not feel that the script of The Quiet Man was very good, and wanted Rio Grande to be released first to pay for The Quiet Man. To Yates's surprise The Quiet Man, on its eventual release in 1952, would become Republic's number one film in terms of box office receipts.[citation needed]

Maureen O'Hara stars with John Wayne in five movies: Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971). The first three were directed by John Ford.

This was the film debut of Patrick Wayne.[7]

The film was shot in Monument Valley, and other locations in southeastern Utah around the town of Moab and along the Colorado River,[8] specifically, Ida Gulch, Professor Valley, and Onion Creek Narrows.[9]:288


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Some aspects of the story, notably the regiment's crossing into Mexico, and undertaking a campaign there, loosely resemble the expedition conducted by the 4th Cavalry Regiment (United States) under Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie in 1873.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. ^ Variety film review; November 8, 1950, page 6.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; November 4, 1950, page 176.
  4. ^ "Mission With No Record." - The Saturday Evening Post. - volume 220, number 13. - September 27, 1947. - Retrieved 2008-07-21.
  5. ^ Rio Grande at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ Scott Eyman John Wayne: The Life and Legend 2015 -1439199590 Page 197 "Yates insisted that the Sons of the Pioneers appear in Rio Grande, which Ford found appalling, but he found a way to found a way to work them in as a sort of musical Greek chorus, cavalry style. "
  7. ^
  8. ^ Filming locations for Rio Grande. - IMDb. - Retrieved 2008-07-21
  9. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: A history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874. 
  10. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  11. ^ Matthews, Matt M. (2007), The US Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective (Adobe Acrobat - *.PDF), The Long War Series: Occasional Paper 22, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combined Arms Research Library: Combat Studies Institute Press - United States Army Combined Arms Center, pp. 48–51, ISBN 978-0-16-078903-8 

External links[edit]