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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).

Rio Grande
Rio Grande poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced byUncredited:
Merian C. Cooper
John Ford
Screenplay byJames Kevin McGuinness
Based onMission With No Record
1947 story Saturday Evening Post
by James Warner Bellah
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyBert Glennon
Edited byJack Murray
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • November 15, 1950 (1950-11-15)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.25 million (US rentals)[1]

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.

This film was the first of five in which John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara costarred. The Quiet Man (1952) and The Wings of Eagles (1957), McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971) were the others.[6]



Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) is posted on the Texas frontier to defend settlers against attacks by marauding Apaches. Colonel Yorke is under considerable pressure due to the Apaches using Mexico as a sanctuary from pursuit, and by a serious shortage of troops in 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 Jefferson 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. In a private "father-son" meeting in the commanding officer's tent, Trooper Yorke informs his father that he does not expect, nor want, any special treatment because he is his son. He asks that he be treated like any other soldier—to which the colonel somewhat reluctantly agrees. 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 underage Yorke home by buying him out of his enlistment, further tension is added. During the Civil 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 is a constant reminder to Kathleen of the episode. In a showdown with his mother, Jeff refuses her attempt buy him out of the Army 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.

The Apaches attack the Fort one night. Many of them are killed by the awakened troopers, but they succeed in freeing their leader, captured at the start of the movie.

Two Texas marshals arrive at the post with a warrant for Trooper Tyree's arrest on a manslaughter charge. Confined to the post hospital, with the connivance of the regimental surgeon (Chill Wills) and Sergeant Major Quincannon he breaks jail, steals Colonel Yorke's horse, and goes on the run, intending to stay away until the marshals head back to Texas.

Yorke is visited by his former Civil War commander, Philip Sheridan (J. Carrol Naish), now Commanding General of the Military Division of the Missouri, the headquarters responsible for pacifying the Great Plains. Sheridan has decided to order Yorke to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico in pursuit of the Apaches and kill them all, 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 will have to face a court-martial. Sheridan, in quiet acknowledgment of what he is asking Yorke to risk, promises that if it comes to that, "the members of the court will be the men who rode down the Shenandoah with us" during the Civil War. Yorke accepts the assignment.

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. Tyree trails the Apaches to their hideout in Mexico and then rejoins his regiment with the information and a plan to rescue the children. After permitting three troopers—Tyree, Boone and Jeff—to infiltrate the ruined church in the Mexican village where the Indians have taken the children, Yorke leads his regiment in an all-out attack. The cavalrymen rescue all of the children unharmed, though Colonel Yorke is wounded by an arrow that he orders Jeff to remove. 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 Colonel Yorke recovers, Tyree, Boone, Jeff, Navajo Scout Son of Many Mules, and Corporal Bell are decorated. At the ceremony, Trooper Tyree is given a furlough to continue his run from the law when one of the Texas marshals reappears, stealing General Sheridan's horse for the purpose. As the troops pass in review (with the regimental band playing Dixie at the General's request to please Mrs. Yorke), the movie closes.



The film contains folk songs led by the Sons of the Pioneers, one of whom is Ken Curtis (Ford's son-in-law and best known for his role as Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke).[7] 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.[8]

The film was shot in the Professor Valley, Utah, though it is frequently mentioned incorrectly in film histories as having been made in Ford's favorite location for westerns, Monument Valley on the Colorado Plateau.[citation needed]


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.[10]

See alsoEdit


  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 on IMDb
  6. ^,tv_episode,video,tv_movie,tv_special,tv_miniseries,documentary,video_game,short&roles=nm0000078,nm0000058&sort=year,asc
  7. ^ 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. "
  8. ^
  9. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  10. ^ Matthews, Matt M. (2007), The US Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective (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, archived from the original (Adobe Acrobat - *.PDF) on 2011-10-13

External linksEdit