Rio Grande (1950 film)

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Rio Grande is a 1950 Western film[3][4] 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)[2]

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).


Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne) is posted on the Texas frontier with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment 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 has not seen in 15 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. Sergeant Major 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 to buy him out of the Army by reminding her that not only the commander's signature is required to discharge him, but his own is needed, 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, who had been captured at the start of the movie.

Two U.S. marshals from Texas 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 – ironic in that the fort was named for a famous mathematician, William Wallace Smith Bliss, and it was failing mathematics that caused Jefferson Yorke to flunk out of West Point – 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.




With the completion of Wagon Master, Ford did not want to make another Western. Instead, he wanted to film the Ireland-set romantic comedy-drama film The Quiet Man with Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, but Herbert Yates, the studio president of Republic Pictures, insisted that Ford first make Rio Grande with the same pairing of Wayne and O'Hara because he thought the script of The Quiet Man was weak and that the story was of little general interest. Yates insisted that Rio Grande be made before The Quiet Man, to offset the anticipated losses on that film.[5]

When The Quiet Man was eventually released in 1952, though, it vastly out performed Rio Grande by grossing $3.8 million in its first year and giving Yates and Republic Pictures one of the top-10 hits of the year.[6]


The script for Rio Grande was written by Irish-born screenwriter James Kevin McGuinness. It 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.[7][8] Parts of the story loosely resemble the expedition of the 4th Cavalry Regiment (United States) under Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie when they conducted a military campaign in Mexico in 1873.[9]

McGuinness died in December 1950, just four weeks after the film's premiere in November.[10]


The film was the first of three directed by Ford that starred the pairing of Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne. Rio Grande was followed by The Quiet Man in 1952 and The Wings of Eagles in 1957. The pair also starred together in McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971). The film marked the uncredited debut of 11-year-old Patrick Wayne, Wayne's second son.[11]


The film was shot entirely on location in Moab, Utah, during the extremely hot summer of 1950. Cast and crew struggled with the heat. Sets and stages had to be built in the difficult conditions, while actors were required to perform their scenes in heavy period costumes.[12]


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).[13] Bob Nolan had previously serenaded Charles Starrett, lead actor in Rio Grande directed by Sam Nelson in 1938.


A review by New York Times described it as a "familiar story" that "travels a well-rutted road". It was also noted for its similarities to the 1935 epic-adventure film The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Praise was given, though, for the Western-style ballads sung by the Sons of the Pioneers.[14]

The film currently has a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.[15]


The film was recognized by the American Film Institute in 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10: Nominated Western film.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (1975). "The Economic Imperative: Why Was the B Movie Necessay?". In Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (eds.). Kings of the Bs : working within the Hollywood system : an anthology of film history and criticism. E. P. Dutton. p. 30.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  3. ^ Variety film review; November 8, 1950, page 6.
  4. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; November 4, 1950, page 176.
  5. ^ The Quiet Man 60th Anniversary Edition, Special Features: Maltin, Leonard, "The Making of The Quiet Man," 1992.
  6. ^ Gallagher, Tag (1986). John Ford: The Man and his Films. University of California Press. p. 499.
  7. ^ "Mission With No Record". The Saturday Evening Post. 220 (13). September 27, 1947.
  8. ^ Rio Grande at IMDb
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (2013). Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond. McFarland. p. 194. ISBN 9780786458547.
  11. ^ Roberts, Randy (1997). John Wayne: American. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 323–324. ISBN 9780803289703.
  12. ^ "John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950)". July 12, 2014.
  13. ^ 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 work them in as a sort of musical Greek chorus, cavalry style. "
  14. ^ "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Rio Grande,' a John Ford Film Starring John Wayne, Makes Its Bow at the Mayfair". New York Times. November 20, 1950.
  15. ^ "Rio Grande". Retrieved June 18, 2019.
  16. ^ "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)

External linksEdit