Today! Because laddie, I’ve never gone any place peaceably in my life –
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
Directed by John Ford
Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. Victor McLaglen, Jon Agar, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields, Chief John Big Tree, Noble Johnson, Francis Ford
This one is an outlier for a few different reasons. First, I don’t have a ton of westerns on this list. As a cinematic art form, they’re in the back of the bin with war movies, original movie musicals, silents, and Christopher Columbus biopics. I’ve got a handful – and at least one pretty high on the list – but overall, not too many. Second, John Wayne westerns in particular are so old school – and largely so interchangeable – as to barely have any resonance with a modern audience. Lastly, we are yet to score any film as my favorite of a particular year, but this one came pretty close, as there are only two other ’49s on the list.
It should come as no surprise that, like many of you I’d imagine, my exposure to John Wayne westerns was solely because my dad watched them a lot when I was growing up. It’s a genre exclusively suited to dads and grandads, right? Well it would be a shame if some of them weren’t still in rotation, like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Playing much older than his 42 years at the time, Wayne is retiring cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles, dealing with that one last Indian attack, not unlike every retiring cop movie you’ve ever seen. It’s the thick cloud of melancholy laying over the film – replete with horseback action and bar smackarounds – that makes this one forever stand out in my mind.
That and the truly great work of Victor McLaglen as Quincannon, a relatively minor comic role but making the most of it. He’s certainly better remembered for his later Ford/Wayne work as Squire Danaher in The Quiet Man, or his Oscar winning turn in The Informer in the ’30s, but former boxer McLaglen is never better than as the over-the-hill, hard-drinking sergeant.
Which leads me to its most deserving award (outside the Best Color Cinematography Oscar it pulled down), Best Eight Man Bar Brawl, which in fairness isn’t so much a brawl as Quincannon quickly, comically dispatching of the officers sent to detain him, leading to the exchange – “Aren’t you ashamed? Eight of you picking on one man!” “Only seven, ma’am.”