BR: Two Rode Together (1961)

June 14, 2014 | By

 

TwoRodeToegther_BRFilm: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  May 13, 2014

Genre:  Western

Synopsis: A cynical, profiteering marshal is forcibly engaged by the U.S. Army to repatriate missing children and wives from a ruthless Comanche leader.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Score Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies. / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 


 

Review:

John Ford reportedly took this directorial job without having great affection for the material, and Two Rode Together feels like a film where not unlike contemporary Alfred Hitchcock’s mid-sixties clunkers Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), the director applied his deft touch to a few scenes of interest, but handled the rest with an obvious indifference. Ford may have been satisfied that Frank Nugent’s writing kept the film moving, but Rode just doesn’t offer anything new or especially classic to the director’s canon.

Based on the novel Comanche Captives by Will Cook, Rode is a mish-mash of ideas and tones that make for a strange movie which starts off like a buddy film – First Lt. Gary (Richard Widmark) forcibly escorts old buddy / small town Marshal McCabe (James Stewart) away from a cozy job with financial and sexual perks back to the nearby fort – and then shifts to a dark, cynical drama in which McCabe weasels his own financial gains from the broken families whose grown-up kids he’s supposed to help return after they’ve been missing and are presumed still being held captive by the Comanche.

Stewart handles the transformation from smiling cynic to callous money-grabber extremely well, especially in scenes where tearing relatives describe in vague or temporal details their missing loved ones while McCabe mopes before accepting bonus payments; he’s such a cynic that he’s comfortable agreeing to a lucrative side deal with a crummy stepfather to grab ‘any white’ Indian so the  wife will shut up and he can return to the family’s booze business.

Among the tormented folks is shapely Marty Purcell (Shirley Jones) who dresses like a boy to show she’s an able surrogate son, and other broken families who have their own special quirks which make them especially pitiful (John Qualen is unusually affecting, even though he’s playing an emotionally shell-shocked variant El Brendel’s ‘yumpin’ yiminy’ Swedish caricature), or obnoxious (like the bumbling, trigger-happy Clegg boys).

The ‘ol buddy camaraderie between McCabe and Gary is flat and predicable (scenes between the men and bar owner Belle meander for way too long), and Andy Devine’s raspberry face and belly-shoving antics feel like a forced attempt to inject slapstick humour before things get dark, and McCabe encounters a few captured loved ones in the camp of Comanche leader Quanah Parker (Henry Brandon).

The Comanche may initially come off as cruel and cold, but Ford and Nugent keep working in grey zones which reveal a social structure that’s been repeatedly stressed by the military and from internal warring factions led by Stone Calf (a seriously buffed and glistening Woody Strode).

Among the two captives McCabe and Gary return to civilization, one is so heavily immersed into his new life that he’s forgotten English and everyone from his past; and the other is a Mexican beauty, widowed by the Comanche, yet respectful of her husband and the culture she eventually accepted as her own. When McCabe shoots her husband Stone Calf and later attempts to redress Elena (Linda Cristal) in European clothes and conventions, the racism among the upper class at Gary’s Fort naturally questions the needlessness of extracting former captives, if not the nihilism of people used as pawns by two bickering factions.

Rode is a variation on Ford’s more iconoclastic western The Searchers (1956) in which a hate-filled man tracks down his missing niece, and filled with disgust for new her life with the Comanche, initially plans to kill her, but later extracts her from the camp and returns her to her former ‘civilized’ life. The finale asserts the reunion was right and just, whereas in Rode it’s as though the director’s sensibilities (and maybe Nugent, who scripted both films) shifted, feeling there are no true winners, happy reunions, or full closure when a loved one is killed or taken away and returns with a measure of confusion, distance, and maybe a little post-traumatic stress.

This stance seems all the more evident because a good chunk of the film shows how Elena is treated like an oddity by the social and military elite – both in her Comanche and white folks clothes – when she’s brought to the fort. She may love McCabe in the end, but the two leave town specifically because they can’t start a new life because due to rapid-moving gossip, the fort, the town, perhaps the state regards her like a compliant whore.

Less effective are some glaring weak spots that seem to have been directed in a perfunctory style: Stone Calf’s death is really badly staged and acted, and the extracted youth who’s treated like a wild child at the fort is erased from the narrative in a ridiculous twist that’s earnestly (or lazily) designed to show the horrible tragedy of ignorance and a case of mistaken identity. (When Marty is seen obsessing over a music box cherished by her brother, you know that big loud contraption’s going to get knocked over at just the right moment to fulfill the film’s horribly ironic but hasty twist.)

Ford’s stock company of actors fills up some minor roles (it’s not hard to spot Anna Lee and Harry Carey Jr. in the cast), giving their parts a bit more depth than what may have resided in Nugent’s script. Although Jones gets high billing and has a marginally important role in scenes at the fort, when she’s first seen dressed in absurdly form-fitting jeans, she looks like a dancer who accidentally wandered on set during a lunch break after filming a ho-down number for a musical next-door. (Both the pants and cinched waits are blatantly contemporary.) Jones seems to have been cast to cash-in on her marquee value after winning an Oscar in 1960’s Elmer Gantry, but Cristal has the better role, playing a woman whose past and a future imposed on her by McCabe and the U.S. Army is far more complex.

Ford did achieve greater creative success with James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), but the westerns that followed were in various degrees affected by perhaps being too grand, ambitious, and epic in length.

Previously available in TCM’s exclusive John Ford: The Columbia Film Collection, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition features a clean HD transfer from a decent print, theatrical trailer, and a stereo isolated music track featuring George Duning’s previously unreleased score. (Film music fans might notice some similarities in orchestration with the film’s main titles and some of Jerry Goldsmith’s sixties western themes, as Duning used Goldsmith’s longtime orchestrator Arthur Morton for Rode.)

Julie Kirgo’s liner notes provide context and temper the mixed reactions some viewers may experience in what she rightly brands as “disordered piece of work.” It’s flawed, moves ahead in odd beats, and reflects some of Ford’s personal sadness at the time, having just lost actor / friend Ward Bond, and she assesses Rode presages the grimmer tone of Liberty Valance – a movie shot in a very bleak B&W style.

Ford’s final films during the sixties include Sergeant Rutledge (1960) with Woody Strode, Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), a section of the Cinerama extravaganza How the West Was Won (1962), Donovan’s Reef (1963), the epic Cheyenne Autumn (1964), and 7 Women (1966).

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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