John Ford (director)
13 March 2017 (released)
12 March 2017
This Western from 1961 sees two of Hollywood’s most iconic stars in the lead roles, with James Stewart cast against type in what was to be the first collaboration between him and director Ford.
Stewart is cynical Marshall McCabe, whose romantic partner is feisty saloon owner Belle Aragon (Annelle Hayes) with whom he shares some of her profits. Hardened by life and generally pretty ruthless, McCabe finds himself somewhat in a dilemma when Army Major Fraser (John McIntire) proposes a deal which ultimately he can’t refuse: against a considerable amount of money McCabe is supposed to negotiate with the Comanche Indians to free some white captives and return them to their devastated and worried relatives. Knowing the Comanche ways full well and also knowing that most of the white captives will by now have either adapted to the tribal ways of life – either by force or because they were still young when kidnapped – McCabe is initially reluctant. But further pressure from the Major and the prospect of a grand sum persuade him to agree to the deal. Major Fraser assigns Lieutenant Gary (Richard Widmark) to accompany McCabe and support the rescue mission, at the same time he gives the pair carte blanche as to how they will free the white hostages. Not too worried about minor things such as scruples and morale, McCabe intends to trade weapons with the feared Comanches in exchange for the captives.
When they meet with legendary Comanche chief Quanah Parker (Henry Brandon) who, in this film, looks nothing like the real Quanah (himself a half-cast), the negotiations seem to go according to plan… at first. But ironically it is the four white captives who create the most difficulties: the first woman is married to a Comanche warrior and has children with him so purely for the reason of being a mother she refuses to return to her own people. The other woman is old while her relatives have long given up hope that she is actually still alive she herself does no longer care whether she’s alive or not. Another captive, a young white man, seems to have fully adapted to the Comanche lifestyle and is now a fierce warrior called Running Wolf, though McCabe knows that he is the long lost son of a wealthy family who desperately want him back. The fourth captive is in fact a young Mexican woman called Elena (Linda Cristal) but she too is married to an Indian called Stone Calf who, militant in his outlook, is Quanah Parker’s sworn enemy. When McCabe and Lt. Gary are about to leave the Indian camp with Running Wolf and Elena, Stone Calf puts up a fight in order to take his wife Elena back but is killed by McCabe in the process.
Back in town things don’t fare smoothly either… Running Wolf s so far removed from the ways of white civilisation that he cannot seem to integrate anymore, neither does he want to. Making it clear that he hates white people he is approached by a woman who claims to be his mother. When she attempts to cut his long hair and he defends himself by killing her – prompting an enraged mob to lynch him despite McCabe’s pleas that the young man only acted on instinct. Meanwhile, Elena, despite wearing nice dresses again and attending the local ball, also has a hard time blending in as the white townsfolk shun her for having married a savage when she was captured years ago instead of doing the honourable thing and killing herself there and then. McCabe, however, is more understanding and stands by Elena…
It’s very hard to dislike the incredibly likable James Stewart and admittedly he does a fine job here – still, one can’t help preferring him in his usual roles playing the slightly bumbling, soft-hearted and well-meaning all-American guy who just happens to get caught up in odd situations or striking up a friendship with an imaginary rabbit. Widmark is of course Widmark and his tough-guy looks serve him well here. Director Ford admitted that he only took on this project because he needed the money and that he thought of the script as a pile of s**t upon reading it, resulting in numerous changes and re-writes.
Two Rode Together is most certainly not a pile of s**t though it must be said that the thought-provoking subject matter of white settlers held captive by Indians, often from a young age, is considerably better handled in other Ford Westerns like The Searchers (1956) while he redeemed himself and portrayed the Native Americans as the real victims in the almost ground-breaking Cheyenne Autumn (1964), also starring Widmark and Stewart.
This Dual Format Edition offers additional bonus material such as video essays and info booklet.