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November 11, 2010


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Dialogue isn't bad either -- "all I can see are the flags".


It sounds obvious, but to me, one of the reasons the movie works so well is casting the lead roles against type, or rather, what today we would think of as being against type. Granted, Fonda showed he could play a somewhat cold character in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (until he falls in love), but he goes beyond that here. And Wayne is his equal (I know Ford is quoted after seeing RED RIVER, "I never knew (Wayne) could act", but the evidence is certainly here).


This is one of my favorite moments in movies. I toast your health, Glenn.

Ian W. Hill

I'm three films into an 80-film Netflix run of American Westerns from 1939-1976 (to get to know the genre better) -- this is four films away, and boy am I looking forward to it now . . .


I actually don't like Wayne in this, or maybe it's that I just don't like that he's forced to play this Joseph Cotten in CITIZEN KANE silent voice of disapproval role. The script's a little didactic - we're always being rather unsubtly reminded that Thursday's doing this for all the wrong reasons, like in the scene where he finds out that what's his name is famous and killing him would be a big reputational boost. The cavalry stuff, the Shirley Temple stuff, everything that's not part of the main plot, is lovely, but somehow it feels really disintegrated from the narrative. The ballyhooed ending is only the slightest precursor of the much more thoughtful meditation on history in LIBERTY VALANCE.


I don't think the parallel between CITIZEN KANE makes much sense. Wayne is not Thursday's disapproving friend. He's a demurring subordinate who represses his protestations in deference to chain of command. This is a salient difference, because it's crucial to the drama. The tragedy of the film is less the result of Thursday's blindness than everyone else's. They all see his folly and yet they do nothing to prevent disaster. Specifically, Wayne does nothing. He responds more to the insult to his honor than to the humanitarian injustice that is about to be committed. Similarly, Anna Lee allows her husband to march to his death for honor and glory.

I think Wayne is excellent in this film, and I don't see the narrative as disintegrated. The slapstick drill sequences are wonderful, for instance, because while they're digressive they also express the ease with which members of this regimented community consort with each other - the non-coms helping out Lt. O'Rourke to break in the new recruits. The sequence becomes tied in to the main thread when Thursday sees the recruits marching in perfect lockstep and praises O'Rourke rather than his non-com assistants!

It's a film with an exquisite balance between narrative thrust and seemingly improvised, anecdotal action that constructs a sense of a society and its codes.

Kent Jones

Edo, I'm with you - I really don't get the parallel between Leland and the Wayne character. Beyond that, I think this raises an interesting point about auteurism and directors like Ford operating under the conditions they did - studio, historical, cultural, and so on. I don't really agree with Asher, but the words "didactic" and "unsubtle" raise an issue that has been brought up in the past by others: is Fonda's character a straw man, set up just to be knocked down? Truth be told, the dialogue points in that direction - on a purely dramatic level, that kind of conflict could only be rendered that starkly in a 1948 American studio film. But the way it's rendered on the level of movement and behavior and emphasis within the frame is another matter entirely, at least as I see it. Monstrous as he is, I find something extremely poignant about Fonda's character, operating by strict adherence to codes of honor and conduct, making the mistake of believing that because he's in a position of authority he has the right of pride and almost a duty to stick to his own impressions, even when they're contradicted by officers with more on the ground experience of the immediate situation. That's what makes the formal dance so powerful: a celebration and enactment of order, decorum and, ironically, a temporary ritualized effacement of rank (and class distinctions). It's also what makes the evocation of this scene so powerful in Pialat's VAN GOGH - the the celebration of order where none exists.

And yes, the scene which includes the image Glenn captured is great. Another shining moment from our heroic cowboy past.

trooper york

I love this film more than I can say. Wayne plays the quintessential subordinate who has to obey orders that he does not believe in. Much as Ford had to deal with as a Naval Intelligence operative in WW2. Ford is a genius.

I especially enjoy that Pedro Armendariz is the person Captain York choose to go with him into danger. A Mexican American. Where else did you see that in that except in a Ford film?

I guess that is why I choose Captain Kirby York as my screen alter-ego.

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