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The West's most violent story…The West's most valiant hour!
"Just how much do you think human lives are worth, McCabe?"
Facts of the Case
Marshal Guthrie McCabe (James Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) enjoys presiding over a small frontier town, raking in profits from a deal he has with the local saloon owner. He's also had a fair bit of contact with the local Comanche, which is why the U.S. Army twists his arm to help rescue settlers who were captured by the local tribe. McCabe is joined by Lieutenant Jim Gary (Richard Widmark, The Alamo), a career soldier who isn't exactly thrilled about his assignment. The settlers, however, are hopeful about McCabe's involvement, especially since the military promised that the marshal would bring all of their loved ones back from the tribe.
The more I think about Two Rode Together—and I've been thinking about it a lot—the more I realize what a fascinating film it is. Director John Ford (Stagecoach) made the picture solely to earn a paycheck, and his dislike of the project was also shared by many critics and filmgoers in 1961. This poor reputation even extends to today. Ford is one of my favorite filmmakers, but I've avoided Two Rode Together for years because it's often dismissed as one of the director's worst efforts.
But it really isn't a bad film. What it is, however, is one of the director's most bizarre projects, an ungainly drama that plays out as a nightmare vision of what most people expect a John Ford western to be.
Two Rode Together was adapted by Ford's go-to scribe Frank Nugent (The Quiet Man) from a novel by Will Cook. The movie bears an uncanny resemblance to Ford's The Searchers, so much so that some of the marketing at the time seemed to push Two Rode Together as a more palatable and light-hearted version of the 1956 masterpiece. As if. Two Rode Together has some strokes of broad humor, but they do nothing to alleviate the film's pervasive cynicism and cold-heartedness. I think the brutal tone was partially a result of Ford's disinterest in the project, which was compounded even further by the death of Ford's close friend Ward Bond halfway through the shoot. But, intentional or not, there also seems to be a bit of envelope-pushing, especially in terms of what sort of story you could tell with a western. Many of Ford's earlier films—including The Searchers—were multi-faceted enough to be about several things at once. So one of his films might be work as a sentimental or adventurous yarn while also exploring the darker side of, say, obsession or nostalgia. But Two Rode Together cuts to the core—this is an ugly movie, and even the few bits of humor seem like a half-hearted diversion. Even the typical Ford elements here—the usual "Stock Company" faces in the cast, the medium shots, the role of community in the story—feel warped or tainted. Unlike in other Ford films, the community of settlers here is fractured, racist, and ultimately unforgiving. The film's punchline is even a cruel spin on the conclusion of The Searchers, with a close-knit group of people drawing their knives instead of opening their arms. Stewart's McCabe is a selfish misanthrope, and the romantic foil he finds in rescued captive Elena (Linda Cristal, The Alamo) feels unnatural, like some form of reverse Stockholm Syndrome. There's also a scene where McCabe verbally bludgeons Gary's love interest (Shirley Jones, The Partridge Family) with the truth of the situation with the Comanche—their captives are most likely dead or so far integrated into the tribe's culture that there's no hope whatsoever. The movie clumsily works the same way as this line: Here's how it really was, filmgoers. Hope you can stomach it.
Two Rode Together might not be one of Ford's best efforts, but it still has his touch. He manages to turn the stark Texas brush into an occasionally lovely tapestry, and the supporting cast—including Harry Carey, Jr. (Wagon Master), Andy Devine (How the West Was Won), and Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge)—is fantastic as usual. The film's title even runs deeper than it suggests—sure, the two leads ride together to rescue the captives, but a number of other characters are paired up throughout the film with some surprising results.
Twilight Time's limited release of Two Rode Together (Blu-ray) is akin to the company's other catalog-title runs. The new 1.85:1/1080p non-anamorphic widescreen transfer looks wonderful—the natural film grain gives the picture a warm glow, and the high-def treatment coaxes out some rich colors and images. Which is no easy feat—this is one of Ford's least-picturesque efforts, so the number of lovely visuals is a credit to the man's skill. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio track is good, if not great; the dialogue is clear and crisp, and the few musical motifs linger in the background perfectly. There isn't much in the way of extras, however: you get the original trailer (3:08), an isolated sound effect and score track, and a nice three-page essay from Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
It's not one of Ford's best films, but Two Rode Together turned out to be a challenging and well-made film despite the director's hatred for the project. It's also one of Ford's bleakest works. Twilight Time's release of Two Rode Together (Blu-ray) is an especially attractive way to check this film out. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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