#223. Rio Grande (1950)

I watched and wrote about Rio Grande seven months ago. At this point I’d probably cut out things from the essay that make it seem too dated but, looking over this one for the past couple nights, I feel like it captures a moment that I’d like to remember. So it’s a voice that’s not quite the one I’m writing in lately, but I didn’t wanna tamper. I wrote it at a bar that’d been my watering hole for a little over a year and suspecting (rightly) it’d be the last time and, though the essay doesn’t really shriek about it, I remember feeling kinda…flayed. Writing the essay for distraction.

This’ll be old news by the time I post it but tonight is the last night I’ll be spending at my childhood home, where I’ve been living by myself for two months. Tomorrow I move into the two-bedroom apartment in Little Havana that I’ll be sharing with a college friend, Laz, who’s bound to pop up here a lot. I probably get a little too romantic about anniversaries, about sendoffs, but it feels significant that tonight, before coming to the bar where I’m writing this, I posted the essay for Gone with the Wind – which I’ve literally been dreading since the first day of the Project, wondering how I could write something interesting about a movie that so many people have already written about. But now it’s done. Feels like I’m turning a new page int eh project along with my living situation.

            Caught an Uber to come here and the driver, Shawn, was telling me he’s not too familiar with this part of Miami because he lives in Pembroke Pines, only ended up down here because his last fare was getting a long ride home from Miccosukee Casino, about 90 minutes north of here, where he’d just lost $30k. he was crying. Said that his marriage is already in disrepair and that when he tells his wife he just lost all of the money they just spent four years accumulating, she’s gonna leave him.

            Heavy. I could see the driver was even shaken up. I asked if the dude just wept to himself for the most part or did he talk the whole way.

            Apparently he talked the whole way.

            Driver kept shaking his head in the saddest way.

            Part of why it feels so fine to digress into other stuff here is because I have virtually nothing to say about Rio Grande but that I really dislike everything prior to the last twenty minutes. It’s a John Ford western where he reunites with John Wayne, whom he turned into a star with 1939’s Stagecoach [editor’s note from the future: I’m currently reading Scott Eyman’s big biography of John Wayne and apparently his rise to stardom wasn’t that clear-cut] and so, naturally, my expectations were high. Too high. And in noting that Ford only made this so he could get a green light for his next John Wayne project, The Quiet man, I kinda checked out.

            Followed the story, though, such as it is. Wayne plays an army officer called York, the year is 1870-something, and he’s overseeing some sort of training camp when one day his young-adult son (from whom he’s fifteen years estranged) shows up as a…soldier? Student? Recruit? It makes for a few tender scenes in which the ritualistically guarded machismo of Wayne, The Duke, cracks here and there so that he can flash a concerned or amused glance at his upstanding, virtuous, courageous boy.

            Each is drawn toward the other and the part of me that’s indiscriminately drawn toward solid depictions of mentor-apprentice relationships, especially those wherein the apprentice is a praiseworthy humble workhorse, loved those bits. But otherwise?

            The movie is mercifully shorter than two hours, but just abrely, and it’s plagued by an inexplicable glut of songs that the troops sing together. Odious. And also I was bothered by how Ford doesn’t seem to give us anything that might suggest a serious flaw in York Sr.’s workaholic machismo. It’s clear that the movie is a fan of Yorks Jr. and Sr. Perhaps it’s the filmmaker’s credit that he doesn’t try to make them much more palatable than they are.

            It seems much has been made about the romantic chemistry between X (who here plays his etiehr estranged or neglected wife) and Wayne. This was the first of several movies they made together.

            I honestly don’t see it.

            Especially as this appears on the heels of a romantic comedy like Adam’s Rib, where Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn use their legit off-screen affair to illuminate their performance as husband and wife.

            The last act interrupts the rest of the movie’s tedium to show a John Ford whose directorial touch does finally flash us back to Stagecoach. The horses run at the brutal and slightly elevated frame rate and stuntment are subjected to scarcely imaginable horrors, being not only thrown from their horses but dragged alongside them.

            Action’s good, if silly, and there’s enough of it packed into those last few minutes to leave me with the savory – if illusory – idea that I’ve just enjoyed a movie.


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