Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1949. Argosy Pictures. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, Laurence Stallings, based on the short stories The Big Hunt and War Party by James Warner Bellah. Cinematography by Winton C. Hoch. Produced by Merian C. Cooper, John Ford. Music by Richard Hageman. Production Design by James Basevi. Costume Design by Michael Meyers, Ann Peck. Film Editing by Jack Murray. Academy Awards 1949.
To describe the plot, it does not sound like much: John Wayne is a Civil War general retiring from his post on the frontier in the months following Custer’s defeat, reluctant to be put out to grass before taking advantage of the first chance to get back into action. In execution, however, John Ford’s magnificent film is a marvel to behold. Sharply beautiful photography and direction of the highest order display the myths of the Wild West being both constructed and scrutinized at the same time. At the heart of it is a superb, layered performance by the Duke that puts aside whatever it is about his fame that is usually off-putting (the icon of a fictional ideal of American maleness that has nothing to do with reality) and instead suggests as much self-reflection as Ford’s narrative does. Wayne is a blustering tower of virility who is also exhausted and confused as to what it was all for. He also plays mid-sixties with extremely good effect considering he was nowhere near that age at the time. A sterling piece of Americana.