Two Rode Together (John Ford, 1961)
Marshal McCabe (James Stewart) and First Lt. Jim Gary (Richard Widmark) are hired to bring back siblings and parents that have been kidnapped by the Comanches many years ago. They will meet Chief Quanach Parker (Henry Brandon) and make a trade for a young boy and the Squaw (Linda Cristal) of Stone Calf (Woody Strode).
The material that John Ford had to work with was , in his own words, crap. But it was a favor he did for Columbia Pictures and he did not liked the story neither the movie. Saying he used those themes in a more efficient way in his celebrated masterpiece The Searchers. His characters deal with racism, the Commanche problem, misogyny, downbeat comedy, and a careless attitude towards human life. Those were recurrent themes in Ford filmography and honestly even if Two Rode Together was rather more criticized than praised I enjoyed it very much. Just like Woody Allen who revisits and work with the same themes, I see John Ford as a director who work with the founding myths of the American society. He was one of the first directors to bring to the screen the civilization of American Indians and even if it could be considered as racist today, well his characters were, but his films are trying to understand those racism and the ostracization of Elena the Madriaga (Cristal) by the white society is one of the examples of how Ford worked with this theme.
The most interesting scene is a two shot take of McCabe (Stewart) and Gary (Widmark) taking a break from their 40 miles journey near a river discussing all the themes aforementioned. To me, this is the scene that makes the movie and if the characters were already presented to the viewer, this is the microscope that gets us into both leading men. There’s a palpable cynicism in Two Rode Together that is not as visible in his other films. It might be Ford’s aging and sickness that brought him to be more difficult and harsh in his films and in the way he directed his actors. Despite this fact, Two Rode Together is filled with real emotions and we can feel Ford’s humanist sense even if, like mentioned before, he carries a careless attitude towards human life.
To say that Two Rode Together is as great as The Searchers would be an aberration, but it easily ranks amongst the many gems that Ford’s long and successful career have produced. It is enjoyable and goes deeper than many Westerns. Two Rode Together has everything a Ford western film has; a great lead, a ball dance, Indians, the cavalry, long takes, and an outdoor night time scene shot in daytime.