Nether Regions 07.27.10: Two Rode Together
Posted by Chad Webb on 07.27.2010
Those dastardly Indians have kidnapped people again, but this time John Ford’s rescue mission is different. Guthrie McCabe will find the missing persons, provided the price is right and he has a gallon of whiskey as a bonus.
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
TWO RODE TOGETHER
Starring: James Stewart, Richard Widmark, and Shirley Jones Directed By: John Ford Written By: Frank S. Nugent Running Time: 109 minutes Release Date: July 26, 1961 Missing Since: Existing Formats:VHS and Region 2 DVD Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare
A Native American Indian tribe known as the Comanche have kidnapped a number of white people from their families. The relatives demand that the Army help them find the long-term captives. They enlist the aid of Tascosa Marshall Guthrie McCabe (James Stewart). Like John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, McCabe is stubborn and morally ambiguous, but what separates them is motivation. Edwards set out for revenge, fueled by racism. McCabe could care less about the tears of forlorn families. He does not enjoy the search, and would prefer to not incite a battle. Edwards approached the Indian camp full bore and prepared for gunfire. McCabe doesn't draw his pistol unless he absolutely must. He'd rather negotiate and be on courteous terms with the Chief, whereas Edwards, as a former Confederate soldier, appreciates the adventure.
An image of the long two-shot with Stewart and Widmark.
The story in Two Rode Together is eerily similar to John Ford's revered 1956 classic from 5 years earlier. The screenplay was written by Frank S. Nugent, the man who penned both adaptations, and 8 other Ford offerings. Treading so close to territory he already conquered was a risk Ford took as a favor to Columbia boss Harry Cohn, who had died in 1958. This was not a project that was ever close to his heart, rather close to his wallet. He received a whopping $225,000 plus 25% of the net profits. Although it is considered minor, Two Rode Together generates shades of the Ford master stroke, and deserves some praise.
What would have happened if we had stayed with Debbie and her family after Ethan had carried her home? Two Rode Together attempts to answer that question in a most unflinching fashion, yet is irrefutably different from The Searchers. One of the reasons viewers might not embrace it as fervently as Ford's other titles is the lack of action. This is a sagebrush tale about greed, hypocrisy, racism, and the fact that the grass might not be greener on the other side. Character development, not shootouts, is what's important. The hazy trajectory of the plot marks one of its most admirable qualities. It's not just about the rescue, but its aftermath and the consequences.
The opening shot has Marshall Guthrie McCabe lounging in that iconic Ford pose with his legs propped on the porch railing, and his hat tilted over his face. He is served a beer and given a cigar. This man has a routine. He also has a reputation, which is proven when he scares two arrogant troublemakers away. Soon the Cavalry rides into town. led by Lt. Jim Gary (Richard Widmark). He requests that McCabe accompany him 40 miles to Fort Grant, and if he declines, he will use force. McCabe agrees, and arrives to cheers from the families that assume he will be their savior. He almost immediately dismisses the mission detailed by Major Frazer (John McIntire), but warms up to the idea once money is mentioned.
McCabe was sought after for the job not because he is tougher than anyone else, but because he has a good relationship with Chief Quanah Parker (Henry Brandon) of the Comanche. He is hired as an Army scout for $80 a month. He already rakes in $100 a month and 10% of the profits of every business in Tascosa. McCabe sets out to make financial deals with the families if he can deliver the missing parties. Jim Gary rides with McCabe, but without his uniform on so as to avoid angering the Comanche by breaking the peace treaty. McCabe has conversations with many of the upset parents, and explains to some of them that their children and/or loved ones might not be the same kids they knew. Meanwhile, Lt. Gary becomes romantically involved with Marty (Shirley Jones), a blonde girl who lost her brother Steven to the Comanche in a similar abduction.
Henry Brandon checks his new weapons as Chief Quanah Parker.
Because John Ford was not emotionally invested in the material, the production was an aggravating one. Ford's behavior as a filmmaker was customarily an issue, but this was the first time Jimmy Stewart was privy to his actions. They were not the best of friends, and Stewart had been warned by John Wayne and Henry Fonda about Ford. Nonetheless, they would go on to make 3 more films with a "grudging respect" for each other. Ford preferred that his cast not understand the method of his madness on set. In the documentary Directed by John Ford, Stewart revealed that he spoke to the cast as if telling a secret. He instructed Stewart to be cautious of Widmark because he might start stealing scenes. Later, he learned that Widmark had been told the same thing.
This style of direction elevated the tension, and led to one of Ford's top sequences. During the initial 40 mile trek to Fort Grant, the group stops so the horses can have water. McCabe and Gary proceed to sit on a log and chat about the money each makes, their love lives, and the escalating Comanche dilemma. Ford forced his crew to wade deep into the water and not quit until the shot was completed. It is a widescreen two-shot with cross-cutting between close-ups that encompasses the themes of the picture perfectly in 5-6 minutes. Both Stewart and Widmark are sufficiently on edge to a degree that exudes their finest skills.
Marshall Guthrie McCabe is one of Jimmy Stewart's most intriguing characters. Here is a man that is cynical, unethical, selfish, and lackadaisical. Stewart was recognized most of course for portraying nice regular guys, but McCabe is nasty, and up front about it. When comparing how much he makes to Gary, he says "I just require a little more" to justify his 10% earnings from the businesses in Tascosa. He doesn't care what anyone thinks. It's a fully realized performance of an individual that could have flourished in multiple films. Even Stewart himself said he wished the dark nature of his character was explored more. McCabe possesses traces of the affable Stewart persona, but with a sly and impassive undercurrent. Stewart is in top-form, and his rant towards the end is a vicious gut punch.
1961 was a mixed year for Richard Widmark. He had established himself as a strong talent from his Oscar nominated debut in Kiss of Death in 1947. In '61, he and Stewart were criticized for being miscast in this adaptation of the Will Cook novel Comanche Captives. The same year saw the heavily lauded Judgment at Nuremberg. Age might be a small concern, but Widmark is marvelous as the determined and gentlemanly Lt. Jim Gary. Widmark and Stewart click instantly, convincingly depicting two men that have known each other for years. Gary, unlike McCabe, likes his job (in this case the military) because it's consistent and honest. It doesn't pay much, but he squeezes by. The joy is observing McCabe and Gary gradually grow angrier at one another's lifestyle. A superb moment in the beginning conveys how the two tackle daily life as McCabe dresses in flawless clothing and Gary rolls in a dust covered jacket.
Guthrie draws his gun on an unsuspecting party.
The supporting cast is saturated with genre regulars like John McIntire (frequently seen in Anthony Mann films), effective as the politically manipulative Major Frazer. Shirley Jones is competent as the tomboyish blonde Marty, and Annelle Hayes is spunky as bar/hotel owner Belle Aragon, but Linda Cristal steals the female thunder later in the story as Elena. Woody Strode is sorely underused as an intimidating Buffalo Shield warrior named Stone Calf. Henry Brandon once again plays a Comanche Chief. He was Scar in The Searchers, and is Quanah Parker here. He is solid, but mainly silent. Willis Bouchey is distinctive and slimy as Henry J. Wringle, who is happy to pay McCabe a fortune if he grabs any 17 year-old white boy to appease his tormented wife. Ford fanatics will notice the Clegg family, who appeared in the director's Wagon Master in 1950. Last but not least is the buffoonish Sgt. Posey, depicted by Andy Devine. He takes care of the Cleggs by thrusting his belly into them.
Nobody captures the beauty of America quite like John Ford, but there are only a couple of those gorgeous vistas to behold in Two Rode Together. One of them displays a cloudy sky as Gary, McCabe, and the concerned families move to Oak Creek, a location closer to the Indian settlement. Cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. supplies premium shots, but at times they're missing that sweeping epic trait in favor of a more compact atmosphere. However, any scene that transpires outside at night, such as Gary and Marty dancing on the balcony, or McCabe's confrontation with Stone Calf, are striking and ably constructed. An overheard shot affords a great view of Lt. Gary fighting with the Cleggs as McCabe provides casual commentary.
Many argue that the absence of action means this story is boring, but that is far from true. Violence is simply not necessary in this scenario, whether or not that was Ford's objective. He and Nugent infuse Two Rode Together with elements of dark comedy and straight ahead drama. It is definitely a funny and melancholy tale, but the mixture is handled in a somewhat schizophrenic nature. These jarring shifts emanate mostly from Guthrie McCabe, whose silly ramblings can quickly change to a seriously cruel verbal lashing. The agreeably garrulous script has been carped for not being as powerful as The Searchers, but the humor separates it from that masterpiece. Ford does achieve a healthy depth regarding the whites' efforts to re-integrate the captives into society. The climax will pull you both ways as a heart wrenching twist is followed by a contrived conclusion, though it is a satisfying contrivance.
Two Rode Together has many messages, but it has difficulty instituting an affluent harmony for them at first. It succeeds as a story about double standards, senseless avarice, and misguided values. Recollections about this production have been discussed for years. Stewart and Ford argued over a hat, Ford communicated direction in a barely audible voice, and his comments on the picture as a whole was that it's "still crap." I wouldn't call it crap, but then again Ford's crap is worlds better than the very best from some filmmakers.
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--This will be the last "Random Thoughts" section for a few weeks as I prepare to tie the knot this weekend. Do not fret though because I have plenty of columns lined up.