Review: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon


John Ford
Frank Nugent, Laurence Stallings (Story: James Warner Bellah)
103 min.
John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields, Michael Dugan, Chief John Big Tree, Fred Graham, Chief Sky Eagle, TOm Tyler, Noble Johnson
MPAA Rating

Buy on DVD


The proverbial yellow ribbon worn by women when their loves were sent to war. It’s touched on briefly in this film, but doesn’t really seem to have any importance to the structure of the story. A brief portrait of the life of cavalrymen in the Old West as the U.S. was facing a strong uprising from the Native Americans after they had just defeated General Custer.

Although not strictly a cowboys-and-indians western, the elements of such films are certainly present from the long gallops across the vast expanse of the west to the bar brawls. The only thing really missing are the shootouts. Now, it must be said before evaluating my opinions of this film, that I don’t care much for westerns and I don’t like John Wayne as an actor, and less so as a person. I want to be honest about these things before you take my comments out of context. I have seen a handful of westerns I’ve liked, but this is not one of them. The movie doesn’t seem to be about anything. There are no important story arcs. There’s no convincing emotional development. It seems to just move from point A to point B aimlessly. And with a title like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, you expect it to be more about the women in the film and their loves than about John Wayne’s character and you also expect something bad to happen to one of the potential yellow ribbon suitors.

Perhaps realism in westerns was a long time coming, or perhaps because this wasn’t about actual cowboys, the movie needed to lack that realism. Sure there’s no unnecessary sentimentalism in the film, but there are no real stand-up-and-cheer moments either. It’s kind of like a lengthy, unnecessary document of military cavalrymen and nothing more. As for Wayne, I didn’t find him nearly as annoying as I have in the past. He does have a softer side to him that I’ve haven’t really seen before. However, there’s also nothing earth shattering or exceptional. It’s a kind of lived-in performance, but not much more than that. The rest of the actors in the film are interchangeable or stereotyped. The only actor I found any interest in was Mildred Natwick and she was underused.

Of course, the film does one thing exceedingly well. It looks gorgeous. The cinematography is breathtaking and after so many other movies before and after took place on sound stages and against faux backdrops, here we have one that takes place in the wide outdoors and is captured beautifully by Winton Hoch who deservedly won an Oscar for his work. It’s almost as if Ford set out to prove that films could be shot on location with little effort and look good, but then forgot to make a challenging and exciting movie to surround the concept.
Review Written
August 23, 2010

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