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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Drama > Action > War > Two Rode Together (1961/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)

Two Rode Together (1961/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)

Picture: B+ Sound: B Extras: B Film: B-

PLEASE NOTE: This Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, is limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last from the links below.

It's strange watching a John Ford film and thinking, for a very good portion of its runtime, ''This looks really cheap.'' What sets his classics apart - titles like The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach - from lesser works, in part, is craftsmanship. Vistas are sweeping. Sets are lived in. The photography is sumptuous. But with more than 100 directorial credits, Ford certainly has some misses blotting his record, and his 1961 film Two Rode Together is certainly one of them.

Set in the post-Civil War west, cavalry lieutenant Jim Gary (Richard Widmark) recruits a local marshal, Guthrie McCabe (Jimmy Stewart), to enter a Comanche camp and trade with the chief for the release of white prisoners captured in raids. Gary is on the mission per orders from his major. But McCabe is a septic opportunist who believes anyone caught by the Comanche might as well be dead already. He scorns the native peoples, the Army, the people looking for their loved ones - and when he's talked into facilitating the trade, his only concern is squeezing as many people as possible for the most amount of cash possible. Along the way, Gary falls in love with a young woman (Shirley Jones) who's brother was captured years ago, while McCabe's misanthropy is tested by a Mexican woman (Linda Cristal, who make the heartbreaking most out of a thin part) freed from the Comanche.

If that sounds a bit like The Searchers, that's because a lot of the plot feels recycled from Ford's seminal masterpiece. The obvious similarity is between Stewart's McCabe and John Wayne's Ethan Edwards. Both are unapologetic bigots, single-mindedly driven by their own selfish ends: Ethan, an Old West Ahab, wants the destruction of the Comanche; McCabe wants to get paid. The connection with The Searchers extends even to the direction, signaled in the first shot of Two Rode Together: a young Mexican boy pulls on a rope to ring the bell of a chapel, and the image is framed by the doorway of a church, instantly recalling the iconic through-open-door shots in the earlier film. Normally you could brush this aside as simply a Fordian motif. But with such a strong narrative and spiritual bond to The Searchers, these touches in Two Rode Together feel more like Ford - who had fallen on hard times before making the film - trying to replicate past glory.

Indeed, there are shadows of Ford's earlier work littering the film. When we're introduced to McCabe, for example, he's reclining on the porch of a saloon in a clear echo of Henry Fonda in My Daughter Clementine. Later, as the locals retreat into their own biases and hatred after Gary and McCabe return to camp with a man and woman from the Comanche camp, Ford digs into the social justice territory of How Green Was My Valley and The Fugitive. So, held at the right angle, Two Rode Together could be seen as a John Ford Greatest Hits collection.

Except, the film feels like something made on a television budget. Sets feel shoddy, especially when McCabe and Gary are riding to and from the Comanches; costumes look retread, as if characters were given whatever was leftover from another production; the score is a nuisance, something akin to what you'd hear on Ponderosa. It's strange to think that a John Ford film in 1961 could be considered a B picture, especially given the actors involved here, but that's precisely how Two Rode Together plays. It doesn't help that Ford's heart doesn't really seem in it. (He later admitted that the film was ''the worst piece of crap I've done in twenty years.'')

And yet, the force of Ford's skill as a director makes it impossible for the film to fall utterly flat. There's a long single-shot scene about 14 minutes into the film where Gary and McCabe, resting a spell in their journey to an Army base, sit on a river bank and proceed to razz each other. It's such a simple moment, well acted and paced and full of the male camaraderie Ford's films are known for. But it's creatively exceptional for his confidence to not break our gaze. Ford brings us in as a participant in the conversation, and it's utterly wonderful.

Beyond that, there are a few moments of beautiful natural photography, courtesy of cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr., which is a requisite for any Ford picture. And as the film builds to its climax, and Ford seems to be picking up interest, the film wallops us with a harrowing scene of frontier justice gone horribly wrong. The man rescued from the Comanche camp is lynched, and this being 1961 - and Ford being Ford - it stands for far more than that. Ford has Southerners the ones spurring on the the lynch mob, which gives the scene a not-so-subtle subtext condemning what was happening to the black population in America at the time.

There's quite a bit of this dyspeptic view of America in Two Rode Together. Authority, as personified by McCabe, is venal and corrupt, always looking for ways to get its beak wet. The government, as embodied by the Army, is ineffectual at best, full of bluster and pomp and very little moral credibility. And the normal people, the homesteaders fulfilling the nation's Manifest Destiny? They're the worst of all: ignorant, self-interested, delusional, and, racist. But there's no bigger indictment of America than when McCabe, played by Jimmy Stewart - Mr. Smith himself - rejects the Army's pleas for him to do his duty and help rescue those kidnapped by the Comanche. And rejects them again. And again. And then, finally, accepts only after the Army major leading the operation offers to pay him $80 a week - and then McCabe insists on shaking down the family members for bounties on whoever he brings back. To hear Stewart say, essentially, everything has a price - including civilian prisoners of war - is crushing. Because you know it's true, and there's no pretense to the contrary. Ford refuses to wrap the story in the flag, and Stewart is a willing accomplice. There's a bite and edge to Stewart's post-war characters, but McCabe might his most most pessimistic - and despicable. (He's redeemed in the end, but not enough to wash the bad taste left by the earlier moments in the film out of your mouth.)

Two Rode Together, a misfit work in the Ford canon, was the first film he made with Stewart. Their second collaboration, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is one of the greatest American films of all time. So if this is what got us that, then this is a vital piece of cinema. But as a film unto itself, Two Rode Together has some things to say about the era in which it was made, and it allows Stewart to really dismantle his on-screen persona. But in total, it's an interesting mess that should be seen more as a curio than anything else.

Twilight Time's limited-edition Blu-Ray gives us a decent presentation of the film. The Technicolor print looks good enough in its solid 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition presentation, though it is soft and muted in a few places (more the print than any alignment issues from its original three-strip, dye-transfer 35mm prints as lensed by the smart Director of Photography Charles Lawton, Jr.), while the 1.0 DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless Mono audio adequately represents the original theatrical mono mix with a music score by George Duning.

Extras-wise, the disc comes with the Twilight Time-standard isolated music score by Duning and booklet essay by Julie Kirgo. Also included is the original theatrical trailer, which is quite fascinating. It begins in widescreen, with a black-and-white TV sitting on a color mantle. The TV is playing an old, fusty Western while a narrator proclaims how it's a fake and that the Old West wasn't really like that. Then, it cuts to an enveloping color widescreen shot from the film as the narrator exclaims that Two Rode Together is the real Old West because John Ford made it and he knows what he's doing. (Watching it today, it's hard not to think of the trailers George Lucas cut for the theatrical release of the Star Wars Special Editions.) The trailer perfectly captures Hollywood's late-'50s/early-'60s obsession with distinguishing movies - big, bold, widescreen, color, authentic - apart from television - small, bland, square, black and white, fake. And since it's also a sell tool for a movie that feels like it was made on a TV budget, there's also an unintentional irony that makes the trailer something rather remarkable.

You can order this limited edition Blu-ray while supplies last (with other great releases) at these links:




- Dante A. Ciampaglia


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