The Olive Signature division of Olive Films once more shows a business rival who's your daddy as to the Nov. 17, 2020 Signature release of "Rio Grande" that features John Wayne reuniting with the teen son that the Wayne character has not seen for 15 years. The copious bonus features, including a 20-minute Leonard Maltin documentary, are must-see as the Signature pristine restoration of the film.
This one is a perfect gift for anyone who likes Wayne or appreciates classic cinema.
The only downside as to "Rio Grande" being such a classic that is far more than a Western is an inability to do this final installment in the director John Ford Cavalry Trilogy justice. The behind-the-scenes tidbits include Ford and Wayne only agreeing to make this film in exchange for a promise for the studio to make (reviewed) "The Quiet Man," which also has a Signature release. A more modern example of this is Bill Murray conditioning starring in "Ghostbusters" on being able to make "The Razor's Edge."
Our story begins with Army post commander Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) leading a "mission accomplished" parade home to the cheers of the women and the children at that facility near the titular body of water. His celebration is short-lived on learning that estranged son/West Point washout Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman, Jr. of "The Yearling,") is among the new recruits. Although many film historians likely consider this heresy and The Duke probably is spinning in his grave, "Rio Grande" arguably is more Jarman's movie than Wayne's.
One of the best scenes in the film has Kirby calling Jeff into his tent to make it clear that their relationship is a hinderance, rather than a help. Jarman holding his own against Wayne and ultimately besting him is one of many ways that that young turk pioneer bests that member of the old guard.
A similar (even more amusing scene) has Jeff show that he is in one of the boys when he takes on the toughest "con" in the yard. An endearing "morning after" scene perfectly conveys that Jeff has passed an initiation that his peers are spared.
The plot thickens on Yorke's estranged wife Kathleen Yorke (Maureen O'Hara) showing up to bring her boy home. The masterful gradual reveal as to that conflict is very era apt.
The dignity and stoicism of Kathleen perfectly showcase the talents of O'Hara. This includes this former Southern belle becoming a laundress for the men in order to stay around long enough to convince her boy to come home.
An element of frontier justice enters the picture as to Trooper Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) having the law catch up to him as to a crime with which he is charged. The manner in which Kirby resolves the conflict between upholding the law and supporting justice is a prime example of "Rio Grande" having much more substance than saloon fights and cattle stampedes. The end result of all this shows that the Hays Code also has a heart.
"Rio Grande" shows the other side of this coin as to the pursuit of marauders who successfully make a run for the border after killing a few good men. Kirby understandably would like to take off in lukewarm pursuit but knows that he is obliged to respect the sovereignty of our neighbor to the South.
All the elements of "Rio Grande" converge as to an event that shows Kirby that no good deed goes unpunished. He, ala Picard when The Enterprise faces a massive threat, orders the evacuation of the women and the children. This leads those innocents directly into an ambush in a scene that is pure Ford. A 2020 perspective must be expressed as to distress on seeing soldiers using a horse as a barrier; fortunately, that magnificent beast lives to trot another day.
This leads to a rescue mission that is equal parts heart and heroics; this also brings peace to the Kirby clan.
In addition to the aforementioned Maltin feature, Signature provides a bonus in which Jarman discusses the amazing story of how he is discovered. The icing on the cake this time is learning of the Jarman memoir "My Life and the Final Days of Hollywood."
Signature additionally has a feature in which Wayne real-life son Patrick discusses his late father; a documentary on the treatment of Native Americans in the film; the theatrical trailer; a written essay, and much more.