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One of Ford’s best – “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” – Warner Archive

Updated: Jun 13, 2022


John Wayne stars as Nathan Brittles, a silver-haired captain and father figure for the Company C troops.

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Blu-ray full-frame, 1949, unrated

Best extra: Vacation home movies from John Ford that should've stayed in the family closet

LEGENDARY DIRECTOR director John "Pappy" Ford was captivated by the desolate landscape of Monument Valley. With its spectacular red buttes and ocean of sand and stone, it became his trademark soundstage. His favorite Western star, John "Duke" Wayne rides across the Arizona/Utah mesa.

Ford's love for the area was never more apparent than in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," with Winton Hoch's expansive Oscar-winning color cinematography.

Loosely based on two Saturday Evening Post short stories, "War Party" and "The Big Hunt" by James Warner Bellah, this western yarn follows Nathan Brittles (Wayne), a silver haired captain and father figure for the Company C troops of the Seventh Cavalry at Fort Strake. He's been counting the days before his retirement – only six left. This Army assignment in the rugged frontier hasn't been easy for Brittles; he's lost his wife, his daughter and son. They're buried just outside the fort walls, where he visits regularly recounting the daily affairs to them. The scene is bathed in the warmest Technicolor tones of the setting sun. Steven Spielberg borrowed the technique for his beautifully filmed "War Horse."

The desolate landscape of Monument Valley near the Utah and Arizona border highlights the Oscar-winning color cinematography.

Joanne Dru stars as Olivia Dandridge, the lovely niece of Major Allshard (George O'Brien).

Capt. Brittles writes a letter.

Rumor of an Indian uprising looms. The battle at Little Bighorn and General Custer's death is fresh on everyone minds and the payroll stagecoach has just been ambushed. Major Allshard (George O'Brien) orders Brittles and his men to escort the major's wife (Mildred Natwick) and their lovely niece Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru) away from the vulnerable fort to safer ground. Lt. Cohill (John Agar) and Lt. Pennell (Carey Jr.) compete for Olivia's affection. She's braided her hair with yellow ribbons for the cross country trip, a sign she's got a sweetheart, says Brittles.

Joining the Duke are most of Ford's stock company of actors, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. and Victor McLaglen. "Yellow Ribbon" is the second in Ford's cavalry trilogy flanked by "Fort Apache" (1947) and "Rio Grande" (1950).

The true stars behind this remarkable 4K restoration are the technicians and computer wizards who preserved, restored and clean the three-strip Technicolor process used by Hoch. Monument Valley has never looked more striking. Captured on the oversized Technicolor camera nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, there's not a single color out of alignment. The resolution is so detailed you can separate each soldier on horseback, framed in scale like toy soldiers against the expansive landscape and sky. Ford and Hoch show the varying moods of the valley, keeping cameras rolling during a violent thunderstorm. Thunderbolts leap across the heavens and it's not CGI.

Audiences loved "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" in the late 1940s. If you're a Wayne fan this one has to be on the buy list. I only wish Warner Bros. had released this gem on the new 4K Ultra HD format. It would've been spectacular!

― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer

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Doc Sigmier
Doc Sigmier
May 17, 2022


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