Rio Grande (1950)

John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and Claude Jarman Jr.
John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and Claude Jarman Jr.

'Rio Grande' is a Western adventure movie, made in 1950, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. It is the third of John Ford's so-called "cavalry trilogy," following 'Fort Apache' in 1948 and 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' in 1949. John Wayne starred in all three films and all three were based on short stories by James Warner Bellah.

'Rio Grande' is based on a Bellah short story from 1947, "Mission With No Record", and was allegedly undertaken by John Ford in order to get backing for his financially risky personal project, the romantic comedy about Ireland, 'The Quiet Man'. The president of Republic Pictures, Herbert Yates, had no confidence in the script of 'The Quiet Man', and wanted the more obviously commercial 'Rio Grande' to be released first to recoup possible future losses. It is ironic that when 'The Quiet Man' was eventually released two years after 'Rio Grande' it became a critical and financial hit for Republic Pictures and is now regarded as a John Ford classic.

'Rio Grande' tends to be overshadowed by Ford's other works but it is an excellent film with a tightly constructed plot, well-developed characters excellently acted by a good cast, and an uplifting message about family values and the spirit of heroism.


The action takes place after the Civil War involves Yankee Captain Kirby York (John Wayne reprising his role from 'Fort Apache' in 1948) in charge of an outpost on the Rio Grande and his estranged Southern wife Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara). One of Kirby's new recruits is their son whom he hasn't seen for 15 years. Kirby and Kathleen fall in love again and he has to battle a bloody Indian war whilst reconciling the broken lives of his family.


Ford worked with a much reduced budget, approximately half of the budget for 'Fort Apache' two years earlier. To cut costs he re-used some wide-angle scenes from the earlier film.

'Rio Grande' is particularly memorable for the first pairing of Maureen O'Hara opposite Wayne. There is a powerful, totally believable on screen chemistry between them and they went on to make a further four films together. It was also the first film in which Wayne acted with his son Patrick. They are well supported by the so-called "John Ford stock company" with superb efforts particularly from Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen.

Maureen O'Hara was only 14 years older than Claude Jarman, playing her son.

One point of interest is that 'Rio Grande' is one of only three movies in which Wayne wears a moustache. The other two are 'Texas Terror' in 1935 and 'Back to Bataan' in 1945.

The movie was shot on location around the towns of Mexican Hat, Utah, and Moab, Monument Valley, Utah. Wayne later said he considered the movie to be a representation of the current events in Korea. During filming North Korea invaded the South and Chinese forces attacked U.S. positions in North Korea. The conflicting opinions of using diplomacy or naked force in such a situation mirrored part of the plot of 'Rio Grande'.

Main Cast

John Wayne ... Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke
Maureen O'Hara ... Kathleen Yorke
Ben Johnson ... Trooper Tyree
Claude Jarman Jr. ... Trooper Jeff Yorke
Harry Carey Jr. ... Trooper Daniel "Sandy" Boone
Victor McLaglen ... Sgt. Maj. Quincannon
Chill Wills ... Dr. Wilkins
J. Carrol Naish ... Gen. Philip Sheridan
Grant Withers ... Deputy Marshal
Peter Julien Ortiz ... Capt. St. Jacques
Gaylord Pendleton ... Capt. Prescott
Karolyn Grimes ... Margaret Mary

John Wayne (1907-1979)
Wayne was one of the most successful and best known actors in Hollywood. He appeared in almost 180 films over the course of his career and won a Best Actor Oscar in 1969. His box-office appeal was huge and his movies have so far grossed over $700million - far in excess of any other performer.
Yet, he was far more than just a money making machine. He became a legend, an icon for the youth of America and the world to aspire to, an image of moral strength, physical courage and immense determination. His career spans almost the entire history of Hollywood, beginning in silent movies in the 1920's right up to 'The Shootist' in 1976 when he gave one of his greatest ever performances.
The American Film Institute named him thirteenth among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. In 2007 a Harris Poll placed Wayne third among America's favorite film stars. He is the only one who has appeared on the poll every year. His movie,'The Searchers' was named the Greatest Western of all time by the American Film Institute in 2008. He is still the most popular actor in history and is still, today, 3 decades after his death, an immense presence towering over Hollywood.
Maureen O'Hara (b.1920)
Maureen is an Irish-born film actress and singer who appeared in some of the most important movies of Hollywood's Golden Age. Tall, slender and athletic, she was famous for her mane of flaming red hair, deep green eyes and creamy complexion and was dubbed the "Queen of Technicolor".
She had a fiery screen presence and her versatility enabled her to work within various genres including social dramas such as 'How Green Was My Valley' as well as classics such as 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' or swashbucklers like 'The Black Swan'. She was a favorite actress of director John Ford and was a great personal friend of John Wayne with whom she made five films. After retiring from movies in the early 1970's, she became a successful businesswoman.
Harry Carey Jr (1921-2012)
The son of American character actor, Harry Carey, he served with the US Navy during WWII before beginning his 90 movie Hollywood career. He often worked with John Ford, who became a close friend, and formed part of the "John Ford Stock Company". His 1994 book about his experiences working with Ford was called "Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company".
Victor McLaglen (1886-1959)
Born in England, he moved with his family to South Africa when still a child. He briefly joined the British Army before movieng to Canada and becoming a wrestler and boxer. During WWI he rejoined the British Army and was named Heavyweight Champion of the British Army in 1918. After the war he moved to Hollywood and became a well known actor, usually in supporting roles. In 1935 he won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in John Ford's 'The Informer'.


Director ... John Ford
Producer ... Merian C. Cooper, John Ford
Distribution Company ... Republic
Screenplay ... James K. McGuinness, based on the story by James Warner Bellah
Music ... Victor Young
Cinematography ... Bert Glennon, Archie J. Stout
Format ... B & W
Release date ... November 15, 1950
Running time ... 105 minutes

Academy Awards

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