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Saturday, November 25, 2006

troubled necessary viewing

Tonight I saw 'Two Rode Together' (1961), a tempermentally uneven western by John Ford starring James Stewart. Thematically, it revisited the white captivity themes of 'The Searchers' but with major differences. One could say a lot about this film but to whom? I doubt most people have seen it. They ought to, particularly if they think seriously about 'The Searchers'.

As a film, it's surprisingly poor for John Ford. The compositions are flat; there's too much exposition, delivered in static-frame long takes; there are artless shadows in some of the outdoor scenes. Writing-wise, its mood shifts too suddenly and too many times. Worse, it takes on a cornucopia of issues, all of which it shies away from exploring in any depth. As soon as anything gets hot, the story brushes past the difficulty or offers hokey resolutions.

Despite the film's many flaws, its racist pathologies are fascinating. The plot involves a mission to recover white captives from the Comanches, or to resign the lost to being, shall we say, beyond the pale. Stewart's character is thoroughly mercenary, at least until he turns in a different direction late in the film, but this is not otherwise a western where, as in 'Fort Apache', the white cavalry, under bad leadership, commits the treacherous acts that lead to conflict. Here the Native Americans are the bad guys, and their cultural and sexual taint renders their white captives un-integratable as returnees to white society. If any film scholars are reading this, I urge them to give this film the attention it is due as a thematic sequel to 'The Searchers'.


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