Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: John Ford
Starring: James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones, Linda Cristal, Andy Devine, John McIntire, Woody Strode
Hot on the heels of their release of Anthony Mann's The Man from Laramie, Eureka add another James Stewart western to their Masters of Cinema collection with a beautiful hi-def presentation of Stewart's first collaboration with America's Shakespeare, John Ford, 1961's Two Rode Together.
Ford introduces Stewart's Marshall McCabe with an image that recalls Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp in Ford's earlier My Darling Clementine, as Stewart leans back on a porch chair, his feet resting on a post. There's a significant difference however; rather than keeping watch on the town that pays him 10% of its earnings to keep the peace, McCabe is asleep, woken only when a barkeep arrives with a cold pint of beer and a cigar.
This is Ford continuing the deconstruction of the west he began in his 1956 masterpiece The Searchers, its original trailer even going so far as to mock the myth of noble white men protecting their lily white and pure women from Native American savagery. Stewart's McCabe couldn't be further from the dignified figure of Fonda's Earp. He fulfils the role of town Marshall not out of any sense of duty, but merely for profit. When he's approached by Cavalry officer Jim Gary (Richard Widmark) with the offer of joining him on a quest to retrieve women and children abducted years earlier by the Comanche, McCabe initially laughs at the idea of taking a cavlaryman's wage for risking his life, only agreeing when the families of the kidnapped stump up every bit of cash they can muster. "What's a human life worth?" McCabe is asked by John McIntire's outraged Cavalry officer. "Whatever the market will bear!" is his cold-hearted retort.
Two Rode Together was a critical and commercial flop on its release, with its director labelling it the worst movie he had made in 20 years. Ford had directed the adaptation of Will Cook's novel Comanche Captives as a favour to his late friend, Columbia Pictures head honcho Harry Cohn, and professed no personal interest in its material, shrugging it off as a poor man's Searchers knock-off. But Ford's view of his film is a reductive one, and with the benefit of history Two Rode Together is now viewed generally as one of his most under-rated works.
With Stewart essaying a morally dubious figure, Two Rode Together often feels like it belongs to the series of westerns the actor made with Anthony Mann, and Stewart even wears the same hat he sported in his five collaborations with the director. His McCabe begins the movie as a villain, cruelly breaking the heart of a young girl, Marty (Shirley Jones), by describing in explicit fashion the savage beast he imagines her abducted brother has now become as a teenage Comanche. Yet as the narrative progresses and we're exposed to the bigotry of the white settlers who hired him, he becomes more empathetic, if not entirely likeable. At least he's honest about his bigotry, unlike the cavalry men who refuse to dance with Elena (Linda Cristal), the Mexican senorita and one-time squaw of Woody Strode's Comanche chief brought back to 'civilisation' by McCabe.
This leads to one of the most powerful scenes in Ford's arsenal, as McCabe calls out the assembled white snobs on their prejudice, which reaches a sickening climax with the cold-blooded hanging of Marty's retrieved brother, whose inability to adjust to a return to white life leads him to kill the woman who falsely claimed him as her own. Stewart is a volcano of righteous rage in this scene, veins popping out of his forehead, those famous blue eyes cold and indeed a little scary. Nothing else in Hollywood cinema is quite as emotionally disturbing as seeing Stewart upset and angry, but here it's comforting to see his McCabe finally take a moral stand, even if it's a somewhat hypocritical one.
Isolated music and effects track, a video essay by Ford expert Tag Gallagher, and a booklet with a new essay from critic and author Richard Combs.
Two Rode Together is released on Dual Format Blu-Ray/DVD March 13th by Eureka Masters of Cinema.