She Wore a Yellow Ribbon [1949]

The second installment of John Ford's famous cavalry trilogy (which also includes Fort Apache and Rio Grande), this meditative Western continues the director's fascination with history's obliteration of the past. It features one of John Wayne's more sensitive performances as Capt. Nathan Brittles, a stern yet sentimental war horse who has difficulty preparing for his impending military retirement. All things considered, he refuses to leave before fulfilling his obligation to the local Indian tribe. It's a film about honor and duty as well as loneliness and mortality. And Oscar-winner Winton C. Hoch beautifully photographs it in Remington-like Technicolor tones (you've never seen such stunning cloud-covered skies). The combination of melancholy and farce (Victor McLaglen makes a perfect court jester) evokes comparisons to Shakespeare. Best of all, the scene in which Wayne fights back tears when receiving a gold watch from his troops is unforgettably bittersweet. If you view the whole trilogy, it actually makes sense to save this for last. --Bill Desowitz

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