“OK, I’ll do the damn thing,” said an ungracious John Ford of Two Rode Together, the project he took as a favour to mogul Harry Cohn. The director had worked with similar material in his masterpiece The Searchers, opting to replace John Wayne’s rites-of-passage hero with JAMES STEWART’s laconic chancer.
After the Comanches take civilian hostages, Marshal Guthrie McCabe (Stewart) is summoned to negotiate a release. The concept of nobility and heroics are alien to the lawman, who agrees to deal if he is rewarded twice – by the Calvary and the liberated prisoners. Together with Lt. Gray (RICHARD WIDMARK) he enters the Comanche camp to discover only four surviving prisoners.
Only two of the survivors merit rescue, one of whom, Elena (LINDA CRISTAL) has been the squaw of Stonecalf, a rival warrior who attempts his own rescue and is shot dead by McCabe. The settlers are horrified and accept the rescued hostages unwillingly, having discovered that McCabe’s version of nobility has consequences for them all.
Taking an experimental approach, Ford let the cast develop their characters and included a five-minute riverbed scene where Steward and Widmark indulge in an unrehearsed, semi-improvised discussion of the plot. It was later found that Ford’s bad temper was the real reason behind the shot – he had wanted his actors to suffer in icy water and extended the scene accordingly.
Those same leading men swapped personas, with Widmark uncharacteristically sympathetic and Stewart the vicious cynic. Both would return to normality to work with Ford again – Widmark in Cheyenne Autumn and Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
USA / Columbia – John Ford – Shpetner / 109 minutes / 1961 in Technicolor
Writer: Frank Nugent (from the novel by Will Cook) / Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr / Music: George Duning / Director: John Ford
Cast: James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones, Linda Cristal, Andy Devine