She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is a 1949 RKO Western film, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. The film is considered the second installment in Ford's so-called "Cavalry Trilogy," which also includes Fort Apache (1948) and Rio Grande (1950). It is the only color film of the trilogy.
The film takes place in 1876 during the Indian Wars, detailing the last mission of the retiring career cavalry captain, Nathan Brittles, who must neutralize the threat of the would-be Indian messiah Red Shirt (Noble Johnson), in which Brittles is aided by Sergeants Quincannon (Victor McGlaglen) and Tyree (Ben Johnson). Meanwhile, pretty Eastern tourist Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru), niece of the wife (Mildred Natwick) of the fort's commander, Major Allshard (George O'Brien), has been setting the younger officers of the fort by the heels, particularly Lieutenants Flint Cohill (John Agar) and Ross Pennell (Harry Carey Jr.).
Set against the backdrop of Ford's favorite setting, Monument Valley, Utah, the film was deliberately designed to emulate the paintings of Western artist Frederic Remington. The 41-year-old Wayne's performance as the 60-year-old Captain Brittles impressed critics, and Patrick Wayne reported that this film remained his father's favorite of the many he had made.
Tropes associated with this film include:
- Artistic License History: The opening narration states that another defeat such as Custer's would have meant that it would be 100 years before another wagon train crossed the plains, which is nonsense, as by 1876 the Transcontinental Railroad had been in operation for seven years and the cross-country wagon train was on its way out. The narration also states that the Sioux and Cheyenne were uniting in war, while in real life the Indian concentration that had led to Custer's defeat broke up almost immediately after the battle.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Sergeant Quincannon
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: John Wayne's Nathan Brittles to Victor McLaglan's Quincannon.
- Catchphrase: "Never apologize; it's a sign of weakness"; "...in ten or twelve years."
- A Father to His Men: Describes Brittles' relationship to his command.
- Grave-Marking Scene: Captain Brittles regularly revisits the grave of his wife and children, thus enabling a series of Surrogate Soliloquies.
- Hollywood Darkness: It's 12 minutes to midnight when Brittles and the cavalry drive off the Comanche horses. It isn't dark. One might imagine a full moon, but the sky is still light!
- Improbable Age: Averted. The 1870s cavalry unit depicted is officered primarily by 30 and 40 year old Lieutenants and Captains.
- Injun Country: Comanche, Arapahoe, and other tribes are on the warpath, inspired by the defeat of Custer at the Little Bighorn.
- Musical Gag: The cavalry blacksmith is named Wagner; when he appears, the soundtrack plays the smithying Leitmotif from Der Ring des Nibelungen.
- Riding into the Sunset: Nathan Brittles is about to do this, when he's called back.
- Scenery Porn: The cinematographer, Winton Hoch, won the 1950 Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography in this movie.
- Shout-Out: In the graveyard, one of the crosses carries the name "De Voto", this is likely an homage to Bernard De Voto, a prominent historian of the American West.
- Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying: Averted and Lampshaded, when Olivia Dandridge complains about having to walk instead of riding, saying she might as well be with the Infantry; Lt. Cohill tartly replies, "We soon would be, if we didn't ease these horses."
- Sound Off: An old cavalry song supplies the title.
- Supporting Protagonist: Olivia Dandridge, the namesake of the film's title. Captain Brittles is the real protagonist.
- Surrogate Soliloquy: Captain Brittles uses the graveside variant.
- Talking to the Dead: Brittles has a chat with his dead wife at her grave, telling her that he'll soon be retiring.
- Title Drop: The traditional song which begins and ends the film contains the titles, both of the film itself, and of the trilogy as a whole. The "Cavalry! cavalry!" refrain in particular sounds like a signature for the trilogy.
- Took a Third Option: Not wanting a bloody war with the Indians, Brittles comes up with a plan to scare off their horses, preventing them from mounting an attack and effectively ending the war without a single casualty on either side.
- The Unapologetic: See Catchphrase.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Brittle angrily calls out Cohill and Pennell for getting into a brawl immediately after Smith's funeral.
- The Wild West