Rio Grande was the result of a brief alliance between Ford's Argosy Productions and Republic Studios (Wayne made many pictures at Monogram, one of the companies that preceded Republic). Ford's relationship with Republic producer Herbert Yates was a prickly one; by 1950, Ford had his sights set on The Quiet Man, a movie that would become a classic for Ford and Wayne both. Yates, however, insisted on a solid box-office film from Ford before he'd consider investing in The Quiet Man. The result was Rio Grande, an archetypal cavalry Western.
Based on Bellah's "Mission With No Record", Rio Grande finds Wayne reprising his role as Col. Kirby Yorke, assigned to a remote outpost on the Rio Grande with an assignment to train fifteen recruits, one of whom is his son he's not seen in years. His mother shows up to remove him, but the young trooper decides to stay and fight the Apaches. Soon Yorke finds himself locked in a family conflict and a bloody Indian war, facing the possibility of a court-martial for his unorthodox tactics.
Shot on location in Moab, Utah, Rio Grande was treated as an exercise by Ford (Harry Carey, Jr. called it one of the director's "vacation pictures"). The budget was half of the production costs for Fort Apache, and no one, Ford included, seemed to take the project very seriously. The director was especially irritated when producer Yates showed up on location with fellow Republic executive Rudy Ralston. Pointing out the time (it was ten in the morning), Yates asked when Ford intended to start shooting; "Just as soon as you get the hell of my set", Ford supposedly replied. The director later played a practical joke on the two producers at dinnertime. He hired one of his actors, Alberto Morin, to masquerade as a French waiter with poor English skills. During their meal, Morin managed to spill soup on the men, break several plates, and create a general ruckus in the dining room but Yates and Ralston never seemed to catch on to the joke.
In June 1950, while Rio Grande was being filmed in Utah, North Korea was invading South Korea. By late November, when the picture was in theaters, Chinese forces were attacking U.S. positions in North Korea. General Douglas MacArthur suggested using atomic weapons against the Chinese but President Harry Truman opposed the idea. This conflict between diplomatic tact and defense through aggression was certainly a timely theme and the subplot of Rio Grande mirrored a similar situation.
One last bit of trivia: Rio Grande features nine songs, many of which are performed by the Sons of the Pioneers. It was also the first of five films in which John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara starred together, the others being The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), McLintock! (1963), and Big Jake (1971).
Producer: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford, Herbert J. Yates
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: James Warner Bellah (story "Mission With No Record"), James Kevin McGuinness
Art Direction: Frank Hotaling
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Costume Design: Adele Palmer
Film Editing: Jack Murray
Original Music: Dale Evans (songs), Stan Jones (songs), Tex Owens (songs), Victor Young
Principal Cast: John Wayne (Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke), Maureen O'Hara (Mrs. Kathleen Yorke), Ben Johnson (Trooper Travis Tyree), Claude Jarman Jr. (Trooper Jeff Yorke), Harry Carey Jr. (Trooper Daniel "Sandy" Boone), Chill Wills (Doctor Wilkins), Victor McLaglen (Sergeant Quincannon), J. Carrol Naish (General Sheridan).
BW-105m. Closed captioning.
by Jerry Renshaw