She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, based on story by James Warner Bellah
This is one of the classic western films, with established qualities, but also with some shortcomings.
The main premise is that the white, American cavalry is right in fighting the bad, American Native people and the casting of the whites in the roles of the heroes and the non-whites in the roles of villains is obviously wrong.
General Custer and a number of officers, troops, many of whom are familiar to the protagonists of this feature, had just died and this is casting a shadow over the narrative and the fear that the travelers might be massacred.
Captain Nathan Cutting Brittles is the hero, portrayed by the legendary John Wayne, the most popular, loved actor in America and some other countries, for decades, including after his death.
In Who the Hell’s In The Picture by the great director Peter Bogdanovich, we learn many aspects from the lives of major, quintessential actors, including The Duke and his anecdote that involved another deity, Henry Fonda.
The two had some drinks in a bar in Mexico, where they had arrived on the boat owned by John Ford, the director of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and so many other Duke films, when a huge snake, a python maybe, is brought to Wayne, who wanted to scare Fonda, who seemed to have had too much to drink.
Only Henry Fonda was used with snakes, did not fear them, took the one in question and went after The Duke, who was not familiar with reptiles and hurried away.
Captain Nathan Brittles has only a few days left from retirement and he uses a red crayon to mark them down, when Second Lieutenant Ross Pennell comes into the room and extracts a bottle of alcohol, which he thinks he had cleverly hidden for so long out of view, without the captain knowing about it.
Later on, it is discovered that Nathan Brittles is the one who had been laughing, all along, for so many years, giving the impression he is unaware, but taking amusement in just pretending he is fooled.
Major Mac Allshard orders the captain to take his wife, Abby Allshard and the beautiful niece, Olivia Dandridge to a location where they are supposed to meet with other troops and have them out of harm’s way.
Given the perils involved, the hero does not only protest loudly, but he also puts this in writing, considering the whole operation too dangerous to take the two women along, in a wagon, near enemy territory.
These were the views of the time, but with perspective and fairness, one would realize that America was Native American land and the colonists from Europe mostly, just took the land from the rightful owners.
The title of the feature, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, refers to the fact that Olivia Dandridge wears one in her hair, which is a statement that she likes someone, she is infatuated with a man in the Cavalry.
The problem is she would not say who and this can be taken as a game played by younger people, a flirting that is innocent and can do no harm, maybe contribute to make the men in question stronger, more manly.
On the other hand, it can appear as a superficial, careless, antagonizing, maybe even cruel attitude, given that the young woman was actually playing with the feelings of two officers, both of them in love, or at least thinking they are, with one of the few females they encounter and a very attractive one at that.
Lieutenant Flint Cohill and second Lieutenant Ross Pennell are adversaries, compete for the attention, feelings and appreciation of the young woman and they nearly come to blows trying to eliminate their nemesis.
As they move on their way, the captain and the troops he commands encounter some of their own comrades, who had been attacked by the Native Americans and with hindsight, one could look at this movie and support the side that the filmmakers meant for the audience to reject and actually feel dejected by what the white men did.
There is a scene wherein Captain Brittles talks to a Native American leader, Pony That Walks, and they both seem much wiser, peaceful than the troops they command, regretting the ones that would die in the seemingly unavoidable battle, which in the film seems to have the white on the right side…false as this is.
The white invaders have eliminated the Natives and taken their lands, but in one relevant scene in the film, the public gets a snippet, just a small piece of Native American “injustice”, the killing of some traders, over the prices offered for some rifles, which were then taken and the white salesmen killed.
Of course, people on both sides have been involved in wrongdoing and scalping, taking the skin and hair from the top of the head of your enemy does not sound civilized or ethical, but the truth remains that the Cherokee, Cheyenne and other great tribes have all been exterminated, with very few exceptions that live in reservations now, where they tend to have shorter, more agitated, violent lives than the majority.
This motion picture provokes the audiences into meditating, thinking about how to rate it- to appreciate the values, talent and the story as it is, or reject the main idea that white heroes are fighting and defeating non- white, but entitled owners of land and property taken away from them by the People of the United Sates…
This film is on the New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list: