She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

“Never apologize; it’s a sign of weakness.”

Just after the Battle of Little Bighorn, a nearly-retired Cavalry officer (John Wayne) whose first sergeant (Victor McLaglen) can’t stay away from liquor is tasked with preventing an uprising by local Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, while also escorting an officer’s wife (Mildred Natwick) and niece (Joanne Dru) — who is being courted by two different officers (John Agar and Harry Carey, Jr.) — to a stagecoach station. Will Wayne be able to broker peace with his old friend Chief Pony That Walks (Chief John Big Tree) before massive killing ensues?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cavalry
  • Joanne Dru Films
  • John Agar Films
  • John Ford Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Native Americans
  • Retirement
  • Victor McLaglen Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “this isn’t the film with which to introduce friends to John Ford westerns”, “if you’re already a Ford fan, you’ll love the second picture in his cavalry trilogy, made between Fort Apache and Rio Grande.” He notes that it’s a “tribute to the old guard/old soldiers/the old cavalry,” focusing on the fact that while Lieutenant Cahill (Agar) “is not sufficiently prepared to assume… command at such a vital time,” Captain Brittles (Wayne) will have to accept that “a captain’s job is never done,” and “therefore there will come a time, a crucial time, when Brittles will have to leave his post in the hands of an inexperienced officer.” Peary writes that while “Wayne gives a fine performance,” the “film’s real star is cinematography Winton C. Hoch, who captured the Remington look” while filming “in Monument Valley”.

Peary argues that while “there are too many false endings… and a silly romantic triangle,” “once the cavalry start singing the title song, you’ll get emotional (if you’re a Ford fan) and forget all the film’s flaws” — which include a running gag about McLaglen’s tippling nature (culminating in a silly bar-room brawl), and a demeaning “cameo appearance” by Chief John Big Tree (who mimics some of his limited lines from Drums Along the Mohawk). Peary ultimately argues that while this is “not as good as Fort Apache,” it remains “essential Ford” — and with reluctance I would agree, simply for the incredible imagery.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Wayne as Captain Brittles (nominated by Peary as one of the
  • Stunning Technicolor cinematography by Winton C. Hoch

  • Incredible location shooting in Monument Valley

Must See?
Yes, once, for the Oscar-winning cinematography.


  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

  1. Not must-see, though it’s a respectable entry in the Ford canon and his fans will check it out.

    It’s charming watching Wayne’s character keeping a protective eye out for Dru’s character; but he’s fond of repeating the ‘macho’ quote used at the top of this post. It’s annoying ’cause it’s a dopey thing to say.

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