An unhappy experience for director John Ford making Two Rode Together was, according to numerous reports from those involved, something he then took out on the cast and crew. Doing this western largely for the money, it apparently held little interest for Ford creatively. Perhaps coming only a few years after The Searchers (critically appreciated at the time of its release and a box office hit, only growing in reputation since) in which he explored similar themes, and with no personal stakes in the outcome, we can understand why.
Still, it’s fair to say that even Ford going through the motions frequently works better than a lot of other contemporary directors trying hard. Additionally this has James Stewart playing against type as the corrupt, cynical Marshall Guthrie McCabe and support from the likes of Richard Widmark. This new Masters of Cinema release is an opportunity to review whether cinema alchemy still happened despite having the disinterested Ford at the helm. It didn’t quite, but has enough to recommend. Guthrie is a Marshall enjoying having his feet up on the porch and skimming money from town businesses. That is until he’s roped into partnering with cavalry Lt. Jim Gary (Widmark) to lead an attempt to negotiate with the Comanches for the return of a number of kidnapped settler children.
Gary and Guthrie have different expectations for how this will go down, and different measures of success. What follows is a not entirely comfortable mix of trail movie, drama and romance with some near-slapstick clowning thrown in for good measure. The expedition Guthrie and Gary go on is wrapped up fairly quickly in a perfunctory manner. This is no bad thing, as the directions the film threatens to head off in, in particular the repatriation of children who have effectively become Comanche, are much more interesting. That Two Rode Together never really takes hold of these concepts and follows them through is a real disappointment, despite a powerful and grimly effective conclusion. If Ford truly didn’t care much for the film it shows. His direction is static and generally remains too tethered, whilst conversely the script veers off in one direction then another with scant regard for creating a cohesive whole.
It’s by no means a dud however, mainly thanks to the impeccable efforts of the cast. Widmark brings his craggy charm to the role of Gary, and he’s ably supported by Shirley Jones and Linda Cristal amongst others. The best thing about it is the peerless James Stewart who makes Guthrie a remarkable, complex creation. Two Rode Together is not a hitherto overlooked classic, nor is the turkey Ford considered it later on. It’s perfectly decent, enlivened by excellent actors.
TWO RODE TOGETHER / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN FORD / SCREENPLAY: FRANK S. NUGENT / STARRING: JAMES STEWART, RICHARD WIDMARK, SHIRLEY JONES / RELEASE DATE: 13TH MARCH