|Two Rode Together
by Will Cook
|Charles Lawton, Jr.
John Ford Productions
Two Rode Together is a 1961 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring James Stewart, Richard Widmark, and Shirley Jones. The supporting cast includes Linda Cristal, Andy Devine, and John McIntire. The film was based upon the 1959 novel Comanche Captives by Will Cook.
In 1880s Tascosa, Texas, Marshal Guthrie McCabe is content to be the business and personal partner of attractive saloon owner Belle Aragon, receiving 10% of the profits. When relatives of Comanche captives demand that Army Major Frazer find their lost ones, he uses a combination of army pressure and rewards from the families to get the reluctant McCabe to take on the job of ransoming any he can find. He assigns Lt. Jim Gary, a friend of McCabe's, to accompany him.
Marty Purcell is haunted by the memory of her younger brother Steve, abducted nine years earlier, when he was eight and she was 13. She keeps a music box that belonged to him. McCabe warns her that Steve will not remember her because he was a young boy when he was taken. McCabe is also promised a large reward by Harry Wringle, the wealthy stepfather of another boy.
McCabe bargains with Chief Quanah Parker, and finds four white captives. Two refuse to go back with him, one a young woman who is now married with children and the other an old woman, Mrs. Clegg, who regards herself as already dead. He does ransom a teenaged boy named Running Wolf, whom McCabe hopes is the lost son of the wealthy Wringles, and a Mexican woman, Elena de la Madriaga. Elena is the wife of Stone Calf (Woody Strode), a militant rival of Quanah's. The evening the two men leave camp with their "rescued" captives, Stone Calf tries to take back his wife, and is killed by McCabe, much to Quanah's satisfaction.
Running Wolf clearly hates white people, and the rich man refuses to accept him, but a severely traumatized and broken woman is convinced that Running Wolf is her long lost son and claims him. Later, when she tries to cut his hair, he kills her. The settlers decide to lynch the boy, despite Lt. Gary's attempt to stop them. As they drag him away, Running Wolf knocks over Marty's music box. He hears it play and recognizes the melody. Marty cannot save him and is forced to accept that nothing could have been done to bring back the brother she remembered. She accepts Lt. Gary's proposal of marriage.
Elena finds herself ostracized by white society, deemed a woman who "degraded herself" by submitting to a savage rather than killing herself. Meanwhile, she and McCabe have fallen in love, exemplified when he gives the soldiers and their wives a dressing down for their treatment of Elena. Then McCabe discovers that Belle took his simple-minded deputy as a lover, and got him elected to replace McCabe as marshal. After one last humiliation from Belle, Elena decides to go to California, and McCabe happily decides to go with her. As they leave, Lt. Gary tells Belle that his friend "finally found something that he wants more than ten percent of."
John Ford agreed to direct the film for money ($225,000 plus 25% of the net profits) and as a favor to Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, who died in 1958. The director hated the material, believing he had done a far better treatment of the theme in The Searchers (1956). Even after he brought in his most trusted screenwriter, Frank Nugent—the man responsible for The Searchers and nine other Ford classics—to fix the script, the director said it was "the worst piece of crap I’ve done in 20 years."
In Andrew Sinclair's 1979 biography, John Ford, Stewart revealed that Ford's "direction took the form of asides. Sometimes he'd put his hand across his mouth so that others couldn't hear what he was saying to you. On Two Rode Together, he told me to watch out for Dick Widmark because he was a good actor and that he would start stealing if I didn't watch him. Later, I learned he'd told Dick the same thing about me. He liked things to be tense."
One of the film's most notable scenes is a five-minute, two-shot of Stewart and Widmark bantering on a river bank about money, women, and the Comanche problem. Ford shot the lengthy scene with his crew waist-deep in the chilly river.
The film was shot at the Alamo Village, the movie set originally created for Wayne's The Alamo (1960).
Two Rode Together was the first of three Westerns that Stewart and Ford would collaborate on; The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance came the following year and Cheyenne Autumn was released in 1964. This film was also the fifteenth that Jack Murray would edit for Ford. It was also the last; Murray died a few months before the film's release.
The film received mixed reviews. The Los Angeles Times described Two Rode Together as the "most disappointing western" of John Ford’s career, while The New York Times praised James Stewart’s performance as a career best.