Two Rode Together (Blu-ray)
(Twilight Time, 5.13.2014)
John Ford wasn’t always the most reliable interview subject, but it’s worth noting that he once described 1961’s Two Rode Together as “the worst piece of crap I’ve done in twenty years.” Read more closely, this isn’t a terribly damning statement. After all, Ford was a relatively consistent filmmaker, who isn’t especially well known for making “piece of crap” films, nor is Two Rode Together wildly inferior to his other films. As Julie Kirgo points out in the liner notes that accompany this disc, this film lacks the visual beauty of Ford’s other westerns, but it makes for an intriguing companion piece to two of his best works in this genre: The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The latter was released the following year, continuing the promising partnership Ford and James Stewart began on Two Rode Together. While their second collaboration resulted in a far greater film, Stewart is laid back and amusing as Guthrie McCabe, a heavy-drinking marshal who protects a saloon and generally keeps to himself. This changes when Richard Widmark’s First Lt. Jim Gary enlists the reluctant McCabe to take part in a mission to retrieve several people kidnapped by Comanches. This is where Two Rode Together gets a little unusual. Rather than perpetrate the same old myth about tragic, innocent whites triumphing over evil Natives, Ford taps into some of the same complexities that distinguished The Searchers -- with very different results. But whereas that film has a clearly defined perspective and tremendous dramatic precision, the thinking in Two Rode Together is more muddled and contradictory.
While it’s true that the characterizations of the Comanches are somewhat unsympathetic, the same applies to their enemies. As Kirgo suggests, the film is less about Ford’s hostility toward a particular group and more about his disdain for everyone: men, women, Comanches, whites, etc. This lack of a belief system prevents the film from achieving the kind of mythical power we associate with films like The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Libery Valance, but fans of those films should find plenty to ponder in Two Rode Together.
As always with Twilight Time, this Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies, available exclusively through Screen Archives and the TCM store. Like many of the films the company has licensed from Sony, this disc includes an isolated score, a trailer, and no other extras. This is a shame, as regular Twilight Time commentary team Kirgo and Nick Redman are well versed in the life and career of Ford, having previously collaborated on Becoming John Ford, an excellent documentary that can be found on Twilight Time’s Drums Along the Mohawk Blu-ray. That complaint notwithstanding, this disc features an excellent transfer that gives Two Rode Together a chance to finally be viewed in a condition approximating Ford’s more celebrated westerns. -- Jonathan Doyle