She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Directed by John Ford
John Wayne as Capt. Nathan Brittles
Joanne Dru as Olivia Dandridge
John Agar as Lt. Clint Cohill
Ben Johnson as Sgt. Tyree
Harry Carey Jr. as Lt. Ross Pennell
Victor McLaglen as Sgt. Quincannon
Mildred Natwick as Abby Allshard 'Mac' Allshard
Arthur Shields as Dr. O'Laughlin
Michael Dugan as Hochbauer
Chief John Big Tree as Pony-That-Walks
After the battle of Little Bighorn and the decimation of General Custer’s forces, Cheyenne and Arapaho forces are raiding far south, near Fort Stark. Capt. Nathan Brittles is in charge of the Seventh Cavalry stationed at Fort Stark, and has only six days until retirement. For his last mission he is ordered by his commanding officer, Major Allshard, to take a patrol and escort Allshard’s wife Abbey and his niece, Olivia Dandridge, to the nearby town of Sudros Wells and put them on a stage coach heading east. As the patrol pulls out of the fort with the ladies, it doesn’t take long for some of the men to start to vie for the affections of beautiful Olivia, who wears a yellow ribbon in her hair. Both Lt. Clint Cohill and Lt. Ross Pennell have designs on Olivia and each wants to believe that she is wearing the yellow ribbon for them. They try to get Olivia to let them know which one of them she prefers, but she refuses.
Along the way to Sudros Wells, the patrol’s scout, Sgt Tyree, reports back that he has spotted two white men traveling to Sudros. Later Tyree returns to the patrol to report a large group of Arapaho Indians also riding towards the town. Brittles decides to take a longer route to avoid the Indians traveling towards town, although it may mean that they miss the stagecoach heading east. Along the way the patrol finds a large herd of buffalo and discuss the current state of Indian relations. They believe that the white men they spotted riding towards Sudros Wells are selling guns to the Arapaho, to make money off of the leadership of a new radical Indian leader, Red Shirt. Fearing that a battle is imminent, Brittles orders Tyree to take a small patrol and ride up to Paradise River to get more troops; however, Tyree and his men are ambushed along the way and they never make it to Paradise River, instead retreating back to the rest of the patrol and chasing the Indians off.
When the team arrives in Sudros Wells, they find that the Indians have raided and decimated the town. Unable to complete the mission, Brittles must turn back to Fort Stark. When the patrol is crossing Paradise river once again, Brittles orders Cohill to stay behind with three squads to guard the rear. Olivia, who has been remaining neutral in Cohill and Pennel’s battle for her affection, shows her side by kissing Cohill goodbye. The patrol arrives at Fort Stark safely, although unsuccessful in their mission. Brittles asks Allshard to allow him to return to Paradise River. Allshard denies Brittle’s request, and proceeds with Brittle’s retirement ceremony. After the ceremony, Cohill is promoted to take Brittle’s position, and Pennel is to be second in command behind him. Brittles leaves the Fort as a civilian and goes to start his new life. Pennel readies the troops to return to Paradise River, relieve Cohill, and ride against the Indians. When they arrive, they see Brittles, who still has the men’s loyalties. They decide to try to put an end to the upcoming war peacefully. Brittles and Tyree leave the unit at the river and ride to speak to Chief Pony-That-Walks, who informs Brittles that he is unable to prevent Red Shirt from attacking and provoking a war. Brittles returns to his men and they come up with a plan to prevent the attack. Late that night, Brittles’ men attack the Indian camp, with orders not to hurt anyone, and simply frighten their horses, scattering them about the desert. Horseless, the Indians have no choice but to walk home on foot.
His mission achieved, Brittles is about to leave when he receives a letter from the war department, asking him to serve as Chief of Scouts.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the second installment of John Ford’s Cavalry trilogy, the other two being Fort Apache (1948) and Rio Grande (1950)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon won an academy award in 1949 for Best Cinematography.
The movie’s title is based on the official song of the U.S. Cavalry, which is still used today by the Cavalry/Armor divisions.
According to John Wayne’s son Patrick, this was John Wayne’s favorite movie that he starred in.
The horse ridden by Ben Johnson in the film is a famous movie horse named Steel. Steel was ridden by John Wayne in “Tall in the Saddle” and “The Conqueror”. Other Hollywood greats who rode on Steel include Gregory Peck in “Yellow Skies” and Clark Gable in “The Tall T”
John Wayne reprised his role in a radio adaptation of the film for Lux Radio Theater in 1951.
Although the film’s narrator mentions the Pony Express in the beginning of the film, the Pony express had stopped service fifteen years before Custer was killed in 1876.
Fort Stark, the fort mentioned in the film, did exist, but not in the way it is portrayed in the film. Fort Stark is in New Castle, New Hampshire, and was built during the 1890’s to protect Portsmouth harbor.