John Ford’s western, an extremely loose re-imagining of the Custer massacre, surprises in numerous ways. The film has a heady sense of humor – the hard-boozing Irish of The Quiet Man are present, but not quite so cartoonishly so. It again reveals that John Wayne was quite underrated as a dramatic actor. But it is most unique in its melding of patriotic lore and bitter cynicism, ultimately concluding that the fraudulent propagation of patriotic heroism is at a minimum a necessary evil and perhaps even a critical component of the national ethos. What matters, ultimately, is the myth.
It is also, of course, beautiful in its use of Monument Valley.
And those stars go to Alfred Hitchcock’s deft hand and Cary Grant’s irrepressible charm. Grant plays a society cad who gloms on to spinster Joan Fontaine, who impulsively marries him out of rebellion and passion. She soon learn Grant, charming though he may be, is a liar, a thief and a lay-about gambler, and his debts may be propelling him to more capital crimes. The essential tension, however, is wasted. The deck is so stacked against Grant that when he professes “it was all a misunderstanding”, you’re left disappointed at the expenditure of time and contemptuous of Fontaine, who just seems like a ninny. If Grant could not commit the capital crime, the studio sure did by insisting their star male lead could not play a wife murderer.
The film was nominated for Best Picture, Fontaine won Best Actress for her very delicate, frail but stagey performance which does not travel, and in an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock summed it up when he reported the actions of a producer who initially took every scene out that indicated Grant was a murderer, leaving a 55 minute product.
Anyone interested in Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock, enjoy.