For three consecutive years after World War II, John Ford issued a cavalry movie with John Wayne: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). During this period in the United States, American culture was beginning to undergo the major social upheavals that would characterize the 1950s and 1960s. Whether Ford intended it or not, these three films explore the major cultural issues of the day by placing them in a different time period; by associating them with the ultimate American myth, that of the West; and by creating the enclosed world of an army outpost on the frontier. The film army’s savage war against the Indians seemed to parallel the intense war America had just completed victoriously. But the movie’s Indians, who threaten to destroy the great American experiment based on its Manifest Destiny, probably represent the immediate threat of communism, which had spread so quickly across Europe. The internal social tensions between various ethnic (particularly Irish) noncommissioned officers and solidly Anglo-American officers surely reflected the contemporary black-white racial tension in the United States that could not yet be treated seriously by Hollywood. By changing the conflict from blacks versus whites to Irish versus Anglo, Ford made serious commentary acceptable to filmgoers.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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