She Wore a Yellow Ribbon ★★★★½

[88]

A film of expectational subversions ; similar how e.g. MY DARLING CLEMENTINE treats the skirmish at the OK Corral as merely peripheral with the minutiae front-and-center, only it expands that mantra to the entire genre of American Frontier films : it's almost, for lack of a better term, an "art house" style Western, in the way it savors the finer, often overlooked details in lieu of bloody campaigns. The few battles that do surface are cursory at best : we're left not with the memory of a well-staged brawl between the Cavalry and the Indians, but a heartfelt colloquy of common ground among two men who are different in nearly every way — except age and wisdom. Two men who have fought for years to defend what they believe is right, and only through such rigorous measures are able to accurately weigh the cost v. the reward. It's hardly a film about the acquisition of land, the fight against the Indians…hell, even the titular Woman Wearing the Yellow Ribbon's narrative truss is far from load-bearing : rather, all these individual things bend inward to form a reflection on the passing of generational batons and the procurement of reverence earnestly earned. We never see Capt. Brittles undergo a dramatic act of heroism in an effort to get the audience to understand his esteem; instead, we're left to piece it together by the way he carries himself and the way he's treated by others, the best example being Lt. Cohill and Lt. Pennell's feverish quarrel over Ms. Dandridge's affection, a rhubarb which is all but forgotten and dissolved once the respect of Capt. Brittles is at stake. It hints twice at a conclusion before actually ending, not as Brittles rides off into the fading sunset one would think, but instead recessed to a moment of exceptional repose in a cemetery : capturing the transition of importance and priorities altered over the course of a Captain's life, the definition of "family" reshaped and remolded by fate, and an eloquent coda to the sculpting of this paradigm shift that becomes self-evident during a single instance of altruistic eulogizing in the form of an engraved silver pocket watch. "Never apologize," Brittles would say. "It's a sign of weakness." But he says nothing about shedding a noble tear.

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