Two Rode Together. 1961. John Ford makes one of his last pictures, a western with James Stewart and Richard Widmark. George Duning scores. Parallels to Ford's earlier The Searchers are inevitable. Writer and numerous co-stars are common to both. So is much of the story... and its subtext. Comanches take white children as captives, Stewart, Widmark enter their territory to negotiate a release. Trading firearms, bitterness, mistrust, racial hatred, greed... almost everything but humanity is involved at some point. The story is tough and not pleasant. Most of the characters are, too. It's a picture you don't find things to root for, but you're admittedly drawn in to very compelling machinations of a very intense topic.
This superb new Twilight Time Blu-ray makes this somewhat obscure picture accessible now to anyone so inclined... like myself. Special nods here to some extraordinary words by essayist Julie Kirgo in her booklet that comes with the film. She provides some of the best insights I've ever read about the movie, the low point Ford was experiencing in his career and more. I can't emphasize enough how rewarding it was to watch - and discover - this movie, then read what Kirgo had to say about it.
George Duning. Given the complexity and overall cynical behaviors of characters and story, Duning surprises by going 180 degrees... in the other direction! No mean music here, nary any Native American shadings, nothing dark or oppressive or even violent. In fact, overt violence in the movie is actually reduced to just one low-key squabble in the grass and a solitary shooting late in the film. Though we have the Army vs the Comanche, no battles take place, no saloon brawls spill onto the screen, not a single gunfight occurs. The violence is all buried within the subtext. Anyway, Duning writes all the way to the other side of this nasty tale and creates a very simple main theme that plays over just two chords. And those two chords are as simple as they come. Rock solid progression of I to IV and back to I. Even the notes of the tune itself are almost entirely extracted from notes within just those two chords. Wow! Cool idea! Where many composers might write towards the mean-spirited nature of what we're seeing, Duning writes to what we "want" to be seeing. Just two old friends on a leisurely ride together out west. Except Two Rode Together is anything but.