Marshal Guthrie McCabe (Stewart) treats his job, and his life, like a business. His callous attitude has made him a lot of money, and very few friends. One of these friends is First Lieutenant Jim Gary (Widmark), a career soldier working near the Comanche territory. When Gary arrives in town, he’s on orders to bring McCabe out to the fort. A number of settlers are looking for help getting back the children they believe were captured by the Comanche. With money on his mind, McCabe agrees to help the settlers, only to find out that finding the lost children is only half of the challenge.
Two Rode Together is based on the novel, Comanche Captives, written by Will Cook. Legendary director John Ford took on the film for the money, and as a favor to Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. Upon reviewing the material, Ford became convinced that the subject matter had been done best in his 1956 film The Searchers. Despite his concerns, he brought in one of his favorite screenwriters, Frank Nugent (The Searchers), to try to fix the story. The end result is one of the more disliked films of Ford’s career.
For Jimmy Stewart, this was the first time he would work with John Ford. Following this film, they would work together on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won, and Cheyenne Autumn. This film was also a change of pace for Stewart, following his work on 1960’s World War II film The Mountain Road. This time, Stewart would also work with Richard Widmark for the first time. They would work together again, with John Ford, on Cheyenne Autumn.
In addition to Stewart and Widmark, Ford had a great cast to work with. This includes Shirley Jones (The Music Man), Andy Devine (The Red Badge of Courage), and John McIntire (Winchester ’73). The story might have been weak, but the acting is still really good. The chemistry between Widmark and Stewart is evident from the early moments of the film. Throughout the movie, the two seem to raise the material with their work. The rest of the cast does nice work with the limited material as well.
John Ford would later remark that Two Rode Together was “the worst piece of crap I’ve done in twenty years”. When compared to much of Ford’s work over his amazing career, this might be close to the truth. Despite great performances from the actors, and the brilliant touches Ford was known for, the film doesn’t hold together. The end result is choppy and episodic, with a lack of consistency in terms of the theme or the presentation. Thankfully, Ford and Stewart would come together again and create the classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance the next year.
For Stewart, this might not be a very memorable film, but it does have some shining moments. His performance serves as a great example of the transition he had made into more intense roles. His ability to play the villain, anti-hero, or even just a unlikeable person opened up new roles for him that would continue to come to him.