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Costanza Salvi (Bologna University), “John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: American Imperialism or Irish Republicanism?”


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Costanza Salvi (Bologna University), “John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: American Imperialism or Irish Republicanism?”

Loosely based on James Warner Bellah’s stories published on Saturday Evening Post, Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950) are pervaded with a jingoism totally associated with military life and community as well as the idea of expansion and taming of the frontier. But if we look at the opera isolating the numerous references to Irish history and traditions, its problematical nature appears. The adherence to stage-Irish conventions and ethnic humor, although read differently by many scholars defending its ambiguity and deconstructive power, might be considered a consequence – if not direct expression – of the already mentioned imperialism. Still, we can say that a strong hibernophilia is concealed behind it: the Irishmen in the trilogy are depicted as loyal officers, blessed with flexibility and acumen compared to the foolishness and prejudices of the snobbish Bostonians (Fort Apache). The heroism of General Philip Sheridan or LtCol Myles Keogh – aggrandized with folk tunes celebrating the Fenian movement (The Bold Fenian Men in Rio Grande or Garry Owen in Yellow Ribbon) – thwarts the unilateral celebration of American imperialism with an assertion of the glorious history of the Irish rebellion against England, and the romantic vision of it Ford conveyed in other films.

In this light, the Trilogy, with a proclaimed idealistic view of Ford’s homeland, can be considered a clue of the released tensions between U.S. and Ireland after the troubles triggered by the policy of Irish neutrality during the World War II, a disrupting force on the Anglo-American alliance. With the Republic of Ireland Act approved in 1948, the search of identity was finally concluded and the unease dissolved. So, if we investigate the Trilogy assuming a transnational perspective, the monolithic assumption about its imperialism appears rectified not just in terms of contents – in light of Ford’s strong Irish Republicanism – but also in terms of genres: in a sheer Western (American) horizon, a tinge of music and comedy appears, both having an intense Irish tone. 


 

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