As many people know, Rio Grande is the third installation of John Ford's sweeping "Cavalry trilogy*," his paean and dirge for the forging of the West after the Cival War. In each, there is Indian fighting, romance and Monument Valley. Younger officers look forward to winning glory in the Indian Wars while the older, veteran officers who served in the Civil War are tired of fighting and would rather keep the peace instead. And the enlisted men coming from all walks of life, some running from something, others trying to find something, but all taking war and peace as they come. They want to stay alive, but aren't too worried about dying.
Unlike the first two cavalry films, Rio Grande focuses more on the love between an Army officer and his wife, and the pain his life causes her. This pain is made even worse by the fact that their son has chosen to follow his father's way of life, and winds up serving in his father's command. When, as is inevitable, Indians flee their reservation, the family becomes embroiled in war against the Apaches (whom, everyone knows, were the toughest, most ruthless and evil Indian fighters of them all := ).
This is where Ford starts to swerve away from ordinary westerns. While his Indians are fierce and tough, Ford tries to show in all the Cavalry films that they are also honourable and fighting for home and family, not because they are evil. And while Wayne's character must pursue his Indians until they're either captured or dead, he is not without both sympathy and respect, and with the knowledge that it is the white man's treatment of them that is at the heart of the war.
It's more than certain that John Ford has become my favorite director. His ability to make stories with depth, compassion and remarkable truth has caused his films to last. I hope that you will see all of the Cavalry Trilogy, and then seek out all of his other films.
*The other films in the trilogy are Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949).