Of all John Ford’s lyrical films, this 1949 feature is the one that most nearly leaves narrative behind; it is pure theme and variation, centered on the figure of a retiring cavalry officer (John Wayne, playing with strength and conviction a man well beyond his actual age). The screenplay (by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings) is entirely episodic, and it ends in a magnificently sustained series of anticlimaxes, suggesting it could spin out forever. In Ford’s superbly creative hands, it becomes perhaps the only avant-garde film ever made about the importance of tradition. With Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, and George O’Brien.