Also, while the look of the film is superb, the use of a cheesy ditty to open and close the film’s score shows that while Ford had a great eye for visual composition he had a tin ear for appropriate musical choices. There are also too many scenes where the music is too leading, or just plain silly, such as when Ethan and Martin traipse through the snow to a U.S. Army post. Some critics see the opening ditty as being indicative of a presumed love between Ethan and his sister-in-law, Martha (Dorothy Jordan). They also cite that they linger eyes at one another, and that Ethan’s brother Aaron (Walter Coy) is not man enough to protect his family, as if Ethan’s being there at the time would have made a difference against a whole tribe’s descent upon the house.
Some critics have even claimed Ethan’s quest for vengeance is not motivated by saving or killing Debbie, but because Scar has raped and killed Ethan’s brother’s wife, the woman he loved. Yet, if one really looks at the evidence cited, there is not much to it, save for three or four highly ambiguous moments that have to be read one way only. However, even if one accepts the claim, what is never stated concomitantly is that such a trope (two brothers who love(d) the same woman) is as trite as any other trope in the film’s screenplay. Thus, if one wants to credit Ford with some depth in the story, one has to admit that depth is leavened by its triteness.
Another low aspect of the film is the Dumbest Possible Action trope that recurs several times in the film. This is when a character, or characters, has to do something so stupid that no real person, even the dumbest, would ever do, just to move the action along. Perhaps the worst instance of this is when Ethan’s posse makes it across a river, on horses, with no problem, but Scar’s two bands’ horses immediately flop in the river without a shot being fired. Do white men’s horses simply know how to swim better?
Then Scar recoups and leads his combined forces across the river, only to be plucked off one by one with ease. Simply put, history shows that no Indian leaders were ever that militarily dumb. An earlier scene, where Ethan has to tell Martin and Lucy’s lover that she was raped before being killed, allows Wayne to overact again, but also allows for another Dumbest Possible Action moment, when that lover goes insane (not at the killing but the rape by an Injun), and rides off into the darkness, only to be gunned down seconds later. Again, grief or not, no man is that dumb.