Thursday, July 25, 2019


John Ford is considered by many to have been one of the best directors America has ever produced.  One such claim came from Orson Welles.  Born in 1894 in Maine as John Feeney he followed an older brother who had changed his name to Francis Ford, to Hollywood.  Francis had taken the plunge into acting eventually taking part in close to 500 films and also doing some directing.  John, now Jack Ford started as an actor, but in 1923 deciding to be a director changed his name to John Ford.

One of his attractive qualities was his ability to tell a compelling story.  He was fond of a number of actors that he felt comfortable with allowing him to shoot scenes with only one or two takes.  Preparation was key. He once said "never let them talk unless they have something to say."

He was noted to have spoken French, German, Gaelic and even Chinese in the course of his work.  

As he was best known for westerns where Indians were usually portrayed  as the antagonists, there was curiosity as to what he really thought of the Indians.  One quote dug up, "We've treated them badly, it's a blot on our shield.  we've robbed, cheated, murdered and massacred them, but if they kill one white man and God out come the troops."  Mostly Indians were stereo typed in his films.

Just watched one interview in which he appeared arrogant while at the same time self-deprecating--he said he only did movies for the money. 

His first success was "The Iron Horse" in 1924.  The subject was a trans continental railroad that had been authorized by Abraham Lincoln.  This film represented at the time the greatest migration from Hollywood for a location.  Location was preferred by John and he spent a lot of time trying to get the right one.  There were thousands of extras, including many Chinese who had been some of the workers on the railroad.  Ford depicted a cattle drive and battle scenes that were realistic.  The plot revolved around a short cut that would cut time and expense, but not desired by other financial interests.

Did 3 films with Will Rogers, America's favorite humorist.  In 1933 Ford directed "Doctor Bull," in 1934 directed "Judge Priest" and 1935 directed "Steamboat Round the Bend."

In 1931 he won his first Oscar for "The Informer"  a psychological drama starring Victor McLagen who won the best actor Oscar.  With a limited budged Ford used cinematography to enhance psychological tension.

"Drums along the Mohawk"  (1939) was Ford's only film regarding the American Revolution and it focuses on upstate New York.  Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert play a young married couple and the viewer watches how they change over the course of about two years during the early Revolution.  We see the conflicts between the Americans and the Tories supported by Indians from Six Nations that were eventually brought to Canada less than an hour from where I live.  In the movie they are depicted as cruel savages who are sedated by the end leaving out that they were victimized by a scorched earth policy.

"Mary of Scotland" (1936) was an early movie for Katherine Hepburn.  Lots of bagpipes and drums to heighten tension for battles.  Fredric March also starred.

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937) with Shirley Temple and Victor McLagen.

"Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939) showed the character building days of Lincoln.  Ford talked Henry Fonda into role.  Highlights an early criminal trial that helped establish Lincoln's reputation.

"Stagecoach" (1939) was his first film with John Wayne.   It won two Oscars (for music and Thomas Mitchell as best supporting actor.  The movie itself and Ford were nominated. A more realistic western that helped solidify Ford's reputation in that genre.

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) based on the John Steinbeck novel was a social protest.   Ford won an Oscar as did supporting actress Jane Darnell.  Five other nominations including for Henry Fonda and for best picture. 

"How Green was My Valley" (1941)  with Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon.  Filmed in California to look like Wales.

"The Battle of Midway" (1942) won an Oscar 18 minute ovation.

In World War II he enlisted and was assigned to make documentary films.  He was awarded an Oscar for a short and another for documentary.  Interesting one of his documentaries, "Nazi Concentatrion and Prison Camps" was submitted as evidence in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

"Pinky" (1949) not credited with director, but did assist Elia Kazan--racially sensitive--Oscar nominations

"The Quiet Man" (1952) was an obsession of Ford's, but no one was willing to help finance it--Maureen O'Hara was on board--a deal was finally made that Ford would direct some profitable westerns to justify the expense.  The last of three three westerns, "Rio Grande" (1950) brought Maureen together with John Wayne which worked out very well.  The film won two Oscars, one for John Ford and one for cinematographer Winton C. Hoch who also won Oscars for two other films directed by John Ford.  "The Quiet Man"  not only did well with awards, but also did much better at the box office than expected.

From "Rio Grande" (1950 )I was able to see some special feature.   A man who filmed so many westerns must have thoughts on horses and riders.  For Rio Grande he decided a demonstration of Roman riding- (standing on two horses in motion).  Ben Johnson had been a stunt man who happened to rescue some actors and was promoted to an acting role as a reward and became Ford's most reliable rider

"Wagon Master" (1950) with Ben Johnson and some other familiar Ford actors, Jane Darwell, Harry Carey Jr. and his  brother Francis Ford.  James Arness who later made it big with "Gunsmoke,"  a tv show I watched with my father.

"The Long Gray Line"  (1955) more comedy, but set at West Point   Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.  Ford received an Oscar nomination.

"The Horse Soldiers" (1959) was another John Wayne vehicle with William Holden. and old time silent star Hoot Gibson.  Another Oscar nomination for Ford.

"The Man who Shot Liberty Valance"(1962)  with John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin.  A few familiar faces with Andy Devine and John Carradine.  The only one of all these movies and a rarity for all my blogs that I actually saw at a movie theatre.  Must have been 14 and using my paper route earnings.

Movies are just a way of telling stories and John Ford provided a stream of enjoyable movies.   He was rewarded with 4 Oscars, the most for any director to date.

John died in California in 1993.  The only one to win 4 Oscars as a director.

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