John Ford in Review

Over the next few weeks I hope to explore one of the most prolific filmmakers to come out of Hollywood. Over at the Life Cinematic, he is the Director of the Month, and unfortunately my computer problems have prevented me from participating until now. I hope to see at the very least five new films before the end of the month, but hopefully I can fit in even more. Before getting into that, some thoughts on his films that I’ve already seen.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

I was mostly under whelmed by this exploration of the mythos of Americana. Incidentally, I think with the release of the movie version of Watchmen this month, the film touches on many of the same ideas. It raises several ideologically ideas, relating especially to pacifism, and the ideological tug-of-war between altruistic and categorical imperative. The film comes to an interesting conclusion, surprisingly without a shade of grey. It comes out valuing individual sacrifice for the greater good. My main problems with the film are rather shallow, I simply thought that both Wayne and Stewart were far too old for the roles, though they certainly brought weight young actors might not have. I couldn’t look past the wrinkles and loose skin.

The Searchers (1956)

My favourite John Ford film, though I think it is problematic in it’s handling of racism. I think as a story of a driven man with a difficult past, it’s unparalleled. The beauty of monument value works beautifully to highlight the isolation of Ethan, and Wayne proves the brilliance of his talents as an actor. The film is incredibly bleak, a reflection on the nature of racism, war and mob mentality. Though many of the characters seem to condemn Ethan’s cruel determination, they do nothing to stop him. The film’s finale is potent and beautiful, the famous final shot again highlighting the protagonist as an outcast. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, I would like to revisit it.

My Darling Clementine (1946)

I saw this very recently, a beautiful and almost impressionistic film about Wyatt Earp. The film is not really remarkable for it’s plot, more how it allows the characters to move throughout the shot. The dialogue and drama of “the western” seems secondary to the faces and places of Ford’s west. Watching Henry Fonda balance on his chair, looking over his town is something magically charming.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Presented with nostalgic reverence, How Green was my Valley yearns for the simple days of the past. It’s not just a “back in the day story”, but a portrait of life before capitalistic ventures destroyed already torn communities. The film is episodic in nature, and tells the story of one particular family. I personally found the film deeply affecting, and I don’t thin there is any denying how visually beautiful it is.

The Quiet Man (1952)

Many claim that this film portrays a very problematic relationship, in that John Wayne is pretty physically abusive, especially in the final act. I’m not sure if I buy that, I think the stormy nature of the relationship between Sean and Mary-Kate is extremely physical in nature, and the film highlights this through very broad characterization of their love and hate. It’s not always amusing, and I think it’s somewhat inconsistent, but overall it’s one of my favourite film romances. Wayne proves once again how underrated he is as an actor, and Maureen O’Hara has never been so fiery. Like many of John Ford’s films, The Quiet Man is drenched in mythology, recounting an Ireland that does not and never did exist. Instead of being a reason to dismiss his work, I think it supports the idea of film as modern mythology in an extremely interesting way. The colour cinematography has to be seen to be believed, green has never looked so green.

Stagecoach (1939)

Though not among my favourite Ford’s, I think this film is still very interesting considering it is very much the prototype of how we understand the western. The large cast is well handled, and none of the character’s stories are diluted even in a short running time. I don’t have much else to say about this one… Claire Trevor was the highlight for me.

Mister Roberts (1955)

This was actually my very first John Ford film, and I saw it years ago. I remember really enjoying it and being surprised that it ends on such a bleak note. Interestingly enough, I learned later in life that this was my grandmother’s favourite film. Her two favourite actors were Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon, so it’s no surprise she thought so highly of this one.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

My reviews are getting shorter and shorter, and it’s not just because I’m getting lazy, it’s just that I don’t care enough for these films to think about them too much. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is no different, no means a bad film, it’s just not among my favourites. It has some incredible colour cinematography.

Mary of Scotland (1936)
Fredric March is my favourite actor on some days, but this film sucks.

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10 responses to “John Ford in Review

  1. seriously, How Green Was My Valley might be the most beautifully-photographed movie, like, ever…and the only one that might beat it came out in the same year.

    srsly, How Green looked so great, that when I was watching it last night a 2 hour movie became 2 1/2 hours just because I kept pausing the movie because i HAD to make screencaps, it was just that great. Helps that the performances (especially Donald Crisp) and the episodic story, really epic in scope, are damn great too 🙂

  2. Wow, I didn’t even realise that How Green was my Valley was that long, it certainly doesn’t feel its’ length. It is an absolutelyl stunning film, but as is so many of Ford’s films. He just had an eye for visuals. It’s a wonderful film, a shame it gets so much unwaranted hate.

  3. I love the spatial aspect of How Green… Deep in the mine, then above at home; inside the home, mother and son downstairs and upstairs. Communication, familial connection abides despite physical distance. Beautiful.

  4. I never thought of it that way, but yes it certainly works that way. I think even the bookends of how the area have changed really emphasis the physicality of the environment. It seems to be a great concern of Ford in many of his films.

  5. I did a John Ford retrospective at my sight back in September. I agree with you about “The Quiet Man”. I never found the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara relationship to be overly abusive. Both characters are passionate about their beliefs and they also have a firey passion about eachother that I think is missed in many of today’s modern romances. I look at “The Quiet Man” with fondness, it’s one of my absolute favorites that I like to watch at least once a year. I think of Ford as perhaps the most poetic American filmmaker there was and I’m interested to read what you have to say about him this month.

  6. I’m happy you agree with me, and I do agree a lot of modern romances are lacking in the “fire” of relationships… at least in American cinema. Any particular Ford films you can recommend?

  7. i just think of Valance as an old man’s memory film… so the Stewart character envisions himself and Wayne as old. But clearly, as you state, it wouldn’t be the same film if it was two younger actors in the roles.

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