Tag: John Ford

MOVIE REVIEW | Stagecoach (1939)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: Stagecoach might not be as visually rich and emotionally complex as the work Ford and Wayne would do together later in movies like The Searchers, but their first collaboration might just be their most purely entertaining.”

Stagecoach 1
“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”

The Western genre has evolved and changed enormously over its century or so of existence.  And even though it has had plenty of peaks and troughs in popularity with audiences, it’s probably still the most immediately recognisable genre in film.  A desert vista, a man on a horse, a poncho or hat…  You see any combination of these, and within seconds, you can pretty safely assume that you’re watching a western.  And even with the massive changes and evolution over the years, I feel like it’s a valid statement that no one did more to define the genre than director John Ford, along his frequent leading man, John Wayne.  I’ve seen more than few Ford / Wayne team ups over the years, but now I’ve seen where it all started, Stagecoach.

The titular stagecoach arrives in a small Arizona town where it picks up its load of passengers.  There’s disgraced prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor) who’s being run out of town by some uptight squares.  There’s drunk doctor Boone (Thomas Mitchell) who’s being run out of town by some different uptight squares.  And there’s Lucie (Louise Platt), a pregnant wife catching to stagecoach to be with her soldier husband at his cavalry outpost before the baby is born. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #12. The Searchers (1956)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

 Searchers 1

“Figure a man’s only good for one oath at a time. I took mine to the Confederate States of America.”

I like westerns in general. I recognise that there is probably no duo who has influenced the genre more than director John Ford and actor John Wayne. I’ve known of The Searchers and its amazing reputation for years. Even Martin Scorsese, my own hero in the world of cinema, rates at as one of the greatest movies ever made. So why have I never seen it until now? Maybe that reputation was a little overwhelming.

It wasn’t that I thought it couldn’t live up to the hype, it was exactly because I was sure it would. You can only see a movie for the first time once, so when I was all but certain it was going to be amazing, I got a bit anxious about that first time. Sort of like every female character in every 80s movie about high school kids. Then I bought a new telly. A glorious 55 inch bastard with all the fruit. That was when I knew it was time to tackle the Johns, Ford and Wayne, and The Searchers. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #23. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

Grapes of Wrath The_02
“I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

The downtrodden, little guy, fighting back against the man seems like the kind of story that would be as old as cinema itself. How could anyone have ever had a problem with an inspirational story of someone overcoming adversity through their sense of spirit and morality? Well, it turns out that America was so insane with their fear of communism, that there was such a time when a story like this wasn’t seen as inspirational, but instead seen as pro union, commie propaganda. It’s hard to fathom now, but there was a time when The Grapes of Wrath, an undisputed all time classic, was seen as subversive and dangerous.

Making his way home from a stretch in the pen after killing a bloke in a drunken dancefloor fight, all Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) wants is to live the quiet life, working his family’s farm. But while he’s been on the inside, the Great Depression has hit hard, and the once fertile Oklahoma land farmed by Tom’s family, has become a desolate dust bowl. Tom arrives home just in time to see the bank foreclose on their land and his family put out on their asses. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***SWANSONG WEEK*** 7 Women (1966)

7 Women

“So what’s normal about that? As a matter of fact, what the hell is so normal about any one of us nuts sitting at this table?”

No matter how many times I’m proven wrong, whenever I turn on a John Ford movie, I expect to see cowboys, Indians and John Wayne.  But I keep getting reminded that he made more than just westerns.  He did screwball comedy, he did prestige melodrama, he did period biopics and yes, he did westerns.  But while his genre range was pretty wide, his predilection for manly men, in manly stories is undeniable.  Which is why it seems so weird to me that his career finished with a movie almost completely about women.  In fact it’s about 7 Women.

Set in a Christian mission in 1930s China, the latest arrival is Anne Bancroft as Dr Cartwright.  Her pants wearing, cigarette smoking, progressive ways quickly put her on the wrong side of mother hen, Agatha (Margaret Leighton).  Also living in the mission is the wide eyed innocent Emma (Sue Lyon), the pregnant Florrie (Betty Field), and her husband, the only dude in the place, Charles (Eddie Albert).  Florrie’s older than your average first time mother and Dr Cartwright tries to convince her and Charles to go to a bigger city with a real hospital for the birth.  But soon, a pregnant old shagger is the least of their worries. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Mister Roberts (1955)

“We’ve got nothing to do with the war. Maybe that’s why we’re on this ship, cause we’re not good enough to fight. Cause our glands don’t secrete enough adrenaline, or our great-great-grandmothers were afraid of the dark or something.”

When director John Ford teamed up with actor Henry Fonda for Young Mr Lincoln, I got exactly what I expected form a biopic about an American president made by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda. It was very earnest, very respectful, and very reverential. So when I fired up Mister Roberts and saw John Ford’s name appear in the credits, I was expecting a similar earnest, respectful, reverential approach to American sailors during the Second World War. While I did get that to some degree, I got a lot of stuff I didn’t expect as well.

World War II is underway in the Pacific. Aboard the merchant ship the USS Reluctant, morale is low. Under the official leadership of the despotic, Napoleonic Captain Morton (James Cagney), the men actually follow their much more beloved cargo officer, Lt. Roberts (Henry Fonda). As the movie opens, none of the men have the left the ship for any form of recreation leave in over a year. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Young Mr Lincoln (1939)

“I think I might go on a piece. Maybe to the top of that hill.”

One of Hollywood’s biggest and most successful directors… One of Hollywood’s biggest and most respected actors… Telling the story of Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most revered presidents. A couple of years ago, it was Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis teaming up to make that happen. But 75 years ago, those same biggest, successful, respected titles belonged to John Ford and Henry Fonda when they made Young Mr Lincoln.

It’s 1832 in New Salem Illinois. A poor family travelling through town has no money to pay for groceries, so they barter with the store owner, a young Abraham Lincoln, who accepts a crate of books as payment. Discovering an old law book in the mix, Abe reads up and finds he has a knack for remembering and interpreting the complex nature of the legal system. Inspired by a gravesite chat with a dead ex girlfriend, he decides to move to the big smoke of Springfield and open a legal practice. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | My Darling Clementine (1946)

There are classic actors who’s names you know, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever actually seen a single one of their movies.  They could be long dead, but their legacy means their names are inescapable.  Until a few years ago, Henry Fonda was one of those dudes for me.  Then I saw 12 Angry Men and The Grapes of Wrath, and started to understand why his name was so iconic.   But now, I realise that as great as those movies are, I still hadn’t really appreciated Henry Fonda, because I hadn’t seen a Henry Fonda western.  He helped define the genre, and with My Darling Clementine, you can see how important and how influential his contributions were.

Even if you’ve never seen My Darling Clementine, you’re probably familiar with the story.  It’s the tale of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, the lawless town of Tombstone and the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral.  This time around, Henry Fonda takes up the role of the most famous Earp, with Victor Mature as Doc Holiday.

Driving cattle through the wild west, Wyatt Earp and his brothers leave their camp and head into Tombstone.  When they arrive, the brothers Earp find a town so resigned to its violent nature, bullets randomly flying through windows cause more frustration than fear.  When the town’s lawmen refuse to apprehend a drunken gunman, Earp takes matters into his own hands.

With a reputation as a solid peacemaker from Dodge City, the people of Tombstone beg him to take the local gig.  Begs Earp ignores until he gets back to camp to find his cattle rustled and his youngest brother dead.  So it’s back to Tombstone with his surviving brothers, Virgil and Morgan, to pin on Marshall’s badges and take care of business.

On the job, they meet the town’s unofficial leader, Doc Holiday, a dentist and gunfighter with tuberculosis out the wazoo.  Along for the ride are Holiday’s current mistress Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) and his newly arrived to town ex, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs).

The Earps and Holiday become friends and allies just in time to unite against a gang of outlaw cowboys and for Holiday to sort his women shit out.  That’s a lot of balls in the air and also the biggest downside of My Darling Clementine.  It half tells several stories instead of completely telling one.

In real life, the Earps and Holiday were already friends before their time in Tombstone.  Because Clementine decides it needs to tell the origins of their friendship, it’s one more hurdle to contend with before getting to any sort of real conflict.  It also means the titular Clementine doesn’t even appear until almost half way through the movie.  So then we have to get her exposition out of the way before it leads to a hinted love triangle between her, Wyatt and Doc.

Once this is all spelled out for the audience, we finally get some sort of conflict between the Earps and the outlaw cowboys.  But by this stage, we’re more than half way through the movie and it’s time to get to the gunfight at the OK Corral.  Which means the feud between the two factions has barley been established and is kind of hard to accept.

The story is clunky and obvious, the direction is a little awkward compared to what John Ford would do in years to come and the plot is overstuffed.  But none of that really matters. This is a John Ford western, starring Henry Fonda.  The black and white cinematography looks great when given room to breathe and Fonda’s charisma sells even the most hackneyed cliché.  Plenty of westerns after this might have been better in a lot of ways, but they all learned from, and built on, movies like My Darling Clementine.

My Darling Clementine
Directed By – John Ford
Written by – Samuel G. Engel , Winston Miller


MOVIE REVIEW | Rio Grande (1950)

The Duke’s been dead for almost 36 years, but I’d argue he’s still probably the most recognisable face and name in Westerns.  John Ford’s been dead almost a decade longer, and even though I’ve seen very few of his movies, I know he’s responsible for establishing and shaping the Western genre.  And their contribution to the Western is pretty well summed up in Rio Grande.

As Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, Wayne commands a cavalry unit near the Rio Grande River, the border between America and Mexico.  When some new recruits arrive, one is revealed to be his son, Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.).  Jeff recently flunked out of officer’s school and has enlisted as a bottom level trooper.  Father and son haven’t seen each other in 15 years and things starts out a little frosty.

Constantly fighting the Apache, Kirby and his men are in a precarious position when the enemy keeps retreating across the Mexican border after their guerrilla assaults, making them off limits in between sneak attacks.  Add to this Kirby’s estranged wife (Maureen O‘Hara) who shows up trying to save their son, and he’s copping it from all directions.

In the Coen Brothers awesome movie Barton Fink, studio head Jack Lipknick (Michael Lerner) is talking to his newly signed screenwriter, Barton Fink (John Turtorro), who he wants to write a wrestling picture.  While espousing the creative freedom he’ll give Fink and the originality he wants in return, he without irony gives Fink the rundown on what’s expected from the screenplay…

“Wallace Beery is a wrestler. I wanna know his hopes, his dreams. Naturally, he’ll have to get mixed up with a bad element. And a romantic interest.  You know the drill.  Romantic interest, or else a young kid. An orphan”.

Watching Rio Grande and thinking back on the only other Ford / Wayne joint I’ve seen, Fort Apache, I feel like they may have had similar notes from the studio…

“The Duke plays a cavalryman. I wanna know his hopes, his dreams. Naturally, he’ll have to fight the heathen red man (‘coz this is the 50s, so it’s not yet racially insensitive for us to say things like that). And a romantic interest.  Probably an estranged wife or long lost love.  You know the drill.  And don’t forget, his second in charge needs to be a drunk Irishman.  Nothing makes more effective comic relief than a tippled mick (did I mention it’s the 50s ?)”.

But all the box ticking and by the numbers plotting of Rio Grande never really bothered me.  There’s a let’s-put-on-a-show vibe about movies from that era that is infectiously charming.  It’s like studios and film makers felt obliged to give their audience a cabaret show amidst their gritty Western.  Saddle worn, hard as nails cavalrymen?  Better make sure they get to sing a few songs.  What about horse stunts that have nothing to do with reality?  No worries, we’ll shoehorn in a reason for a few dudes to ride two horses at once, while standing up!

It’s clichéd, it’s hammy, it’s predictable and it’s on the nose.  But I’ll be buggered if I wasn’t entertained but Rio Grande.  Westerns might have become grittier since, but 60 or 70 years ago, no acting and directing pair did it better than John Wayne and John Ford.

Rio Grande
Directed By – John Ford
Written By – James Kevin McGuinness

MOVIE REVIEW | How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Poster - How Green Was My Valley_01
For the last 70 odd years, Citizen Cane has dominated almost every ‘best of all time’ movie list.  If not in the number one spot, it’s almost always very close.  But back in 1941 when Orson Welles’ masterpiece came out, it wasn’t even considered the best movie of that year.  That honor went to John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.

It’s turn of the century Wales, and the Morgan family, along with seemingly everyone else in their village, relies on the local coalmine to make their living. Narrated by the adult version of the youngest Morgan, How Green Was My Valley revolves around the 10 or 12 year old Huw Morgan, played by Roddy McDowell.  He worships his father (Donald Crisp) and can’t wait to join him and his five adult brothers working in the mine.  They’re taken care of by his mother (Sara Allgood) and sister (Maureen O’Hara).

The mine threatens to cut their wages.  The mine punishes them for unionizing.  The mine kills a brother.  Huw is crippled at one stage.  His sister ends up in a loveless marriage.  His sister is secretly in love with the local priest.  Huw’s brothers regularly leave to seek their fortune in America.  Kids at school beat him up.  Kids in the mine beat him up.  Basically, the world drops a big old steamer on Huw and his family roughly every four to six minutes.

But oh how they preserver.  This is a story of family, loyalty, pride and good old Welsh fortitude.  And because it was made in 1941 when subtly was a scarce commodity and film makers rarely thought to ad any sub to their text, How Green Was My Valley wears its themes proudly on its sleeve.

The Welshness of it was a bit of a shock.  All I knew before watching it was that How Green Was My Valley was directed by John Ford.  With John Wayne classics like The Searchers and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance on his resume, the name John Ford makes me automatically think of westerns.  Even the title, How Green Was My Valley sounds like it could be a western.

The other thing about Ford’s involvement that surprised me as the movie went along, was its sentimentality and sweetness.  Besides the above mentioned westerns, I think the only other movie I’ve seen of his is The Grapes of Wrath. And all of those have a definite streak of cynicism that I just never saw in How Green Was My Valley.

Is it better than Citizen Cane?  I can’t see single reason why any sane person would ever say yes to that.  But I can see why How Green Was My Valley was at least in contention that year.  It’s a big, easily digestible, easily relatable melodrama about a likeable family who you want to see make it through the constant travails the world throws at them.  Simple, but also effective.

How Green Was My Valley
Directed By – John Ford
Written By – Philip Dunne