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The John Ford File: Part 4

The John Ford File: Part 4

T H E   J O H N   F O R D   F I L E
(P A R T  4)

Our continuing report on the Ford at Fox DVD collection of 24 John Ford features, using my 1952-1970 card file of comments:

TOBACCO ROAD (1941; Fox).    
Seen:  Manhattan (with “The Grapes of Wrath”) (1956).
Excellent (Superbly acted – particularly by Charley Grapewin – and beautifully directed film version of Caldwell’s novel about decadence and futility down South; sometimes funny, but generally deeply touching story of feeble minds and bodies left to tend died-out, unproductive land.)

Seen: Manhattan (1963).
(Not among Ford’s most personal films, but nonetheless a superlative, compassionate and striking work.)
(1999 Observer column):  No change; only more precious.  Newest released version has five minutes of Ford’s material restored, plus his much preferred “no-kiss” ending, in which Henry Fonda shakes hands with his darling Clementine rather than kissing her on the cheek.  As Ford told Fonda during The Grapes of Wrath (see Ford File: Part 3):  “Country people don’t kiss [in public].”

Seen:  Manhattan (1964)
Very good- (Minor Ford comedy, but delightfully directed and played story of a small town’s first World War II enlistee, how he gets stationed in his own town, and his heroic secret mission to France which no one believes he made.  Often very funny, never patronizing, not as personal as most Fords of this period, but nonetheless most entertaining.)

Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1965).
(Actually an elaborate, if affectionate, spoof of the Army by a Navy man; the Underground sections are all treated with seriousness and most clearly reveal Ford at work.)

Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1969)
(It’s sort of Sturges-Dwan material handled beautifully, and Dan Dailey is superb.)

Seen:  Manhattan (1962).
Good* (Delightful, exciting, often moving version of the famous World War I stage play and film, very well played—as Capt. Flagg and Sgt. Quint—by James Cagney and Dan Dailey, directed with gusto and humor in typical Ford style… effective and enjoyable.)

Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1966).
(The old dialog is a trifle stilted at times and there’s a certain awkwardness in some of it, as though Ford’s heart wasn’t in it all; but there are also marvelous things—especially the humor—that could only be Ford.)

Seen:  West Los Angeles, California (1969).
(Many delightful, touching moments, beautiful color.)

The Ford at Fox collection also includes a couple of grand opening Showcase programmes, a poster or two, and an informative feature documentary titled Becoming John Ford, a disc that also features three of Ford’s wartime documentaries: The Battle of Midway, December 7th, and Torpedo Squadron. I had cards on two of them:

THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY (1942; U.S. Navy-Fox).
Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1965)
Very good* (The first American war documentary, a stirring, patriotic and typically Fordian twenty-minute account of the battle of Midway in the Second World War; done with narration and the voices of mothers and sons, played by Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell. The color has moments of real Ford heroism, and the editing…and particularly the scoring, have the ring of authority and style… Ford was there and we see it all from his distinctive point of view.)

Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1965).
(The raising of the flag in the midst of the battle- “Yes, this really happened”—is one of the great film moments, fact or fiction; a minor masterpiece totally in the Ford tradition.)

Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1969).
(A small personal masterpiece – Ford is unable to just do a documentary – and after the depth of his fiction films, this must have been a cinch for him; it is a poetic and touching document, and entirely the work of an artist.)

DECEMBER 7TH (1943; U.S. Navy).    
Seen:  Van Nuys, California (1968).
Very good (Strikingly photographed and beautifully edited wartime document of the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor and its aftermath; excellent and all but indistinguishable combination of actual footage and recreated scenes, sensitively edited and constructed.  Some fine Ford touches—such as the    dead boys speaking from their graves about their    lives and parents, eloquently mournful sky compositions…)

Next week, we’ll wrap up this John Ford file with a series of miscellaneous cards on Ford pictures, some available, some unfortunately not.

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Jon O.

Thanks, Peter, for this ongoing series. I've enjoyed every detail, especially your notes on the 1968 Van Nuys screenings of both "How Green" and "Darling Clementine." Couldn't agree more with your assessments — these are two staggeringly wonderful, perfect works by an artist in his prime. The closing sequence of "Valley" is so utterly wrought with tangible, genuine emotion as to defy the limitations of film, yet no matter how much I try to intellectualize each time I watch it, the tears flow freely.


Always enjoy this blog but particularly this series. Ford is one of those directors whose reputation particularly suffers from not being seen, as it is easy to imagine, or to recall if its been awhile since you've seen a film, that some of his more well known films must have been steeped in sentimentality to an almost maudlin degree. People tend to put an emotional subject matter together with their perception of Ford and assume that these films have qualities that they don't actually posses. He had a Fordian way of "confronting" emotion and sentiment that was direct and unafraid and not hidden behind flippancy, irony or derision.

I have often wondered about the ways that Ford used and filtered color. I can recall the cast of it years after I've seen it films like "The Searchers" and "Drums Along the Mohawk" (every time I see that I wish more films had been set in the earlier periods of our history).

It's great to read the cards for the classics, but I definitely will seek out "When Willie Comes Marching Home" as I am unfamiliar with it and am intrigued. A "minor" Ford that I haven't seen before is a major find!

John D'Amico

Would love to hear more thoughts on What Price Glory – it's such a strange film. At times it feels like an heir to Pilgrimage and Four Sons – that whole Murnau influenced period in general – but there's a weird anger to it all that I can't quite get a bead on.

I love how you seemed to get more ecstatic about My Darling Clementine every viewing. I feel like I love that film more each time myself.


Ford's active years were from 1917 to 1967 the most formative of the industry. If your years had had that amount of opportunity you would have had as good a record as Ford. You have the advantage of being a very capable screenwriter too. You even like to write and talk about movies! I am greatful!


Pardon my last letter for talking about you in the past tense!! You're very much alive. By the way Happy Birthday!

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Personal Quotes
I love making pictures but I don't like talking about them.

Anybody can direct a picture once they know the fundamentals. Directing is not a mystery, it's not an art. The main thing about directing is: photograph the people's eyes.

Ghijath Naddaf

I know that it is a minor Position,but i love Donovans Reef.
It has a relaxed Aura,only a Master Filmmaker is able to reach.
Also it is breathtaking beautifully shot by William H.Clothier.
It stands side by side with" She wore a yellow Ribbon" and "The Quiet Man"as my favorite Ford.
I rewatch it at least once a Year.
Please excuse my bad English,but it is not my Mother Language.
Thank you,Mr.Bogdanovich, for sharing your thoughts about Cinema with us.
It is always a pleasure to read.

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