It’s impossible to think or discuss the Western without considering John Ford and the role he played in the evolution of the genre. To be honest, it’s difficult to have a decent discussion on the history of film in general and avoid mentioning the four-time Oscar winner who left a deep mark with a huge body of work, with movies ranging from solid works of a highly capable craftsman to downright masterpieces of an uncompromising visionary. Ford wielded a huge influence on his contemporaries, just as he directly inspired thousands of filmmakers that started working after his death. Working in the industry for more than half a century, starting out as an apprentice and assistant to his talented older brother Francis before jumping into the director’s chair and creating a series of more than sixty silent films, of which only ten have been salvaged, Ford experienced a real breakthrough in the thirties. As one of the pioneer filmmakers of the new era of film, Ford established himself as one of the leading directors in Hollywood, and in 1935 earned his first Academy Award for directing The Informer, four years before delivering the masterpiece that launched him to the very top: Stagecoach was his first western with sound, a landmark film that put John Wayne under the same spotlight the superstar would continue to shine for the next couple of decades. In the following years Ford directed more than several masterpieces: The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley, the Cavalry Trilogy (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande), My Darling Clementine, The Quiet Man, followed by two unforgettable titles considered among the very best in Ford’s unbelievably rich and productive career: The Searchers, perhaps the most recognized western of all time, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a nostalgic, poignantly beautiful farewell to the genre he made his name in. Ford’s influence on his colleagues should be a topic for a whole other essay: Frank Capra called him the king of directors, Ingmar Bergman considered him the best director in the world, Hitchcock described his films as visual gratification, while Orson Welles allegedly watched Stagecoach forty times before making Citizen Kane. One of the more famous comments on the importance of Ford actually came from his mouth, when he stated he was influenced by the classical filmmakers, “by which he meant John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”
The Grapes of Wrath, Ford’s 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, was instantly hailed as one of the best movies ever made on the basis of a literary work, and even when critics started dissecting Steinbeck’s novel and exposing its imperfections, the reputation of Ford’s film remained intact. Written by Nunnally Johnson, shot by the masterful Gregg Toland, a year before he worked on Citizen Kane, with the score of Alfred Newman (Wuthering Heights, How the West Was Won, How Green Was My Valley) and starring the great Henry Fonda, this film is a powerful exploration of the importance of family and community in dire times. The reason why we’re reminding you of the value of this specific movie is, once again, Mise-en-Scène, the precious film magazine published in 1979 by Case Western Reserve University Film Society, whose lights went out far too quickly due to budgetary reasons. As we explained in the article on Fritz Lang, we succeeded in getting our hands on a copy of the first issue. Today, we’re very happy to give you access to two more insightful, well-written essays: Amy Kotkin’s ‘John Ford and the Western’ and ‘John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath,’ written by Richard W. Evans. Dig in as soon as you get the chance, and remind yourselves of the importance and power of a really unique filmmaker. You can download the PDF here.
MARTIN SCORSESE ON ‘THE SEARCHERS’
“The Searchers has been more or less officially recognized as a great American classic. But I have to admit that I never really know what that kind of recognition amounts to. The film turns up on many 10-greatest-films-of-all-time lists, including my own. At least two moments from the picture—John Wayne lifting up Natalie Wood and then cradling her in his arms and the final shot—are commonly included in clip reels. Film lovers know it by heart. But what about average movie watchers? Is it as well known as It’s a Wonderful Life or Casablanca or Breakfast at Tiffany‘s? What place does John Ford’s masterpiece occupy in our national consciousness? As Glenn Frankel puts it in The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, his fascinating new book about the picture and the history behind it, “The Searchers is perhaps the greatest Hollywood film that few people have seen.” —Martin Scorsese on The Searchers
“There’s a lot of pictures I’m going to talk about. Certainly one of my favorites is The Searchers, John Ford’s The Searchers. Up to that point, I’d become aware of certain names on films, and one of the key names was John Ford. I saw his name usually on the films I enjoyed, and then I began to realize what a director did and that is translate ideas into images, using the lens like a pen, and that’s the key… it’s forcing the audience to see something a certain way that you want them to see it.” —Martin Scorsese
“I STUDY JOHN FORD”
John Milius on John Ford and Akira Kurosawa’s biggest hero.
DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD
Peter Bogdanovich first met John Ford in 1963, when he conducted the first out of a series of interviews with the legendary filmmaker. Four years later, Bogdanovich published an interview book about Ford, and even though the director was allegedly dissatisfied with both the original Variety piece from 1963 and the “caricature” of a book from 1967, the two of them started a friendship that prompted Bogdanovich to start working on a documentary. Directed by John Ford was introduced to the world in 1971 with high praise from critics. Bogdanovich, however, wasn’t all that happy about what his passionate documentary tribute turned out to be. Since there were insufficient funds to purchase the rights to relevant inserts from Ford’s movies, the documentary was destined to be shown only in non-profit venues, meaning it was rarely seen upon its initial release. Furthermore, Bogdanovich felt he failed to explore Ford’s character and personal life in sufficient depth. After a critically successful screening of the original documentary at the 1999 Telluride Film Festival, Bogdanovich decided to make a revised version of the film that ultimately came out in 2006.
As promised to producer and friend Frank Marshall, Bogdanovich kept “all the good stuff” in the film—such as brilliant material with John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda—enriching it with additional interviews with actors Clint Eastwood, Maureen O’Hara and Harry Carey, Jr., as well as inserting his conversations with filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill and Steven Spielberg. With the new version, Bogdanovich felt he rounded up what he wanted to say about the iconic filmmaker considered by most as one of the most significant cinematic authors in American cinema. John Ford would have probably discarded the film, claiming he only endured three minutes of it before nausea started to kick in. But then again, he made similar comments on Bogdanovich’s interview book about him, only to buy 200 copies of the collection. It’s just who John Ford was, a complex man with one heck of an unprecedented talent for cinema. The DVD of the documentary is available at Amazon and other online retailers.
MY NAME IS JOHN FORD: I MAKE MOVIES
“Then, last year, while on a YouTube search, I found a fragment of what purported to be a never broadcast BBC interview of Ford from 1968. I recognized it instantly as the interview on which I had worked. The video looked like uncorrected, raw dailies; I could believe it had never been broadcast, although Joseph McBride says he saw a finished version titled My Name is John Ford: I Make Movies.” —My Morning with John Ford: Through a Pilsner Glass
THE AMERICAN WEST OF JOHN FORD
1971 CBS TV documentary on the career and Westerns of the legendary filmmaker. Narrated by John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda.
“John Ford as featured director in an episode of the television series Cineastes de notre temps; author’s attempts at befriending Ford; personality and charisma of Ford; influences of other directors on Ford; making of Western movies; reason for being a director; working relationship with actors. He had conducted that one from his bed, having taunted the hapless Gaul with his own fractured French. Shortly before his death in 1973 and now living in La Quinta, Ford allowed himself to be photographed in his bed with his friends John Huston and Dennis Hopper.” —My Morning with John Ford: Through a Pilsner Glass
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