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].”
WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME (1950; Fox).
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.)
WHAT PRICE GLORY (1952; Fox).
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:
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.