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#219. John Ford

Very few American directors can legitimately be described as “The Best”. Sure, many have won the Best Director Oscar, but very few have won it multiple times. What is often unfortunate is that the director will be forgotten over time. Their works may stand as excellent marks of cinematic history, but usually the actors are recognized more than the men behind the camera. Along with the early American directors who helped form the world of film into what it is today, John Ford has an astonishing six Oscars to his name, four of which were for Best Director. Having straddled the line between silent film and talking pictures, Ford and his American contemporaries, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D.W. Griffith, and Orson Welles, stand out as the founding fathers of American cinema. This week’s two films focus on some of John Ford’s directing talents.

StagecoachStagecoach
Year: 1939
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 96 minutes/ 1.6 hours

Let’s face it: movies are easier to film when they’re on a single soundstage. That being said, John Ford was a literal and metaphorical trailblazer when it came to shooting “on location”. Perhaps this is why he was best known for his western films: it is difficult to recreate the wild frontier on a soundstage. In fact, the majority of his silent films were westerns. It is unfortunate that so many of these have been lost; only a mere 15% of his early works have survived. And yet, his most famous westerns came after this era. Films like Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and How the West Was Won (1962) all followed in the footsteps of his first “sound” western: Stagecoach (1939). Interestingly enough, this western was his only nomination for Best Director in this genre.

As a group of passengers boards a stagecoach in Tonto, Arizona, they have no idea of the adventure that is about to bring them together. A shunned prostitute (Claire Trevor), an alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell), a pregnant “army wife” (Louise Platt), and a whiskey salesman (Donald Meek) are on their way to Lordsburg, New Mexico. On the way, they pick up a Southern gambler (John Carradine) and a banker (Berton Churchill) before running across a young avenger: the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). All these different people have brought their physical and emotional baggage along with them, but soon start to realize that they aren’t that different from each other. After delivering a baby, surviving an Indian attack, and fording a river, the group finally arrives safely at Lordsburg, newly found lives now ready to take on the world.

How Green Was My ValleyHow Green Was My Valley
Year: 1941
Rating: G
Length: 118 minutes / 1.96 hours

With the exception of the aforementioned Stagecoach, John Ford has won every Best Director Oscar for which he was nominated. His first win came in 1935 with The Informer, which was also nominated for Best Picture (much like Stagecoach would be). Next, he would win for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), another Best Picture nominee. His final Best Director win (and Best Picture nominee) would come in 1952 with the romantic comedy, The Quiet Man. Of all his Best Director wins, only How Green Was My Valley (1941) also won the Best Picture Oscar as well. With four Best Director Oscars, John Ford is undoubtedly the best director in the history of American filmmaking. Only two other directors come close to this with three Best Director Oscars apiece: William Wyler and Frank Capra.

At first glance, the small coal mining town where Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall) lives seems to be a paradise tucked away in one of the valleys of South Wales. However, when the miners’ wages are cut, they forge together and strike for a return of their rightful pay. Huw’s father, Gwilym (Donald Crisp) doesn’t support the strike, which alienates him from the other miners, some of which are his older sons. After the strike is resolved, the town descends into poverty, many of the mine’s workers losing their jobs in the process. The day Huw’s older brother Ivor (Patric Knowles) becomes a father is the same day that he is killed in a mine accident. Even amidst this tragedy, Huw decides to forego a scholarship to study at a university in order to work in the coal mines with his father. Almost in response, another mine disaster strikes, taking Huw’s father along with his childish idealism.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Ford flicks

Bacon #: 3 (The Birth of a Nation / Walter Huston -> The Great Sinner / Kenneth Tobey -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)

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One response to “#219. John Ford

  1. Pingback: End of Act Five | Cinema Connections

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