Friday, March 18, 2011

And The Winner Is... Director John Ford.

John Ford (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973), was famous for his westerns, Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Grapes of Wrath. His four Academy Award for Best Directors (1935, 1940, 1941, 1952) is a record, and one of those films, How Green Was My Valley, also won Best Picture.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Ford directed more than 140 films and he is one of the most influential filmmakers of his era.

Ford was one of the first directors to go on location shooting and the long shot which frames his characters against the rugged natural terrain.

John Ford won the most Oscars by any director with 4 films:

The Informer (1935), dramatic film. The film takes place during the Irish War of Independence, set in 1922. Cast: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Margot Grahame, Wallace Ford, Una O'Connor and J.M. Kerrigan. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols from the novel The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty.

The story is about Irishman, Gypo Nolan , who turns in his best friend Frankie McPhillip, who is a member of the Irish Republican Army, in order to collect the reward and sail to the United States with his girlfriend . His conscience begins to bother him, which eventually gets the better of him.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940), drama film based on John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson and the executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck.

The film tells the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family, who, after losing their farm during the Great Depression in the 1930s, become migrant workers and travel to California, in search of work and a brighter future.

How Green Was My Valley (1941), drama film based on the Richard Llewellyn novel of the same name. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five and beating out such classics as Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion and Sergeant York for Best Picture.

The story is told through a voice-over narration of Huw Morgan, now a middle-aged man leaving his home and remembering his life growing up:

His first memories are of the marriage of his brother, Ivor and the forbidden romance of his sister, Angharad, with the new preacher, Mr. Gruffydd . Angharad marries another man, whom she later divorces, and Mr. Gruffydd leaves the chapel because of the untrue town gossip about his romance with Angharad. Still too young to work in the local coal mine like his father, Gwilym, and his five older brothers, know the seriousness of the strike and the problems it will create when three of the boys move out on their own.

The Quiet Man (1952). Romantic comedy-drama film. Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Victor McLaglen and Barry Fitzgerald. It was based on a 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story by Maurice Walsh. The film is best known for its lush photography of the Irish countryside and the semi-comic fist fight between Wayne and McLaglen.

The story begins when, Sean Thornton , an Irish-born American from Pittsburgh, returns to Ireland to live at his family's farm. He meets and falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher, the sister of the bad tempered, Will Danaher.

Danaher, angry with Sean for outbid him for the land adjacent to his property, at first refuses to accept the marriage until the parish priest, tricks him into believing that the wealthy Widow Tillane wants to marry him, but only if Mary Kate is no longer living in the house. After learning the truth, Will refuses to give his sister her dowry. Sean, cares nothing about the dowry, but Mary Kate, believes that it represents her independence. Heartbroken, by Sean's refusal to demand what is legally hers, she calls him a coward and boards a train headed to Dublin. Sean, arrives just in time and drags her off the train, followed by the townspeople, forcing her to walk the five miles home. Sean demands that Will hand over her dowry. Will Mary Kate, receive her dowry?

John Ford's Trade Mark:

It did not matter where his westerns were set, filming exteriors at Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah, USA.

Funeral goers in his movies usually sing the hymn, "Shall We Gather at the River."

If a doomed character plays poker, the last hand he plays before going to his death will be the "death hand" (two aces, one of them the ace of spades, and two 8s; so-called because Wild Bill Hickok held this hand when he was murdered). The hand will be shown in close-up.

Frequently cast: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, and James Stewart.

Rarely used camera movements in his films, reserving them only for very specific moments. Also avoided close-ups as much as possible.

Westerns and war movies.


There was a group of actors, known as the John Ford Stock Company (John Wayne, Harry Carey, John Carradine, Henry Fonda ) that turned up regularly in Ford's films. They knew how to work with Ford and each other, which suited Ford's directing style: "I tell the actors what I want and they give it to me, usually on the first take.".

Supporting members of Ford's "Stock Company" include Ward Bond, Ken Curtis, Jane Darwell, Francis Ford, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen, Mae Marsh, Mildred Natwick, John Qualen, Woody Strode, Tom Tyler, and Patrick Wayne.

Ford often used members of his family (including his two brothers, Francis Ford and Edward O'Fearna) in his films, but only in subordinate roles. Patrick Ford recalled, "My conversations with him, as his only son -- that I know of -- were always 'Yessir', until one day I said 'no sir', and then I was no longer around. Our family life was pretty much that of a ship master and his crew, or a wagon master and his people. He gave the orders, and we carried them out".

He was an infamously prickly personality, having constantly mocked John Wayne as a "big idiot" and having punched an unsuspecting Henry Fonda during the shooting of the film, Mister Roberts (1955).

When his western, Hell Bent (1918) for Universal was released, "Motion Picture News" praised Ford's direction, writing, "Few directors put such sustained punch in their pictures as does this Mr. Ford." It was the ninth in a series of films featuring Harry Carey as "Cheyenne Harry," who was more of a saddle tramp than a conventional western hero.

Directed 10 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Victor McLaglen, Thomas Mitchell, Edna May Oliver, Jane Darwell, Henry Fonda, Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Jack Lemmon. McLaglen, Mitchell, Darwell, Crisp and Lemmon won Oscar for one of their roles in one of Fords movies.

Prior to making The Searchers (1956), Ford entered the hospital for the removal of cataracts. While recuperating after the surgery, he became impatient with the bandages covering his eyes and tore them off earlier than his doctors told him to. The result of that rash action was that Ford suffered a total loss of sight in one eye, which is how he came to wear his famous eyepatch.

Was the first director to win back-to-back Best Director Oscars (having won in 1941 and 1942).

A young would-be director once came to him for advice, and Ford pointed out two landscape photographs in his office. One had the horizon at the top of the picture, and the other had it at the bottom of the picture. Ford said "when you know why the horizon goes at the top of the frame or the bottom of a frame, then you're a director," and threw the kid out of his office. The would-be director was Steven Spielberg.

His favorite actress was Maureen O'Hara and his favorite actor was John Wayne.

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.

It is easier to get an actor to be a cowboy than to get a cowboy to be an actor.

I didn't show up at the ceremony to collect any of my first three Oscars. Once I went fishing, another time there was a war on, and on another occasion, I remember, I was suddenly taken drunk.

For a director there are commercial rules that it is necessary to obey. In our profession, an artistic failure is nothing; a commercial failure is a sentence. The secret is to make films that please the public and also allow the director to reveal his personality.

On John Wayne: Duke is the best actor in Hollywood.

As a beauty, Dolores del Rio is in a class with Greta Garbo. Then she opens her mouth and becomes Minnie Mouse.

(about the CinemaScope anamorphic aspect ratio) I hated it. You've never seen a painter use that kind of composition - even the great murals, it still wasn't this huge tennis court. Your eyes pop back and forth, and it's very difficult to get a close-up.

A lone Western rider at John Ford's Point on the Utah/Arizona border.


  1. I've been watching a lot of John Ford's films recently Dawn,including Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, but he made so many classic films that I've really only scratched the surface!
    He was a real pioneer and one of the originators of the technique of having a stock company of actors, an idea which was later used by people like Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood.
    He deserves his place amongst the all-time great movie directors and I'm really enjoying catching up on his films.

  2. thank you!!It is all sooooooooooo good!!!

    i enjoy your blog very much:))

  3. Paul, I hope that you have seen Monty's and mine western page, Saddles and Spurs: The Great Westerns. We have several of John Fords, movie reviews posted. Also, a interesting John Ford, video posted up on the side bar.

    Anita, Thank you. I also love your wonderful blog. You have posted some beautiful pictures. I plan to stop by often.

  4. Hi Dawn, I will try and visit Saddles And Spurs again soon.... so many blogs so little time :)

  5. Excellent post Dawn. John Ford was an amazing director.

  6. Paul, LOL..I know what you mean :)

    Monty, Thank you. :)


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