Classic John Ford collection begins with 'My Darling Clementine' (1946), a classic paean to the Old West. Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers Virgil (Tim Holt) and Morgan (Ward Bond) head for a peaceful ranching life in California, but tragedy strikes and makes Wyatt take up the Sheriff's badge again in the town of Tombstone - home to Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and the notorious Clanton Boys. It isn't long before the Earps, Holliday and the Clantons face off in the most famous gunfight in history - at the OK Corral. Ford's adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel 'The Grapes Of Wrath' (1940), follows the traumatic journey made by the Joads, a dispossesed Oklahoma family who head towards California to begin a new life. Henry Fonda stars as Tom Joad, struggling against the forces of nature and the Depression to set down roots for the future. In 'The Horse Soldiers' (1959), John Wayne plays hardbitten Union Cavalry Colonel Marlowe, who teams up with a pacifist doctor (William Holden) in this Civil War western.Together with a feisty Southern belle (Constance Towers), the pair lead a cavalry patrol on a mission 300 miles into Confederate territory, in an attempt to destroy a railroad junction and choke off vital supply lines.
The Grapes of Wrath
- John Ford's memorable screen version of John Steinbeck's epic novel of the Great Depression--often regarded as the director's best film--stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. After having served a brief prison sentence for manslaughter, Joad arrives at his family's Oklahoma farm only to find it abandoned. Muley (John Qualen), a neighbour now nearly mad with grief, tells Tom of the drought that has transformed the farmland of Oklahoma into a desert and of the preying land agents who have ploughed under the shacks of the sharecroppers. Joined by former hellfire preacher Casy (John Carradine), Tom finds his extended family packing their ramshackle truck to seek work in the fields of California. Among the talented cast, Fonda does perhaps the best work of his career, as does Qualen in the film's most haunting sequence. In a stirring film that stands as a microcosm of the depression experience of millions, Ford gives poverty a human face in a way that was rare then and even rarer in the decades to follow as Hollywood films with a sense of class consciousness dwindled like a species nearing extinction.
In John Ford's How Green Was My Valley
, Huw Morgan, now a middle-aged man leaving the mining town of Cwm Rhondda, recalls the events that most impressed themselves upon his younger self (Roddy McDowall). Still too young to work in the local coal mine like his father, Gwilym (Donald Crisp), and his five older brothers, he senses the seriousness of an imminent strike by the rift it creates between his father and the other boys. Richard Llewellyn's nostalgic novel, with its Fordian themes of family and community, could hardly have found a better director. While the acting and writing are excellent, this is truly Ford's film, one in which his brilliantly chosen groupings and compositions are the most expressive elements. Possibly the most moving film of Ford's career, How Green Was My Valley
received five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The Horse Soldiers
- This latter-day sort-of Western from John Ford--falling midway between The Searchers
and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
--is a crisp re-telling of a true-life episode from the Civil War. In 1863 a Union colonel named Grierson (Marlowe in the film, and John Wayne by any name) led his cavalry several hundred miles behind Confederate lines to cut the railroad between Newton Station and soon-to-be-embattled Vicksburg. There's a certain amount of bombast in the running arguments about wartime ethics between Marlowe and the new regimental surgeon (William Holden), who don't take to each other at all. But Ford more than makes up for it with such tasty scenes as an encounter with a couple of redneck Rebel deserters (Denver Pyle and Strother Martin), an ethereal swamp crossing led by a cornpone deacon (Hank Worden), and above all the famous skirmish with a hillside full of grade-school cadets from a venerable military academy. The film ends rather abruptly because Ford abandoned a climactic battle scene--the veteran stunt man and bit player Fred Kennedy having been killed in a horse fall. --Richard T. Jameson My Darling Clementine
- In another of his classic Westerns, John Ford again reflects upon the advance of civilisation on the receding frontier, recounting the events leading up to and including the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. As they drive their cattle toward California, Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers, Morgan (Ward Bond), Virgil (Tim Holt), and young James (Don Garner), stop outside Tombstone, Arizona, where they refuse an offer for their stock made by Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) and his son, Ike (Grant Withers). The three older brothers ride into town, and, after Wyatt subdues a drunk, return to the wagons to find James dead and their cattle stolen. With little doubt about who the perpetrators are, Wyatt decides to accept the offer to be marshal of Tombstone that he had just recently refused. Although ostensibly focused on the famed gunfight, My Darling Clementine
's more concerned like many of Ford's films with the creation of a community, the rule of law, and the civilising influence of women on the wild and woolly West. When the showdown finally comes, it's without blood lust, as the Earp brothers conduct themselves with the ritual solemnity of samurai warriors. Fonda gives a subtle, brilliantly understated performance in the lead role, establishing a naturalist motif that is picked up and furthered by Joseph MacDonald's magnificent, barely lit shots of Ford's beloved Monument Valley.