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An autumnal Ford,
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This review is from: The Horse Soldiers [DVD]  (DVD)
What excites and delights the eye is the painterly look of this hugely underrated late Ford near-masterpiece. William Clothier was the cinematographer, and he deserves much of the praise for the glowingly autumnal scenes which follow one upon another, ravishing the viewer. Ford as director might have framed the shots, but it is the actual look of the film that turns it from a good Civil War story into something very special.
Wayne is terrific, as he so often was in his later movies, such as the Howard Hawks `trilogy` and The Shootist, underplaying to poignant effect.
Holden seems a little underused, or should I say his character isn`t developed as much as it might be. But Holden was an actor incapable of giving anything but his natural best, and he`s excellent here too.
The revelation to me was Constance Towers, an often undervalued actress who was very effective in a couple of torrid Sam Fuller films, who turns out to be one of Wayne`s most interesting, and least fawning, leading ladies. Her quick change from flirtatious to steely is subtly done, and she gives her role a toughness that seems both unforced and unmannered.
Many of the Ford stock company are present and correct, including a cameo from the ubiquitous Strother Martin (without whom no western is quite complete) and I`m sure I saw Ward Bond in a tiny part, though he doesn`t appear to be listed in the credits.
I seriously think this is better than several more celebrated Ford films. For one thing, there`s no attempt at what Ford imagined was humour, and which spoils many scenes in his movies - his idea of humour tended either to have Wayne and his leading lady swap badly timed mock-insults, or Wayne and a male co-star indulge in glaringly unfunny, clunking knockabout. Even The Searchers (Ford`s best film in my view) suffers a little from this.
Along with Hawks`s Rio Lobo and Ang Lee`s Ride With The Devil, this is one of the best Civil War films I`ve seen. It`s not perfect, and much is left unresolved, but for its sheer beauty and its eloquent understatement (rarely a Ford trait) this deserves to be better known.
Do see this fine film.