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ford.jpg (11495 bytes)John Ford: A Major Retrospective

He embarked in Hollywood in the silent-era days of World War I, and he worked into the 1960s, the dissolution of the studio system. In between, John Ford (1895-1973) had a singularly awe-inspiring career as a filmmaker, winning many Best Picture Academy Awards and gaining the admiration of critics and other filmmakers around the world. In this critic’s opinion, he is not only the greatest American director of them all but worthy to be listed among the great American artists of the century, with Faulkner and Pollock and Ellington.


June 1 (Tuesday) 7:30 pm

Cheyenne Autumn

Directed by John Ford
USA 1964, 145 min., color, 35mm
With Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Delores Del Rio, Sal Mineo, Edward G. Robinson

John Ford’s last western, and last trek through Monument Valley, is a sprawling, uneven, though entertaining curio, and sometimes most embarrassing where it tries to be most politically correct, making amends for Ford’s xenophobic treatment of Native Americans in early films. This one, based on Mari Sandoz’s novel, tells of the displacement of the Cheyenne tribe, their tragic forced march, from the Cheyenne perspective. Too bad that so many Cheyennes are played by an all-star cast of Hollywood actors.

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June 2 (Wednesday) 7:00 pm

The Informer

Directed by John Ford
USA 1935, b/w, 35mm, 91 min.
With McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster

This was the film that, in his eighteenth year directing, made John Ford famous, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay (Dudley Nichols), Best Music (Max Steiner). It’s a still enormously envigorating adaptation of the Liam O’Flaherty novel about a Dublin lowlife, Gippo (Victor McLaglen, another deserved Oscar), who sells out his revolutionary pal to the police for a handful of money, which he promptly drinks away with his pals. The pub-crawling scenes are precious ones, and Ford is effective getting the feel of life among the IRA. This is one of Ford’s most heavily expressionist works, and among the most overtly Catholic.

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June 2 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Judge Priest

judgepriest.jpg (13784 bytes)Directed by John Ford
USA 1934, b/w, 35mm, 80 min.
With Rogers, Fetchit, Henry Walthall

The best chance to watch Will Rogers, the likable, homespun Oklahoman who became a national institution. He’s genial and relaxed and pleasantly amateur here as a small-town judge, and Ford is equally relaxed in this anecdotal pastoral. The most uncomfortable element for modern audiences is to deal with the shuffling, slow-as-molasses comedy of Stepin Fetchit as Rogers’ servant. Most are offended by his Uncle Tomism. A minority (including certain African-American scholars) see Fetchit as a comic genius who found ways to play against the rhythm of the white characters and steal the scenes. And what of Rogers and Fetchit together? Is their relationship master-slave? Or almost, strangely, egalitarian?

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June 7 (Monday) 7 pm

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Directed by John Ford
USA 1962, b/w, 35mm, 123 min.
With Wayne, Stewart, Marvin, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, John Qualen

A wonderful entry into Ford: even those who disdain westerns see Liberty Valance and adore this masterwork. It’s a grand movie about politics, law, journalism, history, education, with a love triangle as tragic, and moving, as Cyrano de Bergerac. The film’s priceless flashbacks are Ford’s six-gun salute to the volatile America of yesteryear, when John Wayne rides tall, Lee Marvin (as Liberty) is the baddest bad man on the range, and the cactus rose grows untamed in the desert. All this changes when Jimmy Stewart comes West with law books in his hand. More? The epiphanic last shots are worthy of Joyce. A must-see.

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June 7 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Mogambo

Directed by John Ford with Gable, Gardner, Kelly
USA 1953, color, 35mm, 115 min.

The first revival in decades of one of Ford’s most star-rich, once-popular films, in which, on a safari in French Equatorial Africa, Clark Gable stands between the lusty bad woman (Ava Gardner) and the luscious good one (Grace Kelly). There is old-fashioned Hollywood fun here, as the director was off on a holiday for this on-location assignment. Ford: "I liked the script, and I’d never been to that part of Africa."

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June 9 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Rio Grande

Directed by John Ford
USA 1950, b/w, 35mm, 105 min.
With Wayne, O’Hara, Calude Jarman, Jr.

In Ford’s most courtly, underrated cavalry movie, a colonel (John Wayne), his wife (Maureen O’Hara), and his estranged son are drawn together during an episode in the Apache Wars on the Mexican border. There are lots of delicious songs from the Sons of the Pioneers and a luminous scene (shot in black and white)where Wayne and O’Hara stroll down by the immortal titular river.

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June 14 (Monday) 7 pm

Fort Apache

Directed by John Ford
USA 1948, b/w, 35mm, 127 min.
With Fonda, John Wayne, Shirley Temple, John Agar, George O’Brien

Ford’s loose dramatization of the Custer story, with Henry Fonda cast as a sullen, stubborn martinet of a cavalry commander, who is willing to sacrifice his men in battle against the Apache. Ford: "Custer a hero? Well, he wasn’t. Not that he was a stupid man—but he did a stupid job that day."

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June 16 (Wednesday) 7 pm
June 20 (Sunday) 3 pm

Stagecoach

Directed by John Ford
USA 1939, b/w, 35mm, 96 min.
With Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Donald Meek, Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine

Ever-fresh story (adapted from De Maupassant) about a disparate group of strangers traveling through Apache territory in a stagecoach. The Apaches are, unfortunately, the howling, murderous Other, but the people within the stagecoach, and the drivers too, are all three-dimensional and forever memorable, a primary lesson in Ford’s uncanny ability at characterization. This movie is the so-called first "adult western," and it’s the one that made John Wayne famous in a poignant role as a lad with a sterling heart on the run from the law. (Notice how the ending prefigures Casablanca.)

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Wednesday 16 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Sun Shines Bright

Directed by John Ford
USA 1953, b/w, 35mm, 90 min.
With Winninger, Arleen Whelan, Fetchit, John Russell, Russell Simpson

This was often cited by Ford as the favorite of his films, which is, frankly, an odd choice. It’s a remake of Judge Priest, with Charles Winninger replacing the late Will Rogers but with Stepin Fetchit still doing his slow-motion black man. More than most, The Sun Shines Bright divides Ford afficionados, between those who find it deliriously personal (and therefore good) and those who see the film as unhappily retro in its racial politics.

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June 21 (Monday) 7 pm & 9:15 pm
June 23 (Wednesday) 7 pm & 9:15 pm
June 27 (Sunday) 3 pm
The Harvard Film Archive is proud to offer The Searchers in probably its first multi-show run since its 1956 release.

The Searchers

Directed by John Ford
USA 1956, color, 35mm, 119 min.
With Wayne, Wood, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles

Scorsese, Lucas, DePalma, and Schrader have all quoted in their movies from this great, great Indian captivity film (the Great American Film?) which, at release, was passed over as a routine western. Routine? Think The Odyssey. Think The Last of the Mohicans. Think King Lear out West, with mad Ethan (Lear), Ole Mose (the Fool), and Marty (Edmond) wandering in the storm about Monument Valley until Ethan embraces Debbie (Cordelia) and the universe calms down. Think a Marxist universe, moving from paganism to civilization through the dialectic clash of Ethan and Scar. Jean-Luc Godard: "Mystery and fascination of the American cinema. . . . How can I hate John Wayne upholding Goldwater and yet love him when abruptly he takes Natalie Wood in his arms in the last reel of The Searchers?"

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June 28 (Monday) 9 pm
June 30 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Grapes of Wrath

Directed by John Ford
USA 1940, b/w, 35mm, 129 min.
With Fonda, Darwell, Carradine

Nobody needs to be a John Ford specialist to adore this abiding, brilliant movie from the John Steinbeck novel, among the best screen adaptations ever. Perfect casting: Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Jane Darwell as "Ma"Joad, John Carradine as the Preacher Casey, John Qualen as Muley. Who watching this film doesn’t get completely caught up in the plight of the Joads, that well-meaning Oakie family trying to find the American dream as migrants in California? Here, Ford is the ultimate populist, and his deep love for common folk shines bright. "You can’t stop the people. . . The people keep a’comin’. . ."

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July 6 (Tuesday) 7 pm

My Darling Clementine

Directed by John Ford
USA 1946, b/w, 35mm, 97 min.
With Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Cathy Downs

Among Ford’s most celebrated westerns is his rendition of the Wyatt Earp saga, how Wyatt (Fonda) and the Earp brothers, with the help of TB-impaired Doc Holliday (Mature), cleaned up Tombstone, climaxing in an immensely exciting battle against the white-trash Clantons at the OK Corral. Amazingly, Ford pumps life into the most archetypal western story. There’s a clash between the starched educated woman (Downs) and the goodhearted whore (Darnell); and the good cowboy brings civilization to an uncivilized town, and then moves West. Thus, Ford’s Wyatt adheres to historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s theory of the democratization of the American frontier.

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July 7 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

The Long Voyage Home

Directed by John Ford
USA 1940, b/w, 35mm, 105 min.
With Wayne, Mitchell, Qualen, Natwick

The most unknown, unseen of John Ford masterpieces is this moody, melancholic rendition of three Eugene O’Neill one-acts about sailors lost in lonely life on the sea. Here is one of those immortal Ford ensembles of character actors—Thomas Mitchell, John Qualen, Barry Fitzgerald, Mildred Natwick—who surround young, gawky John Wayne. . . playing a Swede! He’s the hope, the one person who everybody tries to send home and away from the torturous shipboard life. The extraordinary camerawork is by Gregg Toland, just before doing Citizen Kane.

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July 11 (Sunday) 3 pm
July 13 (Tuesday) 7pm

How Green Was My Valley

Directed by John Ford
USA 1941, b/w, 35mm, 118 min.
With Roddy McDowall, Maureen O’Hara, Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon

There are a few movies which are impossible not to love. This multiple Academy Award winner (including Best Picture) is one of them, the delicate, warmhearted story of a tiny boy (McDowall) growing up in a tight family in a Welsh coal mining town. Slowly, all the good things disintegrate, in mining disasters, altercations between the boy’s conservative father (Crisp) and militant older brothers, and the marriage of the boy’s older sister (O’Hara) to a rich recluse. In elegiac flashback, the boy (now an adult) recalls: "How green was my valley then!") Sad, humane, unforgettable.

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July 14 (Wednesday) 9 pm
July 18 (Sunday) 3 pm

Wagon Master

Directed by John Ford
USA 1950, b/w, 35mm, 86 min.
with Harry Carey, Jr., Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Ward Bond

Seeing a western as an adult that one worshipped as a child can be a disappointing experience. The pictures often prove klunky, abominably acted, and infantile. Ford’s lovely Wagon Master is that rare exception.

It contains that purity and boy-scout ingenuousness which we associate with westerns for children, but it is marvelously executed and perfectly entertaining for adults also. The story: two roaming cowhands (Johnson, Carey, Jr.) join a Mormon wagon train heading for the frontier, and meet a pretty girl (Dru). 

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July 20 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Young Mr. Lincoln

Directed by John Ford
USA 1939, b/w, 35mm, 101 min.
With Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver 

Another Ford undisputed masterpiece, and perhaps the best fictionalized biography film ever made: Cahiers du Cinema devoted a whole theoretical issue to unraveling this movie’s complicated ideology. What can one say? Henry Fonda. with top hat and putty nose and bashful sincerity and inconsolable sadness over the death of Ann Rutledge, is Abe Lincoln. It is that early period of his life when Lincoln wasn’t quite ready to climb that hill toward destiny in Washington, D.C. When Fonda’s long-legged Lincoln rides through town on a donkey, it feels like one has stepped into history. Montages? One of the greatest in cinema, Griffith-like, occurs as the river turn to ice at Anne’s grave site.

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July 20 (Tuesday) 9 pm
July 21 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Directed by John Ford
USA 1949, color, 35mm, 103 min.
With John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Victor McLaglen

Ford’s most rousing cavalry saga, with military battles, roustabout low comedy by Ford’s stock company (Shakespeare did it, too!), and the sentimental retirement of tough career military man, Captain Nathan Brittles (Wayne, playing older than his real age). There is also the Academy Award-winning color cinematography of Winston Hoch, most famous for the scene with a wounded soldier being operated on during a Tintoretto-like lightning storm.

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July 27 (Tuesday) 7 pm
July 28 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

The Quiet Man

quietman.jpg (12994 bytes)Directed by John Ford
USA 1952, color, 35mm, 129 min.
With Wayne, O’Hara, McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, Mildred Natwick

John Ford in a buoyant mood, making this easygoing masterwork in his beloved green Ireland. Wayne plays a disillusioned boxer who comes to Ireland to get away from it all, and immediately gets smitten by Maureen O’Hara’s pre-Raphaelite beauty. He’s back in battle, as she will only marry him if he fights her blustery brother (Victor McLaglen) for her dowry. Luck of the Irish: Ford’s happiest ending is here.Usually, in his forty-five years in Hollywood, Ford stood tall with a tragic vision of life.

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