``

Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

May 29 - June 4

Ford at War: A John Ford Retrospective, Part III

Ford’s lifelong admiration for military lifestyle and culture has negatively impacted the reception of his work, with many reductive analyses incorrectly labeling him as unequivocally pro-military and, by extension, pro-war, when in fact Ford’s representations of the military are profoundly nuanced and far from uniformly positive. Often critical of commanding officers and the military hierarchy that sheltered them while celebrating the discipline that structure fostered, Ford’s respect is reserved almost exclusively for the privates, foot soldiers and lower ranking officers whose courage and camaraderie Ford found inspirational. Following his experiences leading the Field Photographic Branch during WWII, Ford’s already complex attitudes toward war shifted and deepened significantly, with They Were Expendable highlighting the drudgery and terrifying human toll of combat and even a comedy like When Willie Comes Marching Home questioning America’s insatiable need for heroes and our blindly patriotic zeal. Aside from the western, the war film is perhaps Ford’s most important genre, as it too analyzes and explores a profoundly American way of life.

This John Ford retrospective was made possible by a generous grant from the Sun Hill Foundation. Special thanks: Jennifer Combs, Sun Hill Foundation.


We regret to announce that the screening of Pilgrimage has been canceled. We will screen Rio Grande in its place.
Saturday May 29 at 7pm

Rio Grande

Directed by John Ford.
With John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 105 min.

The final entry in Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy” is one of his few films to reveal darker tensions at work within a family unit, here the dysfunctional marriage of John Wayne’s battle weary Colonel Yorke and his estranged wife Maureen O’Hara - only a few years before their dynamic union in The Quiet Man. The simmering familial tensions - brought to boil by the arrival of the Colonel’s wayward son - are mirrored in the deep distrust and racist violence that pits the Cavalry against the Indians. One of the more important “Cold War Westerns,” Rio Grande provides a fascinating counterpoint to the more pluralistic vision of the West seen in the earlier Fort Apache. For Rio Grande’s dramatic locations, Ford returned once more to his favorite location, Monument Valley, while also exploring other striking landscapes in remotest Utah.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday May 29 at 9pm

The Lost Patrol

Directed by John Ford.
With Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford
US 1934, 35mm, b/w, 66 min.

Concerned less with the usual preoccupations of war films – elaborate battle sequences, complicated military strategies – than with revealing the cracks and fault lines created under pressure, The Lost Patrol examines the psyches of a small, isolated group as they break down under stress. Boris Karloff, in one of his best roles, plays a deeply religious soldier slowly driven mad as fellow members of his patrol, lost deep in the desert, are eliminated one by one by unseen Arab gunmen. Conditions on location – the film was shot in Arizona in August – were almost as brutal as the ones depicted, intensifying the air of paranoia and desperation that pervades the film.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Introduction by Mary Anne Owen, Daughter of Donna Reed
Sunday May 30 at 7pm

They Were Expendable

Directed by John Ford.
With Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed
US 1945, 35mm, b/w, 136 min.

Ford was pulled from the front and sent back to Hollywood to direct this film about a torpedo squadron in the Philippines, and although he resented being forced to temporarily abandon his men, the film benefits greatly from Ford’s recent closeness to combat. He captures with exacting verisimilitude the intense camaraderie that develops between soldiers during war, as well as the bleakness and draining sense of despair that accompanies defeat and a long campaign. Its documentary-like approach, with poorly lit, claustrophobic interiors and hastily constructed bases, belies Expendable’s slow-paced, meditative tone, which once again emphasizes the honor and courage of a small – and constantly dwindling – group of ordinary men in the face of defeat and an uncaring, uncomprehending high command. Introduced by Donna Reed's daughter, Mary Anne Owen, who will also read a selection of GI letters written to Reed during WWII.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Monday May 31 at 7pm

When Willie Comes Marching Home

Directed by John Ford.
With Dan Dailey, Corinne Calvet, Colleen Townsend
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 82 min.

Given the rare chance to direct a straight comedy – a genre he hadn’t worked in since his Will Rogers films in the 1930s – Ford attacked this WWII homefront farce with evident glee, filling almost every frame with pratfalls, sight gags and sprawling brawls as he satirizes small town hysteria, pinpointing the fevered moment when patriotism becomes paranoia. Punxatawney, West Virginia is portrayed as a stereotypical haven for a narrow-minded, easily excitable townsfolk, exemplified by William Demarest – in the first of two films he made with Ford – as the suspicious, cantankerous father of Dan Dailey’s hapless soldier.

The Battle of Midway

Directed by John Ford.
US 1942, 16mm, color, 20 min.

As chief of the Field Photographic Branch, which reported to the Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the C.I.A. – during WWII, Ford made films for the internal use of the government and some, like The Battle of Midway, for the general public. Unlike anything that had been seen on movie screens before, Ford’s short documentary captured the incredible chaos and terrifying scope of the battle in full color in a stunningly successful bid to raise American awareness and patriotism for the war effort.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday June 4 at 7pm

The Long Gray Line

Directed by John Ford.
With Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara, Robert Francis
US 1955, 35mm, color, 138 min.

Set at West Point, The Long Gray Line is unique in its focus on a career military man who never sees battle, yet is profoundly concerned with the human toll of war and the factory-like nature of a school that produces generations of professional soldiers. Based on the life of Irish immigrant Marty Maher, who spent fifty years teaching at West Point, Ford blends Irish mysticism and the immigrant experience with an exploration of the rigidity of military discipline. Ultimately siding squarely with the necessity of the military lifestyle, the film is nonetheless a deeply emotional examination of the human cost of war from the point of view of a man forever on the sidelines.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday June 4 at 9:30pm

This is Korea!

Directed by John Ford.
US 1951, 35mm, color, 50 min.

A poetic documentary depicting war from the soldier’s eye view, This is Korea! eschews typical documentary strategies in favor of a “you are there” veracity and an insistent refusal to glorify or gloss over the hard facts of war. Ford focuses instead on the foot soldiers experiences and fears and their weary, stubborn persistence.

December 7th

Directed by John Ford and Gregg Toland.
US 1943, 16mm, b/w, 34 min.

Co-directed with famed cinematographer Gregg Toland, December 7th was made for the O.S.S. to document the aftermath and potential causes of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film uses staged footage of the battle combined with documentary images of the islands to create a devastating account of the attack. Voiceovers of dead soldiers underscore their unity as Americans and, inevitably in a war film, the Navy’s – and the nation’s – ability to bounce back.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700