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April 10 - May 28

Late Ford: A John Ford Retrospective, Part II

Ford’s late films, which are generally – and unfairly – overlooked in favor of his early work, see him critically reassessing his own cinematic legacy and refining and reexamining the themes – personal honor and morality versus the contradictions of man-made laws, the complex balance between individual freedom and civilization – that preoccupied him throughout his long career. While the late works share a notably ruminative, philosophical quality, they are also vibrant and exciting, full of visual experimentation, evocative Fordian imagery rich in painterly and historical references and jolts of bright humor. Far from being the work of a man past his prime, which was the curt dismissal that met so many of his last films upon their initial release, the late works reveal a deeply engaged master intent on reopening and reinventing some of the more difficult themes raised by his oeuvre - particularly the representations of race and racism.  

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


Saturday April 10 at 7pm

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Directed by John Ford.
With James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles
US 1962, 35mm, b/w, 122 min.

Ford’s last great western is an elegiac reassessment of the legendary vision of the West that he himself helped create with films like Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, with the iconic figure of John Wayne embodying its fading ideals of independence, personal honor and a deeply individualized moral code. Using a spare, minimalist visual style, Ford’s tale of civilization – represented by James Stewart’s Eastern lawyer – paving over the freedom of the old west takes on the tone of a parable about the high cost of progress. A summation and perfect distillation of dominant themes and ideas explored throughout Ford’s oeuvre, Liberty Valance remains among his most indispensable and engaging films.

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Saturday April 10 at 9:30pm

Seven Women

Directed by John Ford.
With Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton
US 1966, 35mm, color, 87 min.

Set in a highly stylized, expressionistic version of China, Ford’s last completed feature stars Anne Bancroft as a cynical doctor faced with a life changing decision. Revolving around Ford’s favorite themes – the conflicts between civilization and savagery, honor and hypocrisy – Seven Women is also an effective rebuke to critics of Ford’s treatment of women on film. As with Cheyenne Autumn, Seven Women marks an important twist by Ford, as he now explores life in an isolated, uncivilized outpost – the end of the world, according to one character – familiar to viewers of his Westerns through the point of view of women.

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Sunday May 2 at 7pm

Cheyenne Autumn

Directed by John Ford.
With Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, James Stewart
US 1964, 35mm, color, 159 min.

Ford’s ambitious attempt to craft a Western from the Native American point of view is based on the true story of the Cheyenne’s 1,500 mile march from their barren Oklahoma reservation to their native land in Yellowstone. During their brutal trek, during which they are reluctantly chased by Richard Widmark’s sympathetic Army Captain, Ford depicts the Cheyenne as iconic figures, shot against the stunning beauty of Monument Valley, with a grave majesty and a deep sense of respect. Ford’s last film shot in the location that is now inextricably linked to his films, Cheyenne Autumn’s mournful tone and mature subject matter signal a director nearing the close of a legendary career.

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Monday May 3 at 7pm

Sergeant Rutledge

Directed by John Ford.
With Woody Strode, Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers
US 1960, 35mm, color, 111 min.

Ford’s stylized, expressionistic visuals illustrate this tale of a black Army sergeant, played with unshakable integrity by former football player and Ford regular Woody Strode, falsely accused of the rape and murder of a white girl. Utilizing a flashback structure that reveals the details of the story in increments, Ford alternates between the occasionally farcical courtroom where the trial takes place and the wild, desolate desert – shot in Monument Valley – where Rutledge is a heroic figure, fearlessly leading his men against the Apache. Ford’s reexamination of representations of race in Westerns is still somewhat conflicted, with the Native Americans depicted as uncomplicated savages, a portrayal Ford would rectify in 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn.

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Monday May 10 at 7pm

The Horse Soldiers

Directed by John Ford.
With John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers
US 1959, 35mm, color, 119 min.

Based on the true story of a Union outfit destroying supply trains behind enemy lines during the Civil War, The Horse Soldiers stars Wayne in the familiar role of the gruff leader of a ragtag group which includes William Holden’s Army doctor and Constance Towers’ Confederate hostage. The at-times implausible antagonism that defines the relationship between Wayne's colonel and Holden's medic is balanced by typically striking, emotionally resonant imagery, as when young Southern cadets march off to battle and certain early death against the Yankees, and the haunting silhouette of troops parading along the banks of a river, shot on location in Louisiana.

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Friday May 28 at 7pm

Two Rode Together

Directed by John Ford.
With James Stewart, Richard Widmark, Shirley Jones
US 1961, 35mm, color, 109 min.

Similar to The Searchers in both its themes and basic plot, Two Rode Together teams James Stewart’s cynical opportunist with Richard Widmark’s idealistic Cavalry officer on a quest to rescue and return now-adult children captured by Indians to their families. Ford uses one of his favorite tropes, the dance sequence, not to show community building and unity, as he did in his earlier films such as My Darling Clementine, but to highlight the hypocrisy of the settlers and their ambivalence about reuniting with their Indian-raised children. The relative morality of this mission is highlighted in Ford’s famous scene of Stewart and Widmark talking along the bank of a river, an extended and reportedly improvised two-shot that directly influenced both Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich.

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Friday May 28 at 9pm

Donovan's Reef

Directed by John Ford.
With John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen
US 1963, 35mm, color, 109 min.

Shot in lush Technicolor on location in Kauai, this tale of two brawling Navy buddies evokes a seemingly Utopian society cut off from the rest of the world only to slowly reveal the cracks and fissures in its façade when the appearance of a young Bostonian, the daughter of the island doctor, wrecks chaos upon the isolated community. The stranger’s arrival stirs the racist contradictions of Wayne’s bar owner, who tries to hide the existence of the doctor’s island children from the woman who slowly captures his salty heart. A rousing, action-filled comedy, Donovan’s Reef’s relaxed rhythm was an important inspiration for Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

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