Tuesday, December 10, 2013

an oldie that got me in a lotta trouble--john ford


John Ford

I was reading some of David Thomson's older essays tonight and came across his piece on John Ford, the one that got Thomson in so much trouble with so many students of film.

What he basically said was that the only really good film Ford ever did was The Searchers and that the rest of them--paerticularly those he's celebrated for--are mawkish, formulaic, ham-handed melodramas set in a west that never existed. He does allow that at least a few of the later films such as Cheyenne Autumn do try to get away from his claptrap about the Army in the west. Read a military journal sometime if you want to see how full of beans Ford was.

God, I'm glad Thomson wrote that. I've always felt the same way about Ford. I agree especially with what Thomspon said about My Darling Clementine. What a piece of bullshit, a drunken Mick's mauldin tribute to a "code" that is laughable. Give me Deadwood any day.

As Thomson suggests, look at the directors who worked at giving us a more realistic portrair of the west--Anthony Mann certainly and later Sam Peckinpah. Gunsmoke at its best was far truer to the reality of the frontier than Ford ever was.

This is beginning to sound personal. And cranky. I apologize for the tone. -Ford was an important director in the development of a certain type of stagey and paper-thin melodrama. He was both popular and influential. I'm not taking anything away from his success. But even as a kid I thought all the John Wayne stuff was a crock. I knew a lot of tough guys growing up and not a one of them remotely resembled Duke because Duke was another of Ford's fantasies. I had relatives die in WW11, Korea and Nam and never saw a soldier yet who spoke the Duke comic-book crapola about the glories of war and the wonders of machismo.

Ford and an array of other directors spent decades turning a serious part of American history into racist lies for the masses. And I don't mean this in any PC way. Dances With Wolves was just as much a left-wing distortion of Native American history as Ford's was a right-wing distortion.

I'm just glad Thomson had the nerve to speak up.
Aren't you sorry you asked?


Bill Crider said...

Funny you should reprint this now, as I'm almost exactly halfway through Glen Frankel's THE SEARCHERS. I've read the historical part about Cynthia Ann and Quanah (it all happened a few miles from my hometown) and am about to begin reading the part about the movie.

Cap'n Bob said...

I seem to recall Ford's movies showing a lot of compassion for the Indians, and not just in Cheyenne Autumn. His west was mythic, to be sure, but as they said in Liberty Valance, print the legend.

Roy epstein said...

Just sat through 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' tonight after hearing so many wonderful things about it. Silly jokes and a lot of wandering around monument valley as if the cast was searching for a plot. They never found one. The only Ford movie I ever truly enjoyed was The Searchers. Give me Marshal Dillon any day!