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?