Tag Archives: john ford

XL Popcorn – The Quiet Man

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 790/1007Title: The Quiet Man
Director: John Ford
Year: 1952
Country: USA

I managed to luck out, yet again, with the in-flight entertainment on the way to Hong Kong – this time it was a 1001 movie and not the coincidentally next Disney movie that I saw on my way to Korea. I’m going to preface my thoughts about this with the qualifier that I had to stop this part way through for a plane nap. That isn’t necessarily a slight on the film, more that it was gone midnight, but I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have needed that based on the film’s length.

In a nutshell, The Quiet Man tells the story of a former boxer who, having killed a man in the ring, retires and moves to his ancestral home in Ireland. Here he buys back his childhood home, falls in love and integrates with the locals. This is the cliff notes and the fairly generous description. What this leaves out is the incredible sexism and liberal application of Irish stereotypes.

I cannot speak for the Irish on this, because they may watch this and think I’m being a bit over the top. However, the sexism is ridiculous. The final scenes depict John Wayne dragging his wife (sometimes whilst she is on the ground) for five miles so that he can prove that he isn’t a coward by beating up her meathead of a brother. After this climactic exchange (where the whole village, including a visiting bishop cheer and place bets on the winner) the man, his wife and her brother can all just sit together to dinner.

The more I think on it, the more The Quiet Man seems like a parable extolling the virtues of toxic masculinity and of not talking through issues, which is set in Ireland. It’s all brushed off as being ‘this is just how we do things in Ireland’ every time John Wayne’s character recoils against their ideas, which I guess is their way of setting it apart from America. Still though, this is promoting an old world ideal where it’s expected for spouses to beat each other up and that the simple solution of talking about emotions is off the table.

Beautifully shot though. You have to give John Ford that, even if the rest of the film isn’t too appetising when you compare the moral standards of this 1952 anthropological study of his idea of Ireland’s countryside villages to now.

XL Popcorn – Rio Grande

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 777/1007Title: Rio Grande
Director: John Ford
Year: 1950
Country: USA

Maybe I shouldn’t have put all of my John Ford hopes in Rio Grande’s basket like I did after leaving Loulou dissatisfied. It’s been five years since I saw my last John Ford film (My Darling Clementine) and I might have ended up watching the worst one of his filmography that I have ever seen.

First things first, let’s keep in mind that this was produced in 1950 when cinema was still very much vilifying Native Americans and their fight to reclaim the land that had been wrongly taken from them as part of the post-Civil War expansion. Even with that cultural awareness, Rio Grande still never worked for me as a film and I am making the assumption that it was included on the list as one of Ford’s trilogy that focused on US cavalry in the expansionist West.

Considering that this is the final film in this trilogy which means there are relationships between characters where you have to take things on faith rather than knowing the history. That’s fine and all, but this list also chose to include the least acclaimed of the trilogy (the others being Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon) so I am really at a loss here, but at least I know which John Ford films I need to be watching to feel better.

So what was it that didn’t work for me? Well most of it to be honest. Aside from the being on the back foot when it came to certain characters, the fairly frequent song breaks by the cavalry’s vocal group was pretty bizarre and really did not help the tone inconsistencies. You also have Maureen O’Hara effectively being wasted on the character of the Captain’s wife which is pretty much inexcusable.

In the end though, this film just didn’t seem to communicate what type of western it wanted to be. I had the same issue with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but at least with that I actually cared about the end result for those characters. Here, I had no real allegiance to a character outside of Maureen O’Hara, which didn’t help with the bulk of the film’s second half.

It’s been nice to have some time cross off a bunch more 1001 films during my two days off sick – the only real upside from these awful stomach cramps that have dogged me the last few days. Not the best run of films, but at least it’s moved me just that bit closer to finishing this list off once and for all.

Ebert’s Greats: My Darling Clementine

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 174/409

Title: My Darling Clementine
Director: John Ford
Year: 1946
Country: USA

If I had thought about it a bit more I would have probably ventured into other filmatic territory before going for another film by John Ford (since I looked at The Searchers not too long ago) but I came across this and remembered a vivid image of Linda Darnell looking rather melancholy whilst wearing a sombrero. I had to find out what the context of this image was.

If you know even the smallest possible amount about the American West you will have heard of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It is one of those events in American history like the Alamo which has had many romanticisms and false histories written about it. My Darling Clementine takes inspiration from the, now widely considered fictional, biography of Marshal Wyatt Earp and takes its own route towards the explanation towards the gunslinging conclusion.

The thing is, that for an event so infamous, the film does not dwell for too long on the gunfight. In fact you could probably cut it out and you would still have a really good western. This is mainly due to the leading three of Henry Ford, Victor Mature and Linda Darnell. It is hard to think of a film where Henry Ford has been anything other than great, his turn in The Ox-Bow Incident helped to shape it into one of my favourite films, and his pick for the lead of Wyatt Earp serves the perfect contrast to other members of the town of Tombstone, Arizona.

The forces of nature that are singer Chihuahua (Darnell) and Doc Holliday (Mature) exemplify those who we would typically find in a film of the Old West. They are strong-willed and ultimately dangerous people who keep their vulnerabilities close to their chest. Chihuaua has an intense fear of abandonment and Holliday is dying of tuberculosis; not that either of them would admit it out loud.

Then there is Earp and the titular Clementine (Cathy Downs). Neither of them fit in that well since they are clearly well-mannered outsiders who have found their way into the lawless West. There is no denying the strength of either character but they are able to get things done with their guns still in their holsters. As such this film is able to comment on the time where the West began to lose its title of wild as other more civilized people moved in from the East to live.

This collision which would eventually tame the West (exemplified by a humorous scene between Earp and the town barber who sprays him with the scent of desert flowers) is also shown through Ford’s direction. In the beginning many of the long shots focus on the untamed surroundings of Arizona but these contrast greatly with the images later on of a church construction which is the ultimate act of bringing law and order to the area.

Despite the focus on Clementine in the title there is the feeling that the events would have unfolded the way they did even without her presence. The gunfight was inevitable after the death of Earp’s brother. Chihuahua’s jealousy would have caught up with her in the end. Holliday’s tuberculosis in itself was a death sentence. Was the darling Clementine a catalyst for good, a catalyst for action or just someone who happened to be there? All I can say, is that she formed part of a great Western.

Ebert’s Greats – The Searchers and Triumph of the Will

Okay, so whilst I save up to go on travels and plan future things like a wedding this bucket list blog is beginning to become a review blog. Thing is that whilst I am waiting to get enough money to make a trip to Japan things like living in another country or trying foie gras reading books, watching movies and listening to albums are a nice way to nibble away at some of these really long culture items.

As such this is the first time since opening the Roger Ebert item that I can update the numbers with two new watches.

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 170/409

the-searchers-2 Title: The Searchers
Director: John Ford
Year: 1956
Country: United States

A recent metapoll of the greatest films ever released placed The Searchers as the ninth greatest film ever made. It was very well received at the time of its release with some calling it the best collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne. What stopped me from watching this film? It’s a western.

I have not seen many westerns but I either find them fascinating or I yearn to reach for the off switch. The Ox-Bow Incident? One of my favourite films. Shane? I fell asleep. Rio Bravo? Amazing performance by Dean Martin. Cimarron? Never again. Probably doesn’t help that the first western-style film I ever saw was Blazing Saddles and I am not exactly a large fan of Mel Brooks humour.

Still, the fact that I have another western to add to the list that I enjoyed means that for the first time ever the balance has shifted towards the positive opinion. Whilst I always find John Wayne interesting to watch the thing that kept me watching was the dynamic between him and Jeffrey Hunter. Also the use of Vera Myles’s lovelorn character as a device to bridge time over the five year search worked exceptionally well.

I’m going to cut this short as I think the other film is more interesting to talk about but I want to leave with this thought. Natalie Wood does not appear in this film much at all and she features on the poster credits. Yes she is a name and her character is the driving force (much like a Godot figure) but… wait I just answered my own annoyance.

triumphofthewill

Title: Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Year: 1935
Country: Germany

It was really hard to find a screenshot for this film online without either Hitler or a swastika. I managed to find one with a decent cropping though.

Here is the thing about Triumph of the Will. It is a propaganda piece. As someone who has watched a large number of films I have seen many films that are controversial upon release due to subject matter. Birth of a Nation because of the blackface and its heroic depiction of the KKK, Irreversible because of the extensive rape scene, Salo because… well it has no morally redeeming features. This film is unusual to me since it has gained controversy since its release. The fact that it actually won prizes in countries other than Germany (most notably at the World Exhibition in Paris) shows how well Riefenstahl made this film.

There is no question of the intent. The many smiling faces of handsome German men, the enthralled crowds, the bountiful supplies of food for the workers and the hyperbolic praise of Hitler all act as ways to cement the appeal of the party within the German borders. Some of the shots that Riefenstahl uses to depict the parade scenes are breathtaking and somewhat ahead of the time; goes to show what a blank cheque to produce a propaganda film can lead to. Does make me want to see what she did with her documentary of the Olympics though.

It is rich, however, for the West to simply sideline this film as a piece of pro-Nazi propaganda since I actually recognise a number of these scenes in this film from Allied propaganda films that I have seen. A nice stroke to use German footage in the battle against them but we made Donald Duck cartoons (Der Fuehrer’s Face) as propaganda for children. Come on now.