If there was ever a collection that deserves the term, ESSENTIAL, the "John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection" is it. While I wish "Rio Grande" had been included (which would have finally offered buyers the entire "Cavalry Trilogy", together), the set has so many remarkable titles that it really sells itself!
The centerpiece is, of course, a new, definitive edition of "The Searchers", Ford and Wayne's finest collaboration. A masterpiece that defined the 'epic' western, it was unbelievably ignored by the Oscars when released (I suspect, as a backlash against Wayne's right-wing support of the Communist 'witch hunts' of the film industry in the fifties). Time has only increased it's luster, and the astonishing, subtle performance by the Duke as a bitter, bigoted ex-Rebel on a five-year quest to kill his 'soiled', Comanche-kidnapped niece.
Besides the best 'remastered' print, ever, the Special Features include commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, two terrific documentaries, Warner's 1956 promotional TV spots (hosted by an 'out-of-place' Gig Young), and some fabulous production materials.
"Stagecoach" is as important, historically, as "The Searchers", as Ford 'lifted' the entire genre, through this film, into an era of adult storytelling. A gamble for the director (as no major studio wanted B-movie actor John Wayne as the lead, and tried to force Ford to use Gary Cooper), the film is a testament to the director's loyalty to Wayne (who would finally achieve stardom as the Ringo Kid), and a showcase for some of Hollywood's best character actors (with Thomas Mitchell winning a Supporting Actor Oscar).
A package of great Special Features includes two documentaries, and a radio version of the film, with Claire Trevor, and Randolph Scott(!!??) as the Ringo Kid.
"The Long Voyage Home", Ford's second teaming with Wayne, is an unfairly ignored, beautifully realized filming of Eugene O'Neill's works. Ford loved the sea, and stories that emphasized 'Family', and this tale of Merchant Marine seamen facing the growing threat of Nazi U-Boat attacks offers his 'stock company' of actors (Mitchell, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, etc.) in beautifully etched portrayals. Young Wayne, for the only time in his career, attempts an accent, playing a likable young Swede, and he is quite effective in the role.
"Fort Apache" is considered by many the best of Ford's 'Cavalry' trilogy, and was WAY ahead of it's time, in it's sympathetic portrayal of Cochise, and the abuse and exploitation of Native Americans. Henry Fonda (as a variation of Custer) is a martinet commander hoping to 'make a name' by subduing the Apaches, ignoring the conditions that created the crisis. Snubbing the wisdom of second-in-command Wayne, he provokes a confrontation that leads to disaster!
Framed with the humor, romance, and camaraderie audiences expected from Ford, the underlying drama lifts the film into a richly-deserved status as a Classic.
"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", the second 'Cavalry' film, is far friendlier, and more sentimental, offering Wayne one of his best 'character' roles, as an aging Captain facing retirement just as the Indians unite to make war, after the Custer massacre. The only of the trilogy filmed in color (which would win an Oscar), Ford's 'stock company' was never better, particularly Victor McLaglen, and young Ben Johnson.
"3 Godfathers", Ford's second filming of this western variation of "The Gift of the Magi", is a small, but loving parable of three likable outlaws (Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey, Jr.), redeemed when a dying mother entrusts her infant's care to them, in the desert. Pursued by Ward Bond and a posse, the trio, under a burning sun, learn self-sacrifice, protecting the baby. With frequent religious references, this may not be a film for everyone, but it's message is universal, and inspiring.
"They Were Expendable", Ford's only Hollywood WWII movie, was truly daring, focusing not on victory, but on the Navy's constant defeats, following Pearl Harbor. PT boat skippers Robert Montgomery (a real-life Navy veteran) and Wayne, and their crews, show courage as they fight a holding action, knowing that America would eventually rebuild their fleet, and achieve victory.
Shunned by a war-weary public in 1945, the film is now viewed as one of the finest war films ever made!
Finally, there is "Wings of Eagles", the real-life story of Navy aviator/Hollywood screenwriter Frank 'Spig' Wead (portrayed by Wayne). Ford was friends with Wead (his character even appears in the film, under another name, played by Ward Bond, having a ball in the role), but after some early 'pure Ford' humor, the film turns dramatic, and offers an unsettling portrait that leaves the biggest question unanswered...Why would Wead ignore his devoted wife (played by the luminous Maureen O'Hara), when his life is threatened in an accident, and turn to his Navy buddies, instead? There is a story here that Ford chooses to ignore, making the film less effective, despite a strong Wayne performance (ending the film without his hairpiece!), and a remarkable sequence in which Wead, by sheer willpower, teaches himself to walk again, after the accident.
What a collection of films! Need I say more?