John Ford Film Collection (The Lost Patrol / The Informer / Cheyenne Autumn / Mary of Scotland / Sergeant Rutledge)
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John Ford Film Collection, The (DVD) (5-Pack)
John Ford remains the consensus choice as America's greatest director, and his critical eminence dates from two films in this set. By 1934 he had been directing for 17 years, building a solid reputation as a Hollywood professional with maybe the best eye in the movie business. With The Lost Patrol (1934) and The Informer (1935)--made for RKO rather than his accustomed studio base, Fox--he took a decisive step toward establishing himself as a personal, at least semi-independent artist. Both films were stark dramas free of box-office compromise, glib heroics, or any expectation of facile happy endings. They were also more relentlessly stylized than anything Ford had done before ... which both distinguished them in their day and left them vulnerable to dating when some of their experimentation proved rather dead-ended.
The Lost Patrol began Ford's association with producer Merian C. Cooper, a partnership that would lead to the independent production company Argosy and the making of such fine, ultrapersonal films as The Quiet Man, The Searchers, and Ford's celebrated cavalry trilogy. The story, by Philip MacDonald, concerns a handful of British soldiers cornered at an oasis in the Mesopotamian Desert (now Iraq) during World War I and slowly decimated by an unseen enemy. The strong visuals--baking sun, the undulating vastness of the dunes, the drift of ghostly mirages--befit a crucible of character-testing, with an unnamed Sergeant (Victor McLaglen) striving to keep at least one man alive as desperation, madness, and implacable Arab snipers take their toll. This DVD release restores six minutes of footage cut for a 1949 rerelease and rarely seen since.
Ford won the first of his four best-director Oscars for The Informer, an intense tale of "one night in strife-torn Dublin, 1922" when a slow-witted I.R.A. strongman named Gypo Nolan sells out his best friend for 20 British pounds. On a budget that obliged him to obscure canvas sets with deep shadows and a persistent fog that underscores Gypo's mental and spiritual confusion, Ford created a visual world akin to the German Expressionist classics of the 1920s. But the film's inventive use of sound and an ambitious music score (by Max Steiner) commingling leitmotifs for half a dozen key characters also encouraged '30s critics to hail it as the first classic of the sound era. That was overstating it (and more than a little amnesiac on the critics' part!). Overstated, too, was Ford's relentless Christ symbolism paralleling Gypo's betrayal to that of Judas. Still, Victor McLaglen's portrayal of the title character remains a triumph (McLaglen won an Oscar as well), and the film abounds in brilliant strokes: the silhouette of a British soldier shining his flashlight on the wanted poster of Gypo's friend, while Gypo lurks just outside the beam; the giant Nolan forever knocking his head on hanging signs or seeming to be crushed by low ceilings; the cacophony of cries and gunfire, and then crashing silence, as the Black and Tan raid the I.R.A. rebel's home. Initially overrated, then relegated to museum status, The Informer awaits rediscovery as a dynamic motion picture.
The John Ford Collection includes one more mid-'30s RKO endeavor, Mary of Scotland (1936). Although handsome, this adaptation of a Maxwell Anderson blank-verse play about Queen Elizabeth's northern rival never finds credible footing as a movie. Andrew Sarris is dead right in lamenting Ford's version of Mary, Queen of Scots, as "a madonna of the Scottish moors"--Katharine Hepburn, inevitably. The most interesting thing about the production is the offscreen story, that Ford and Hepburn fell passionately in love, yet (perhaps) resisted becoming lovers.
From there we leap to the 1960s and two Westerns made under the aegis of Warner Bros. (Warner now owns the RKO library, hence this rather arbitrary set.) Sergeant Rutledge (1960) has markedly improved with age, with what once seemed creaky dramaturgy now playing as bold stylization. Using a jagged flashback structure occasioned by a court-martial at a Southwest outpost, Ford took an unflinching look at the legacy of race in America. The then-unknown black actor Woody Strode has a showcase role as a magnificent "Buffalo soldier" accused of the rape-murder of his commanding officer's blond, white daughter and the murder of the commandant himself. Unfortunately, Ford's once-masterly handling of character actors had grown lax, and he indulged some tedious bombast from Willis Bouchey and Carleton Young as the presiding judge and prosecutor, respectively; and Jeffrey Hunter, however effective in The Searchers, made a weak protagonist as Rutledge's defense counsel. But the veteran cameraman Bert Glennon almost winds things back to Stagecoach days, occasionally turning the film's Technicolor to very nearly black and white.
Another debt to race relations is addressed in Cheyenne Autumn (1964), a beautiful title to grace John Ford's final Western. The film has moments of grandeur as Ford attempts at long last to "tell the story from the Indians' point of view," and it's a pleasure to report that William H. Clothier's majestic Technicolor compositions have been restored to their Panavision dimensions on the DVD. Ford is unambiguously supportive of the Cheyennes' resolve to bolt their reservation in the desert Southwest and trek north to their ancestral lands. By contrast, most of white society, the military, the bureaucracy, and the sensationalist press are portrayed as insensitive, foolish, or hateful. However, the Cheyenne are nobly wooden, with all key roles played by non-Indians: Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo, Victor Jory, and Dolores Del Rio (breathtakingly beautiful as ever). As for point of view, it's sympathetic cavalry officer Richard Widmark and Quaker missionary Carroll Baker through whose eyes most of the epic narrative unfolds. --Richard T. Jameson
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1.THE LOST PATROL-TENSE ANTI-WAR CLASSIC!*****
A British army Patrol,during the time of WW1, in the Mesopotamian desert gets lost,after their commander is killed,and he has left no notes or orders,in regard to their mission or exact location.With
their leader dead the small group's command falls to Sergeant Victor McLaglen.After a journey of unknown length,the patrol finds an oasis,and it is here where most of the action takes place as they are pinned down by (mostly unseen) Arab fighters.It is here where we really get to meet the men and get to know their hopes and fears.The other men include J.M.Kerrigan(as Quincannn-probably the most frequently used name in a Ford film!),Reginald Denny (Brown),Wallace Ford( excellent as Moretti),Boris Karloff,(,outstanding as Sanders-a religious fanatic),and Douglas Walton,as callow youth,who when he leaves for the service he relates that that was the ONLY time he saw his mother cry.This is (to me) one of the dramtic highlight so the film,when we see 19 year old Walton(about 25,in real life) pours his heart out to McLaglen.This scene,even more so than others shows the futility of war. Great direction,a great screenplay(Dudley Nichols,Ford's favorote writer,at the time-THE INFORMER-STAGECOACH),a fine Max Steiner score,and an excellent DVD transfer. A GREAT ANTI-WAR AND(mildly) ANTI-IMPERIALIST FILM,AND A MUST SEE!
MARY OF SCOTLAND:KATHERINE HEPBURN-FREDRIC MARCH **1/2
Katherine Hepburn,in her only Ford film,is Mary, Queens of Scots.This motion picture is derived from a Maxwell Anderson Play,and a screenplay by Dudley Nichols.To me of what I've seen of Ford's thirties films,"Mary of Scotland" it is Ford's least-good films of the period.Watchable,but forgettable.Two and one half stars.
THE INFORMER:VICTOR MCLAGLEN'S FINEST HOUR *****
The story of "the troubles",in Ireland, in told in a very somber way in the John Ford classic "The Informer",with Victor McLaglen(a Ford regular)giving an AA winning performance in the title role.McLaglen plays Gypo Nolan,a down and out Dubliner,who is without money,and because of this and having been recently "dismissed" from the IRA(Irish Republican Army'freedom fighters,hoping to obtain a united and totally free Ireland,with no British ties whatsoever) and because he is also in jeopardy of losing his girlfried Margot Grahame,(outstanding)as he is in a greatly strained emotional state,and when wondering the streets comes upon a reward poster for "IRA murderer"Frankie McPhillip(Wallace Ford-no relation to the director).The reward is worth enough so that both Gypo and his girl can get passage to America.A short while latter Gypo accidentally runs into Frankie,an old friend,and they have a short conversion about Frankie being on the run,how Frankes's mother is,and the reasons why Gypo was "sacked" from the(in this coversion a "Quincannon" is mentioned) IRA,after the conversion ends the wheels start to turn in Gypo's head and he wonders over to the "Black and Tans"station(the Black and Tans,so-called becuse of their uniforms,are special British militiary(police)men assigned to Ireland when "the troubles" are at their height,""Up the Irish" or in this film,"Up the Rebels" types may look at the B&T's as THE REAL TERRORISTS,but that's for another discussion)and reluctanly tells the "Brits" that Frankie will be at his mother's.After Frankie is killed in a shoot-out,Gypo is given disdainfully(even the B&T's don"t like Informers) his money and goes.Drinking,fighting,and partying are on the night's program for Gypo,but his drining is only a mask,to hide his emotional breakdown from his wicked deed.The IRA figures out what went on,in regard to Frankie's death, and Gypo is a doomed man!
Other supporting members of the cast are very good to excellent,J.M.Kerrigan,Preston Foster,Donald Meek,Joseph (then Sauers)Sawyer,and Una'Connor as Frankie's mother who is a bite "over the top" early in the film,but comes through poignanly at the coclusion.From a LiamO'Flaherty story,an excellent Dudley Nichols screenplay,with a haunting Max Steiner musical score,and a very crisp and clear DVD transfer.The ONLY MINUS NO DVD COMMETARY-A MUST SEE!!
CHEYENNE AUTUMN-DESPITE FLAWS ALMOST A CLASSIC ****
Ignoring "Fort Apache",and the anti-racism of "The Searchers",many critics (falsely) claim that John Ford set an anti-Native American(Indian) tone in films that increased racism in America.Well, whatever truth there is to either side of the argument is,in this film John Ford,in his last Western,is FIRMLY on the Indians side.But is was still (somewhat justified)critised fom casting,in VERY IMPORTANT roles none-Idians,especially The Victor Jory,Gilbert Roland,Richardo Montalban,Dolores Del Reo,and Sal Mineo(!)roles.
This motion picture tells the true story of the Cheyenne's plight at the hand of "THE GREAT FATHER" and their trek,and persuit(by U.S.troops) back to their Yellowstone homeland.
On the minus side is the appearrance of Carroll Baker(miscast) as a Quaker school marm) and Karl Malden,with an"over the top performance" as a muderous,racist American(German born) General.The screenplay by James Webb(Pork Chop Hill,The Big Country,Cape Fear) is lacklustre,and the comic interlude of Jimmy Stewart(as Wyatt Earp) with Arthur KennedyI"Doc" Holliday) and John Carradine(a dishonest gambler) and a bunch of hooligian ,led by Ken Curtis is out of place,and NOT VERY FUNNYI did lke Elizebeth Allen,was a damsel of ill-repute.This is a heart-felt film by John Ford with good performances by Richard Widmark as a "liberal" U.S. "horse soldier",and LaBaker's love interest,and in a cameo Edward G.Robinson.The musical score by Alex North is OK,but I would have preferred Elmer Bernstein.An An excellent DVD transfer.Despite my misgivings,4 stars.
SERGEANT RUTLEDGE-ANTI RACIST CLASSIC WESTERN *****
In this unheralded John Ford anti-racist Western, set in 1881,Sergeant Braxton Rutledge(Woody Stode) is accussed of rape and murder,and mostly in flashbacks the events of his accusation,his fleeing,and trial are told.The pace is perfect and acting and direction excellent.In his third Ford film Jeffery Hunter proves again that he was a very underrated actor.His performance is excellent,also good are Constance Towers,as Hunter's love interest and Braxton sympathizer,Willis Bouchey(a Ford grouchy regular),Juano Hernandez,Routledge's fellow "Buffalo Soldier",and sort of "father figure".for the rest of the black soldier's,and Charleton Young(another Ford regular) as the intentially racist prosecutor.But it is Strode(a Ford regular,in support roles) who carries the film.His pride and dignity are evident, in every scene in which he appears.There re two ways to look at this film,or more properly to look at Hollywood,either this film was way ahead of its time or Hollywood took to long to look at U.S. race relations,in any meaning manner.The anti-racists films,of Hollywood, did not really start to make an appearance until the late 1940's,with films such as "PINKY" and the 1950 film debut of Sidney Poitier in "NO WAY OUT"(see my review)My opinion is "so-called liberal Hollywood"(remember the blacklist) was and is always interested IN PROFITS,and NOT PREACHING!.
A GREAT FILM by "AMERICA'S GREATEST DIRECTOR!!
Excellent DVD transfer,but no commetary.5-stars!!
As usual, the price for the whole collection is reasonable, much more so than just buying the individual titles.
All Ford, all the time, I love it for the price and odd pairing. Fills in a huge gap in my Ford collection, just right for a few entries from early 30s and early 60s.
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