To celebrate this 4th of July, 2012 week, you could watch one of the few films about the Revolutionary War. I can’t recommend 1776, however (“The Eagle, The Turkey, The Dove”?? No, thanks!). Maybe James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
You might though, want to delve into the films of John Ford. Ford respected Native Americans, but didn’t always take an even-handed approach (“the audience wants to see them get killed”). He also tended to embellish quite a bit (“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” –a famous line from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE— could apply to Ford’s point of view.), and he was notably cantankerous and curmudgeonly (see the clip, below, where Peter Bogdanovich attempts to interview him). But his movies were always representative of America and Americans, with their good points and bad.
Here are just five of John Ford’s greatest, typically “American” films you can’t go wrong with, and some things you may or may not know about each of them. The quotes are from Bogdanovich’s 1968 book, titled “John Ford”.
1. Ford directed only one, excellent segment of the sprawlingly epic HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962; James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds; “The Ford episode, about the Civil War, is uncommonly good” –Johnathan Rosenbaum), but he was unhappy with the Cinerama process (three strips of film melded together on a wide and curved theater screen):
“It’s worse than CinemaScope, because the ends curl on moving shots and the audience moves instead of the picture. I didn’t care for it.”
2. For one of his greatest Westerns, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946; Victor Mature, Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell; “an American classic” –Leonard Maltin), Ford had some input from an expert: Wyatt Earp himself:
“In the very early silent days, a couple of times a year, [Earp] would come up to visit pals, cowboys he knew in Tombstone… I used to give him a chair and a cup of coffee, and he told me about the fight at the O.K. Corral. So we did it exactly the way it had been.”
3. He regrets that one, particular scene was cut from the outstanding YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939; Henry Fonda; “A film which indisputably has the right to be called Americana” –New York Times)
“I had a lovely scene in which Lincoln rode into town on a mule, passed by a theater and stopped to see what was playing, and it was the Booth Family doing Hamlet… [Booth] looked at this funny, incongruous man in a tall hat riding a mule, and you knew there was some connection there. They cut it out–too bad.”
4. He borrowed a tune from YOUNG MR. LINCOLN for the bittersweet THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962; James Stewart, Lee Marvin; “The most pensive and thoughtful [of Ford’s Westerns”] –Roger Ebert):
“We bought [Ann Rutledge’s theme, from Young Mr. Lincoln] from [composer] Alfred Newman. I love it–one of my favorite tunes–one I can hum. Generally, I hate music in pictures–a little bit now and then, at the end or the start. I don’t like to see a man alone in the desert, dying of thirst, with the Philadelphia Orchestra behind him.”
5. Ford’s Irish heritage sparked his interest in doing THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940; Henry Fonda; “Possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book” –TIME magazine)
“The whole thing appealed to me–being about a simple people–and the story was similar to the famine in Ireland, when they threw the people off the land and left them wandering on the roads to starve. That may have had something to do with it–part of my Irish tradition–but I liked the idea of this family going out and trying to find their way in the world.”
Other films of John Ford not to be missed: FORT APACHE, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, THE SEARCHERS, STAGECOACH.