Tag Archives: John Wayne

Rio Grande (1950, John Ford)

Rio Grande doesn’t have much going for it. The best performance is probably Ben Johnson, who isn’t even very good, he’s just not as bad as everyone else. Harry Carey Jr. and Victor McLaglen aren’t good, but they’re likable. Carey’s performance is just weak, while McLaglen gets saddled with the silly, comic relief role of drunken Irishman.

The three leads–John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Claude Jarman Jr.–all have their own problems. Wayne and O’Hara have poorly written roles and no chemistry with Jarman, who plays their son. James Kevin McGuinness’s script is a mostly boring melodrama about too young Jarman enlisting and ending up at estranged dad Wayne’s calvary post; O’Hara shows up to bring him home. Meanwhile, Wayne’s got to deal with the escalating Native American attacks. He desperately wants to invade Mexico but the dumb Yankee federal government won’t let him.

Forgot–Wayne and O’Hara are estranged because she’s a Southern Belle and he’s in the U.S. Army post-Civil War.

There’s a lot of protracted exposition–and lots of songs–to cover the lack of story. Director Ford’s completely checked out. He directs much of the film like it’s a silent, which would be preferable given McGuinness’s lousy dialogue and the actors’ weak delivery of it.

Technically, Grande doesn’t do much better. Jack Murray’s editing is awful and Bert Glennon’s photography is flat. Glennon concentrates on the Monument Valley backdrops, even though Ford doesn’t.

Awful supporting performance from J. Carrol Naish.

Grande’s tediously lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by James Kevin McGuinness, based on a story by James Warner Bellah; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Jack Murray; music by Victor Young; produced by Ford and Merian C. Cooper; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring John Wayne (Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke), Maureen O’Hara (Mrs. Kathleen Yorke), Victor McLaglen (Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon), Claude Jarman Jr. (Trooper Jeff Yorke), Ben Johnson (Trooper Travis Tyree), Harry Carey Jr. (Trooper Sandy Boone), Chill Wills (Dr. Wilkins) and J. Carrol Naish (Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan).


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The Searchers (1956, John Ford)

John Ford is never trying to be discreet with The Searchers, he’s just not willing to talk down to the audience. In the first ten minutes of the film, he and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent quickly establish John Wayne’s character and his relationship with his family. Ford, Nugent, Wayne and the rest of the cast make it clear–one has to wonder what kind of direction Ford gave the actors (Ward Bond in particular)–but there’s no such thing as expository dialogue in The Searchers.

There are a handful of moments where Wayne is talking to someone and he eschews the idea of going into exposition. The one time he does it–right at the end–is with co-star Jeffrey Hunter, whose character has needed some expository explanation the whole time. More than anything else, the film hinges on their relationship. The film positions Hunter and Wayne against one another while they search together for the same thing–kidnapped Natalie Wood. Their differing reasons, never fully explained, and how they collide with each other throughout the search drive the film.

Almost every relationship in the film is complex–Ford gets magnificent performances out of the cast–just because Wayne’s character is so intentionally out of place amongst the settlers. Meanwhile, Hunter goes through a big, quiet character arc. He has some great courtship scenes with Vera Miles, who’s sort of the unspoken third lead.

Beautiful direction, photography from Winton C. Hoch, editing from Jack Murray.

The Searchers is remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Frank S. Nugent, based on the novel by Alan Le May; director of photography, Winton C. Hoch; edited by Jack Murray; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Wayne (Ethan Edwards), Jeffrey Hunter (Martin Pawley), Vera Miles (Laurie Jorgensen), Ward Bond (Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton), Natalie Wood (Debbie Edwards), John Qualen (Lars Jorgensen), Olive Carey (Mrs. Jorgensen), Henry Brandon (Scar), Ken Curtis (Charlie McCorry), Harry Carey Jr. (Brad Jorgensen), Antonio Moreno (Emilio Gabriel Fernandez y Figueroa), Hank Worden (Mose Harper), Beulah Archuletta (Look), Walter Coy (Aaron Edwards), Pippa Scott (Lucy Edwards) and Dorothy Jordan (Martha Edwards).


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The Long Voyage Home (1940, John Ford)

John Wayne gets first billing in The Long Voyage Home, but the picture really belongs to Thomas Mitchell, Ward Bond and Ian Hunter. The film’s a combination slash adaptation of four one-act plays–which is somewhat clear from the rather lengthy sequences tied together with shorter joining scenes–and while Wayne gets one of his own, it’s Mitchell who’s the constant. I remember the first time I saw Mitchell in something besides It’s a Wonderful Life and was astounded he was in other pictures (to save a little face, I’ll point out I was fifteen or sixteen at the time… hopefully). But I don’t think any other film of Mitchell’s I’ve seen really showcases him the way The Long Voyage Home does. The film ends when Mitchell leaves; it’s impossible to imagine it without him, something Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols must have realized. The film begs for one ending–the John Wayne ending–but doesn’t give it, maybe the only time the film betrays its ominous foreshadowing.

The foreshadowing’s only a problem in the last act, when The Long Voyage Home gets tedious. There are some narrative surprises, but they come after ten or fifteen minutes of scenes Ford would have done better to cut or somehow recap in expository dialogue. They’re predictable and boring… there’s occasionally flourishes of life, but only because the cast is so strong. The film’s a downer, but it’s such a continual downer–following the opening sequence, involving the crew’s shipboard soiree with some Caribbean prostitutes (it’s frequently amazing how the film is able to depict code-prohibited ideas clearly), which is just a slice-of-life piece–it’s hard to get upset at any point. The ominous foreshadowing, even if it doesn’t ripen, slams the viewer so constantly, it’d be impossible to get the heart rate up. It’s clear nothing good’s going to happen in the picture.

I love John Ford’s films with cinematographer Gregg Toland (a friend once scoffed at this appreciation, telling me to compare it to Toland’s work for Welles) but The Long Voyage Home is better-looking than any other Ford film I can think of. The composition is so continually stunning, it turns the picture into a more abstract piece of visual art–the narrative isn’t important, just the way the film looks. I accidently muted the film for thirty seconds and didn’t even realize it. The visuals are incredible. It’s such a deliberate film (and knowing Ford was not someone to lollygag around when composing shots, it’s unbelievable to think he was able to pick these shots with any speed).

All of the acting is good. Wayne plays a Swede (something he was worried about) and doesn’t get a lot of lines until the end, when it wouldn’t matter if he were good or not (he’s fine), just because he’s such a familiar face as the character. Ward Bond and Ian Hunter are fantastic, Hunter with the more difficult role, though Bond does get the one of the film’s monologues. Barry Fitzgerald and John Qualen are both good. Wilfrid Lawson is also good as the captain, who doesn’t get a name. It’s a solid, familiar Ford cast all around.

At some point in the first twenty minutes, when the film’s established itself as being narratively sturdy and visually stunning, it’s clear it’s never going to pick up. It’s a tad boring (in, unfortunately, the pejorative sense) but still a fine film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on plays by Eugene O’Neill; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Sherman Todd; music by Richard Hageman; released by United Artists.

Starring John Wayne (Olsen), Thomas Mitchell (Driscoll), Ian Hunter (Smitty), Barry Fitzgerald (Cocky), Wilfrid Lawson (Captain), John Qualen (Axel), Mildred Natwick (Freda), Ward Bond (Yank), Arthur Shields (Donkeyman), Joe Sawyer (Davis), J.M. Kerrigan (Crimp), Rafaela Ottiano (Bella) and Carmen Morales (Principal Spanish Girl).


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They Were Expendable (1945, John Ford)

They Were Expendable has a gradual pace. Not knowing the film’s subject matter–just genre–going in, it all unfolded quite deliberately in front of me. The opening is a PT boat exercise. The film’s special effects are spectacular; it’s impossible to tell what’s an effect and what’s an actual boat in the water. These scenes–there are only a handful of them in the film–are breathtaking. There’s an attack on John Wayne’s boat from multiple bombers, which is the final action sequence, but earlier there’s the PT boats shooting at bombers, with only one visible composite shot. It’s stunning work–and one could easily let it overshadow the rest of the film.

Robert Montgomery and Wayne share the spotlight. It oscillates from man to man, but they’re great together and those scenes, with their concise dialogue, do a lot of work for the film. Montgomery’s performance is amazing–the best in the film and the best I’ve seen from him. He’s already weary trying to convince his superiors the PT boat is a valuable asset and following the start of the war and the subsequent losses, his stress becomes visible. Montgomery looks with tired but determined eyes–he has an amazing scene with a fatally injured sailor, probably the film’s most powerful scene….

Well, maybe not. That scene has a lot of dialogue (Frank Wead writes some great dialogue–something I was worried about when the titles rolled), so maybe the scene where there isn’t a lot of dialogue is more powerful. Wayne’s story arc has him romancing nurse Donna Reed–their scenes together and the whole handling of the romance is singular–and invites her to dinner with his fellow officers. It’s an almost silent scene with the men inexpressibly grateful for the female company. It reminded me of The Grand Illusion.

Wayne’s arc isn’t just the romance, he’s also dissatisfied with being in the PT boat squadron (not for any good reason, just because he wants the glory assignments). Wayne develops through the picture, softening first due to a friendship with Louis Jean Heydt and then with the Reed romance. The film doesn’t spend any time discussing Montgomery and Wayne’s lives before the Navy, which is an interesting move. It makes everything about how they act and react to the situations around them.

The script’s got a lot of humor in it, mostly from Ward Bond (whose expression following the kid asking Macarthur to sign his hat is fabulous), but also from Montgomery and Wayne. The film establishes their characters as friends who are amusing watch right off, so whenever they get together, there’s going to be something good.

Ford’s composition is flawless here. There are his early indoor shots, but when he gets outside, he really flourishes. He shoots low to high a lot here, creating a substantive mood. It ties the battle scenes together with the romance scenes and so on.

In some ways, though, They Were Expendable isn’t exciting. Going into it, I thought Ford was going to do a great job with a war picture and he does. He might do a little better than I expected….

It’s a fine film, full of quiet beauty. Ford doesn’t engage with this beauty, but like the swaying palm trees, he’s certainly aware of it. The film takes a step back from its content, allowing the viewer to fill the space in between.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; screenplay by Frank Wead, based on the book by William L. White; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Douglass Biggs and Frank E. Hull; music by Herbert Stothart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Montgomery (Lt. John Brickley), John Wayne (Lt. JG ‘Rusty’ Ryan), Donna Reed (Lt. Sandy Davyss), Jack Holt (General Martin), Ward Bond (‘Boats’ Mulcahey C.B.M.), Marshall Thompson (Ens. ‘Snake’ Gardner), Paul Langton (Ens. ‘Andy’ Andrews), Leon Ames (Major James Morton), Arthur Walsh (Seaman Jones), Donald Curtis (Lt. JG ‘Shorty’ Long) and Cameron Mitchell (Ens. George Cross).


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