FORD, John

(1894–1973)
   Born John Martin Feeney in Maine, John Ford began his career in film by working bit parts in the films of his brother (Francis Ford) and others. Among his earliest bit parts was that of a Klansman in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). Much of Ford’s early life and background have become Hollywood legend. For example, “Jack” Ford is known for celebrating his Irish roots in his films. Tradition has it that he took his last name from the Model T. He often claimed to have been given early opportunities to direct one- and two-reel silent Westerns because he could “yell real loud.”
   Ford’s first significant film as director was The Iron Horse(1924), which tells the story of the building of the Union Pacific Railroad across the West. Typical Fordian Western themes are evident in this film: human progress is equated with technological progress, and the frontier belongs to the whites not the Native Americans, who cause problems at every turn.
   The 1930s is usually seen as the time when the silent era of Westerns ended, talking pictures became established, and B Westerns dominated the theaters. A few higher-budget Westerns were made in the 1930s, such as The Plainsman (1936) and Dodge City (1939), and the time was right for Westerns to return to the top of the theater bill. Thus, with Stagecoach in 1939, John Ford helped establish a new kind of Western, and a new era of Westerns began— the classic era. According to Cawelti (1999), the major difference between most Westerns of the 1930s and the new classic Western as seen in Stagecoach was that Ford “emphasized the theme of regeneration through the challenge of the wilderness, using spectacular forms of the Western landscape to give symbolic background to the drama” (90). Stagecoach was Ford’s first film set in the spectacular Monument Valley in Arizona. The contrast between the tiny stagecoach, traveling in a straight line across the floor of the valley, and the enormous buttes and mesas towering above developed a clear symbolic meaning of both the redemptive power of landscape and its destructive potential, particularly when populated by savages. As with the Native Americans in Ford’s earlier Westerns, the Apaches of Stagecoach are merely representative. They have no human significance. The film began Ford’s long association with John Wayne. Throughout the 1940s, Ford devoted much of his attention to Westerns. My Darling Clementine (1946) —with its account of the ultimate Western hero, Wyatt Earp—is one of the few Ford Westerns to depict actual historical events and people. John Wayne returned to Westerns as the center of Ford’s post–World War II Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). In these films the director began to explore major cultural themes similar to the ways he had in his non-Western films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and particularly the combat film They Were Expendable (1945).
   Ford’s films of the 1950s continue a series of critical examinations of contemporary American society and its concept of its past. The Searchers (1956) explores the nation’s problems with racism in the pre–civil rights era, distancing the issue of black-white relations by treating them through the frontier conflicts between whites and Native Americans. Throughout these years, Ford’s productions took on the aura of a repertory dramatic company as he worked with a fairly stable group of actors in one film after another. John Wayne dominated the top of the credits, but Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart came in and out. Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr., and John Carradine could usually be counted on as well. In fact, Carey dubbed the group the John Ford Stock Company.
   Ford’s films of the 1960s are nostalgic end-of-the-West films. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is framed around the death of aging gunfighter Tom Doniphon in the early years of the 20th century. Congressman Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) returns to Shinbone, the scene of the turning point in his life many years before, and he finds that his whole life was based on an elaborate deception. The film shows a West that is no more. Another endof-the-Western-era film, Cheyenne Autumn (1964), was Ford’s attempt at a revisionist Western as he, at the end of his career, portrays Native Americans sympathetically. As the turbulent decade of the 1960s called into question everything he stood for, John Ford, like his close friend John Wayne, became adamant in his support of nationalistic policies that were unpopular with the majority of the American public. One of his last projects was a documentary urging steadfastness in the war in Vietnam. As a result, John Ford and his Westerns came to represent everything wrong with America. What Ford and Wayne stood for was what the antimyth Westerns of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone were repudiating. Ford, then, was to witness the end of the classic era of Westerns that he helped develop.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ford, John — (?1586 1640)    Born in Ilsington, Devon, he was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, before studying law at the Middle Temple in 1602. He became one of England s major dramatists of the Caroline period, whose tragedies some eighteen are of a high …   British and Irish poets

  • Ford, John — I (baptized April 17, 1586, Ilsington, Devon, Eng. died 1639?) British dramatist. Early in his career he studied law and wrote collaboratively with several other playwrights, but little more is known of his life, and the dating of many of his… …   Universalium

  • Ford, John — • ФОРД (Ford) Джон (наст. имя и фам. Шон Алоизиус О Фирна или О Фини, O Fearna или O Feeney) (1.2.1895 31.8.1973)    амер. режиссёр. По нац. (ирландец. С 1913 в Голливуде ассист. режиссёра, с 1917 режиссёр. Снял неск. десятков к/м ковбойских… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Ford, John — (1895 1973)    Born Sean Aloysius O’Fearna (or Feeney) in Maine, the famous movie director was the son of Irish immigrants. After brief attendance at the University of Maine, he joined his brother in California and took the name Ford while… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

  • Ford, John — (1586 1639?) Autor dramático inglés. Describe amores infortunados y criminales pasiones amorosas. Obras: Lástima que sea una ramera y El corazón lacerado, entre otras. (1895 1973) Director cinematográfico estadounidense. Dirigió varias películas… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Ford,John — I. Ford1, John. 1586 1639. English playwright whose works include Tis Pity She s a Whore (1633) and collaborative efforts, notably with Thomas Dekker and John Webster.   II. Ford2, John. Originally Sean Aloysius O Feeney. 1895 1973. American… …   Universalium

  • Ford, John —    см. Форд, Джон …   Режиссерская энциклопедия. Кино США

  • FORD, JOHN —    dramatist, born at Islington, North Devon; studied at Oxford, and entered the Middle Temple in 1602, but was never called to the bar; in 1606 appeared his first poetic work Fame s Memorial, an elegy on the death of the Earl of Devonshire, and… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Ford, John — pseud. di O Feeney, Sean Aloysius …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Ford, John — (c. 1586?)    Dramatist, b. probably at Ilsington, Devonshire, was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1602, and appears to have practised as a lawyer. His chief plays are The Lover s Melancholy (1629), Tis Pity, The Broken Heart, and Love s… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

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