One of the highlights of the Claremont Institute panels at the just-concluded annual convention of the APSA was Saturday’s panel on John Ford. Included among the presenters were Professor David Livingstone, (“John Ford’s Socratic Argument: Reason, Spiritedness, and the Rule of Law in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'”) and Professor Sam Ratcliffe, (“John Ford on Government and Society”).
Speaking last with the best presentation was Professor John Marini (“Saving the West: John Ford and the Epic Western”). Professor Marini is a Claremont Institute senior fellow and professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Reno. He gave an outstanding biographical sketch of Ford together with a thematic overview of Ford’s films. (The best overview of Ford I have found on the Web is this one by screenwriter Richard Frankin.)
According to all three panelists, Ford was a profound student of American history in general and the Civil War in particular. Professor Marini highlighted Ford’s love of America and his distinguished military service. On a related note, he mentioned the documentary footage Ford shot for “The Battle of Midway” (a film I had not heard of) and Ford’s World War II film “They Were Expendable.”
Professor Marini credited Ford with the creation of the genre of the serious or epic Western as we have come to know it (as well as with the creation of the character “John Wayne”). Ford was, I think by agreement of all three panelists as well, the greatest director in the history of film and particularly important to us as Americans. I intend to revisit “Stagecoach,” “Young Mister Lincoln,” “My Darling Clementine,” the cavalry trilogy (“Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “Rio Grande”) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” This was a somewhat surprising takeaway for me from an APSA convention, but one that I thought might be of general interest.
JOHN adds: My favorite movie critic was a guy named Stuart Byron. He wrote for the Boston Real Paper in the 1970s, when I was living in the Boston area. Among other things, he wrote about homosexuality in a way that I found very sympathetic. But what I remember most about Byron was his commentary on John Ford. Byron viewed Ford as one the greatest of directors. For some reason, one comment he made has stuck with me through the years. Byron wrote that the one way in which Ford’s biggest movies could have been better is if they had starred Clark Gable instead of John Wayne. Byron wrote that Gable was a much better actor than Wayne, but wasn’t especially bright and wasted his time making movies with drinking-buddy directors, while the more intelligent Wayne knew genius when he saw it and developed a long and productive partnership with Ford.
I’m not qualified to evaluate this assessment; Gable was dead, of course, before Ford finished his film career. But I’ve always remembered Byron’s contrast between Gable and Wayne. Byron died of AIDS in 1991. He was, in my opinion, a great movie critic. RIP.
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