Searching for John Ford

Searching for John Ford

JOSEPH McBRIDE
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 848
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt12f56j
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  • Book Info
    Searching for John Ford
    Book Description:

    John Ford's classic films--such as Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers--have earned him worldwide admiration as America's foremost filmmaker, a director whose rich visual imagination conjures up indelible, deeply moving images of our collective past.Joseph McBride's Searching for John Ford, described as definitive by both the New York Times and the Irish Times, surpasses all other biographies of the filmmaker in its depth, originality, and insight. Encompassing and illuminating Ford's myriad complexities and contradictions, McBride traces the trajectory of Ford's life from his beginnings as "Bull" Feeney, the nearsighted, football-playing son of Irish immigrants in Portland, Maine, to his recognition, after a long, controversial, and much-honored career, as America's national mythmaker. Blending lively and penetrating analyses of Ford's films with an impeccably documented narrative of the historical and psychological contexts in which those films were created, McBride has at long last given John Ford the biography his stature demands.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-468-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. INTRODUCTION: MY SEARCH FOR JOHN FORD
    (pp. 1-14)

    They called him “Bull” Feeney, “the human battering ram.” Broadshouldered and rugged, John Martin Aloysius Feeney stood six feet tall and weighed 175 pounds, but the wary squint in his blue eyes made him always seem to be coming at you from a defensive crouch. His bluff manner had something strangely distant and dreamy about it. There was an unmistakable sensitivity in his melancholic eyes, at odds with his rough, often rowdy conduct on the football field in Portland, Maine. During his senior year, redheaded Jack Feeney was one of the mainstays of the Portland High Bulldogs, a squad that...

  4. CHAPTER ONE “’TISN’T THE CASTLE THAT MAKES THE KING”
    (pp. 15-36)

    One parish over” from America, as the saying goes, is the barren, windblown west coast of Ireland, the region of Connemara. I journeyed there a few years ago with my Irish wife, Ruth O’Hara, in search of the Feeney family’s beginnings. All I knew was that his ancestors came from a village on Galway Bay called Spiddal, a dot on the map eight and a half miles outside the ancient port city of Galway, in the province of Connaught (contemporary spelling Connacht). Ford madeThe Quiet Manan hour or so north and inland from Spiddal, in the County Mayo...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A FARAWAY FELLA
    (pp. 37-74)

    Asure sign the Feeneys were climbing up in the world came when they moved into a spacious farmhouse a few miles down the coast from Portland in the Spurwink district of Cape Elizabeth. Not that they owned it, mind you. They were only renting the property on the sprawling estate of Charles E. Jordan, a wealthy member of a prominent Yankee family whose ancestors helped settle Cape Elizabeth in the seventeenth century. But it was as close to living on the coast of Spiddal as the Feeneys could come in their new land, and by Spiddal standards they were living...

  6. CHAPTER THREE “A DOLLAR FOR A BLOODY NOSE”
    (pp. 75-100)

    Every great director has a creation myth, a fabulous tale of his beginnings. On inspection, such tales rarely turn out to be true. When asked late in life how he got to Hollywood, Ford replied with epic understatement, “By train.” But he was not always so laconic about the cross-country journey he made in July 1914. He could not resist turning that adventure into part of his personal legend.

    Ford wanted people to believe that he hopped freights all the way to California, or that he made his way there by working as a cowboy. Once he even told the...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR “A JOB OF WORK”
    (pp. 101-134)

    In 1948, ford nostalgically dedicated his ravishingly beautiful Technicolor Western3 Godfathersto the recently deceased Harry Carey. A remake of the 1919 Ford-Carey WesternMarked Men, 3 Godfathersis prefaced with a shot of a lone rider on Carey’s horse, pausing on a hill at sunset. As the sound track plays Harry’s favorite song, “Goodbye, Old Paint,” these words are superimposed: “To the Memory of HARRY CAREY—Bright Star of the early western sky …” Breaking the stylized mold of the Western hero typified (at opposite extremes) by the austere William S. Hart and the flamboyant Tom Mix, Harry...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD
    (pp. 135-164)

    Ford seemed to be foundering throughout much of the 1920s. In his personal life, it was a time of emotional confusion, when he seemed beset by conflicting pressures he barely understood. Creatively, that period was among the most uneven of Ford’s career, a time of widely divergent subject matter and sometimes bizarre stylistic experimentation. For all its turmoil, however, it was a creative and necessary process. He was an ambitious man in search of his own identity.

    With the rediscovery in recent years of several Ford silent films previously thought lost, some unexpected facets of his developing artistic personality have...

  9. CHAPTER SIX “WITHOUT A HARBOR, MAN IS LOST”
    (pp. 165-213)

    Ford remembered the coming of sound as “a time of near panic in Hollywood.” But he was not among the many who panicked. Contrary to his self-perpetuated image as an aesthetic reactionary who made a grudging transition to talkies, Ford actually welcomed the opportunity to combine pictures with what he called “auditory imagery.” While most people in Hollywood feared they could not cope with the new medium and mourned the imminent passing of silent pictures, Ford proclaimed in his 1928New York Timesarticle that “the pictures are just now on the threshold of one of their most important developments,...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN SEAN AND KATE
    (pp. 214-244)

    The increasingly personal nature of Ford’s work in the mid-1930s was manifested in his growing preoccupation with Irish subject matter. As he looked more deeply within his soul and became more confident in his ability to express his feelings on screen, Ford gravitated to stories that reflected his ambivalence toward his ethnic identity, his Irish Catholicism, his guilt-ridden conflicts over money and marital fidelity, and his attempts to reconcile the demands of commercial success with artistic and political integrity. He tested his growing power within the film industry by trying to persuade reluctant studio executives to let him film three...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT “NO PLACE FOR AN AUTEUR”
    (pp. 245-268)

    Darryl’s a genius, and I don’t use the word lightly,” Ford told a Zanuck biographer in the late 1960s. “Of course in this industry every idiot nephew of some executive producer is a genius, but he actually was. He was head and shoulders above all other producers.” Ford added, with some exaggeration, “We had an ideal relationship.”

    In late 1935, between the making ofThe InformerandMary of Scotlandat RKO, Ford returned to Twentieth Century—Fox to direct his first of twelve films for the new production chief,The Prisoner of Shark Island. Nunnally Johnson, a Southerner who...

  12. CHAPTER NINE NATANI NEZ
    (pp. 269-334)

    Ford’sannus mirabilisof 1939 saw the release ofStagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, andDrums Along the Mohawk, the director’s informal “Americana trilogy.” By immersing himself in the American past and bringing it so stirringly alive in those three films, Ford reached his full-blown maturity as an artist, triumphantly finding the themes and motifs that would involve him for the remainder of his career.

    At a time when the world stood at the brink of war and America’s role as a world power was being challenged by the demands of isolationists and interventionists alike, Ford used his 1939 excursions into...

  13. CHAPTER TEN “YES—THIS REALLY HAPPENED”
    (pp. 335-415)

    As Japanese dive-bombers and fighter planes swooped over the Midway atoll in the central Pacific on the morning of June 4, 1942, America’s greatest filmmaker was there filming the attack for history. Standing atop the powerhouse on the narrow, triangular sliver of land called Eastern Island, John Ford aimed his 16mm handheld camera directly at the oncoming planes, “yelling at the attacking Zeroes to swing left or right—and cursing them out when they disobeyed directions,” Ford screenwriter Frank Nugent reported in hisSaturday Evening Postprofile of the director. One Japanese plane circled in close to where Ford was...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN “I AM A DIRECTOR OF WESTERNS”
    (pp. 416-519)

    At the famous meeting in October 1950 when the Screen Directors Guild was torn apart over the issue of the Hollywood blacklist, the leading figure in the guild, who had been sitting in enigmatic silence throughout the evening, finally rose to address his colleagues. “My name is John Ford,” he said. “I am a director of Westerns.” What Ford went on to say about the matter at hand would have a powerful effect on the consciences of his fellow filmmakers. But one director present, Douglas Sirk, recalled that Ford’s opening remark “set off a big discussion: people were so surprised...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE “GO SEARCHIN’ WAY OUT THERE”
    (pp. 520-599)

    For a man who admitted, “Directing’s like dope addiction,” voluntary retirement was tempting but hardly a realistic option. By the timeThe Quiet Manwas released in September 1952, Ford was already shooting another film,The Sun Shines Bright. The Quiet Manwould have made a fitting valedictory, but it is fortunate for his admirers that Ford did not stop at that high point of worldly success and classical harmony. The final period of his long career—adventurously varied, riven with self-contradictions—was a time for retrospection and reevaluation. Despite intermittent failures and false starts, it was a period that...

  16. CHAPTER THIRTEEN “THERE’S NO FUTURE IN AMERICA”
    (pp. 600-720)

    In the early summer of 1959, Ford was interviewed by Colin Young for aFilm Quarterlyarticle on veteran Hollywood directors. Young asked Ford if he had been making the kinds of films he wanted to make. “No!” barked Ford. “I don’t want to make great sprawling pictures. I want to make films in a kitchen…. The old enthusiasm has gone, maybe. But don’t quote that—oh, hell, you can quote it.” Nevertheless, Ford was not yet ready for retirement. “Now is the time,” he said, “to do the films I want to do. At sixty-four [actually sixty-five] I am...

  17. Sources
    (pp. 721-796)
  18. Filmography
    (pp. 797-804)
  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 805-812)
    Joseph McBride
  20. Index
    (pp. 813-838)
  21. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)