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  • Made-for-TV retrospective on some of the films of John Ford, specifically the westerns. It's hosted by John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda. It features John Ford in sit-downs with each man telling brief stories and directing a new scene with Wayne. It's not a critical analysis, and most of the insights given into the films covered are pretty routine, but it's an enjoyable, leisurely-paced little bit of history for classic movie buffs. Seeing four film legends is enough of a reason to recommend this for me. For anyone else I guess your mileage will vary depending on your tastes. One thing that I did learn was the reason for Jimmy Stewart's out-of-place role in Cheyenne Autumn. It doesn't make that picture any better for me but at least it makes me feel better that Ford had a reason (of sorts).
  • The American West of John Ford (1971)

    *** 1/2 (out of 4)

    This documentary takes a look at the Westerns of John Ford and is hosted by John Wayne and features apperances by James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Andy Devine and Ford himself.

    If you're a fan of director Ford then you'll certainly want to check this documentary out. Not only does it do a nice job at covering the various Westerns that he made throughout his career, the scenes with him re-uniting with his former stars was pure entertainment of the highest level.

    Some of the best moments in the film happen when Ford's simply sitting around chatting with Fonda and Stewart. The there men just have a nice chat about their past films, exchange stories and memories of making the movies. Considering that all of these legends are now gone, getting to see them together and discussing the movies is just priceless.

    Wayne gets a large portion of the running time and he does a very good job at talking about why Ford was so special as well as the special relationship that the two of them had. There are plenty of clips from the movies themselves but there's no question that it's the interviews that makes this so special.
  • John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart reminisce with John "Pappy" Ford about the old days of 1930 to 1964, when Westerns were being churned out wholesale, an art (if that's what it was) so American that it can be compared to jazz.

    In 1973, all the participants were past their prime. Ford had made his last movie, the disastrous "Seven Women", in 1966. Everybody gets old, and when they do, their resources are depleted. Inspiration flags, long-time friends die or drift away, the deserts are turned not into gardens but into housing developments. The wonder of it is that directors last as long as they do.

    That's depressing, but it's not the focus of these jovial conversations and tales. What emerges is vital and often funny, without carrying any particular degree of insight. ("The Western was founded on a dream", etc.) There are numerous clips from Ford's films and a great deal of action and comedy.

    The comic scenes include one I've always admired for all of the constituents that are left unspoken. In the post Civil War Western, "Rio Grande", trooper Victor McLaglen, a bit drunk, is schmoozing with the company's doctor, Chill Wills, who is whittling on a sizable wooden stick. Throughout the film, Maureen O'Hara, a Southern lady has been harassing McLaglen for burning her plantation in the Shenandoah Valley, repeatedly shaming him by accusing him of being an "arsonist." Finally, McLaglen asks the doc exactly what an "arsonist" is. Chill Wills explains and McLaglen laughs with relief -- "Oh, is THAT all!" But the scene doesn't end there. McLaglen, now pretty drunk, begins to loathe himself for having burned the plantation. "And there's the hand that did the dirty deed!", he exclaims, staring at the offending appendage. He spits on it and says, "I wish you'd take that stick and whack it off!" Chills immediately raises the heavy stick and whacks the hand with all his might, breaking the stick in two. Silence. Wills returns placidly to his whittling. McLaglen, with tears of genuine pain, shakes his stricken hand and blows on it.

    It loses in the telling because the performances and direction in the scene are as good as they are.

    But, then, not everything is explored anyway. This is supposed to be a satisfying look back at the wraith of former pleasantries, not a penetrating discourse. Ford is described as a prankster but he was rather more than that. He reveled in humiliating his casts. He clearly enjoyed their anguish, both emotional and physical. James Cagney wrote that Ford was a "sadist". There is no reference to an incident in which Ford punched Fonda in the face. And the narrative has been cleaned up a bit for television. The "arsonist" joke I described was deleted. And when Wayne tells us "No stunt man was ever hurt on a Ford picture," he's not entirely accurate. An old friend of Ford's, a stunt man named Kennedy, broke his neck during a saddle fall in "The Horse Soldiers."

    None of that detracts from Ford's professional curriculum vitae. He directed some of the best American Westerns ever made, and some of American cinema's most moving moments. But aside from the sentiment, the action, and the comedy, Ford's work at times was almost poetic, although he would never admit it. ("Just a job of work.") And this documentary is warm and generous with its subject. Just as well. The elegy befits a master craftsman.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I guess as far as TV documentaries go, this one was competent enough for 1971, but that was over forty years ago. Director John Ford passed away only a couple of years later, so it's probably a good thing some folks found it fitting to put this tribute on film and on record. Interestingly, Ford's six Oscars over the course of his career never involved a Western, so that bit of information is now tucked away in my memory for some trivia session down the road. John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda appear in person and in film clips highlighting the director's career, with a lot of emphasis on Ford's favorite filming locations in Arizona and Utah. Ford made nine Westerns, beginning with 1938's "Stagecoach", using the stark but beautiful landscapes of Monument Valley as his backdrop, and Western fans instinctively know it's a Ford film when those majestic spires and towers come into view. Not ever having seen Ford before, I was surprised somewhat at his appearance; I pictured a stockier, taller man on a par with John Wayne, but perhaps because of his age, he appeared slight of build but with a personality to rival any of his stars. Fondly called 'Pappy' by Wayne and Stewart, I found him to be generally self effacing with anecdotes about his career, including an amusing story about how he first met Henry Fonda, after he already directed him in a movie role. Ford didn't recognize him without his makeup. There's also a story he shares about getting a first hand history lesson about the gunfight at the OK Corral from the man who was there - Wyatt Earp - information put to good use in the filming of "My Darling Clementine". Little insights like this make the documentary interesting, and if you're a fan of his movies I think you would find it worthwhile. Rounding out the guest appearances, Andy Devine shows up in a cameo doing what he always did best, providing a spot of comic relief as the driver who appeared in "Stagecoach", the actor who Ford couldn't recall by name.
  • I have seen better films about the career of director John Ford. They were longer, more detailed and a bit less fawning in their admiration for the man and his work. However, this one is still pretty good and has a couple things going for it--it features some great actors talking about the man and with the man (John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart) and it's free to watch or download from archive.org. And, it certainly is worth your time.

    This TV special from the early 1970s is introduced by John Wayne and this makes a lot of sense considering the number of great films the men made together. Then, through the course of the show, Fonda and Stewart also discuss the man and his films. Oddly, Andy Divine does a FAST walk-on--and never really says anything! It's nice to see the film clips as well as interviews with the grouchy John Ford. It's also interesting that the show is NOT about the real American West--just Ford's vision of what it SHOULD have been in this very sentimental program.