John Ford movies span Westerns, war and ‘Wrath’ on TCM

Classic movie channel recalls directing legend John Ford

John Ford

When it comes to legendary filmmakers whose names are virtual trademarks, John Ford surely is in that group.

A frequent collaborator of John Wayne, Ford (1894-1973) remains renowned not only for his Westerns, but also for military stories he told both in fictional films and documentaries …. plus, there were his forays into social drama (“The Grapes of Wrath”) and romantic comedy (“The Quiet Man”). Most aspects of his career are covered as Turner Classic Movies celebrates the self-styled Ford with an all-night tribute Thursday, Nov. 21.

The evening begins with two of the Old West sagas Ford and Wayne made together. The much-praised “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962) actually gives James Stewart top billing as a lawyer turned politician who recalls the protection he was given against criminal Valance (Lee Marvin) by a romantic rival (Wayne).

Then comes one of the most famous features on both Ford and Wayne’s resumes, the memorably scenic 1956 Western “The Searchers,” one of the first movies selected for the National Film Registry. Wayne plays a Civil War veteran who spends several years and many miles in pursuit of his niece (a part shared by sisters Lana and Natalie Wood), kidnapped by Comanches.

The theme then shifts to war with Ford’s short 1942 documentary “The Battle of Midway,” with color footage taken during the naval conflict – and Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” stars Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell among the narrators. After that, the profile “John Ford: The Man Who Invented America” is followed by 1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath” itself, novelist John Steinbeck’s migrant-worker saga that earned Oscars for Ford (one of his record four for directing) and Darwell … and was another of the earliest National Film Registry entries.

TCM’s salute to Ford ends with one of his final films, the all-star “Cheyenne Autumn,” which was deemed a costly flop at the box office but has gained increased esteem over the ensuing years. Whatever the financial and/or critical results of his work, John Ford did things his way, as the TCM spotlight on him is destined to reaffirm.

“The Grapes of Wrath”
Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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