Documentary Review: John Ford Goes to War (2002)

Release Date: 2002
Directed by: Tom Thurman
Written by: Tom Marksbury
Cast: John Ford (archive footage), John Wayne (archive footage), Kris Kristofferson (narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Dan Ford, Leonard Maltin, Oliver Stone,

FBN Productions, Starz! Encore Entertainment, 56 Minutes

Review:

I fired this up on a rainy afternoon because I saw it on the Starz app and because I mostly like the films of John Ford.

It’s a fairly interesting documentary that delves into the man’s war experience and how it helped shape the pictures he would go on to make as one of Hollywood’s premier directors.

My only real issue with the documentary is that it is pretty slow and boring. The subject matter is engaging but the presentation almost puts you to sleep.

This was relatively short though, just being under an hour and it is worth checking out if you admire John Ford’s filmmaking style, especially in regards to his war pictures.

I wouldn’t call this a necessary TV documentary, even for fans of the man’s work. Honestly, it just makes me hope that someone will come along and make a more comprehensive and energetic film on the great director’s career.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Starz filmmaking documentaries.

 

Film Review: Hondo (1953)

Also known as: They Called Him Hondo
Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, John Ford (uncredited, final scenes only)
Written by: James Edward Grant
Based on: Hondo by Louis L’Amour
Music by: Hugo W. Friedhofer, Emil Newman
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Leo Gordon

Batjac Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions, Warner Bros., 84 Minutes

Review:

“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.” – Hondo Lane

I haven’t watched a John Wayne movie in quite a while. Since I was working on a post about Louis L’Amour’s books, I felt like I should go back and revisit the film adaptation of Hondo, as it is my favorite L’Amour book and it stars the Duke himself, John Wayne.

I love that this movie starts out kind of small and confined but then ends with such a big, epic battle.

Now even though most of the film does take place in wide expanses of Old West wilderness, it was still a small picture for the first two-thirds. A lot of the scenes were on the ranch and in the tight quarters of the ranch home. Other scenes, while outdoors, were usually in smaller secluded places like the creek where the boy likes to fish. I don’t know if this was intentional or budgetary but when the film gets to its climax, the expanse of the open desert and the final battle feel even bigger than it normally would.

And man, I love the final battle in this movie between the white people leaving the Apache land and the angry Apache trying to make their escape impossible. The story also serves to setup the oncoming battle that wiped out the Apache warriors soon after this film. But not without Wayne tipping his hat to the Apache and their way of life.

But that’s what I love about this movie and Louis L’Amour stories in general. Even though they are seen through the eyes of mostly white men in the Old West, there is still a respect for other cultures underneath the chaos and conflict. I feel that John Wayne felt the same way and that’s why he works so well as the protagonist in a L’Amour film adaptation. Well, John Wayne was also the king of westerns but I like how he fits within L’Amour’s literary style.

Hondo isn’t as remembered as some of John Wayne’s other westerns but it is one of his best, even if I think it’s way too short and could’ve been fleshed out a bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: ChisumTrue Grit and The War Wagon.

Film Review: Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Release Date: June 12th, 1963 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Edward Grant, Frank S. Nugent
Music by: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Elizabeth Allen, Jacqueline Malouf, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne, Dick Foran

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there is our Mike Donovan. Three children and not one marriage. Oh, I do not say that he’s the first man to put the cart before the horse, but three carts and no horse? Huh?” – Marquis Andre de Lage

John Ford and John Wayne made a lot of really good movies together. Some of them had Lee Marvin in them too. Well, this is one of them but sadly, it is the last of them.

This also has Jack Warden and Cesar Romero in it too though, as well as Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Dick Foran. Plus, it is shot in beautiful and luscious Hawaii at the height of the Tiki subculture’s popularity in America.

Donovan’s Reef is a really good and lighthearted movie. It’s a lot more playful than what Ford and Wayne collaborations typically were. Sure, they’d have some tiny comedic moments but this is really a straight up romantic comedy that just so happens to have a male lead with real gravitas.

The thing is, I love seeing Wayne be funny and playful and kind of hamming it up. He doesn’t lose his machismo and if anything, it’s that machismo that makes his lighter roles work so well. For instance, Rooster Cogburn isn’t remotely close to the quality of its predecessor True Grit but Wayne is so damn good in it, playing opposite of Katharine Hepburn in an “odd couple” sort of situation. This is like that in the way that Wayne isn’t afraid to step outside of being the quintessential badass of his era.

I also love Lee Marvin’s character in this and the rest of the cast is damn good too. Cesar Romero was friggin’ delightful. And the young Jacqueline Malouf was perfect and sweet in her role. I truly enjoyed Elizabeth Allen’s role in this though, as she was the perfect pairing for Wayne’s wit and for the romantic stuff. She was the typical “rich white lady thrown into an exotic culture” archetype but she evolved beyond that and gave the role a lot of personality.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Hawaii is majestic and it is on full display in this movie.

Donovan’s Reef was actually much better than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out. It’s definitely something I’ll probably revisit many times in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ford and Wayne collaborations. For the Tiki aesthetic, The Road to Bali which also features Dorothy Lamour. Also, Diamond Head, which was also filmed in Hawaii and features Elizabeth Allen.

Film Review: Stagecoach (1939)

Release Date: February 2nd, 1939
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: The Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox
Music by: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken
Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft

Walter Wanger Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Henry, the Ringo Kid

Stagecoach is a massively beloved western classic that went on to win Academy Awards and catapulted the career of John Wayne and his long partnership with director John Ford. While it isn’t my favorite western or Wayne film, it deserves its status, as it truly birthed what we know as westerns today.

When John Ford started making this picture, his colleagues warned him against it and said that making a western would be career suicide. If Ford hadn’t followed his gut and caved to the naysayers, the western genre, John Wayne and pop culture might not exist in quite the same way. This picture opened the floodgates for the genre and without it, kids might have never played cowboys and Indians and probably would’ve just stuck to cops and robbers or turned to something totally lame.

For modern audiences, this is a film full of genre cliches and it might be hard to see why it was such a great picture for its time. Everything you know about westerns, really started with Stagecoach. Every major trope you can think of is in this picture and compared to the films that came after it, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this feel original. But honestly, that is just a testament to how impactful this picture was. It set the stage for everything else to come.

It’s not super exciting and all the characters seem like cliches themselves but their differences serve the narrative well and the tension and conflict does effectively drive the plot. The action is just okay but there wasn’t a lot of great action in this era. Stuntmen existed, as John Wayne was one of them, but it obviously isn’t anything as over the top or exciting as what would come later in motion pictures.

John Wayne really carries the film with some help from leading lady Claire Trevor and the horror icon John Carradine. While Wayne does shine, he is not the lead and there isn’t as much meat in this role as he would later get to chew on.

Stagecoach is still a better than decent picture when compared to the genre, which flourished because of it. While I would recommend a slew of other westerns, the significance of this film cannot be denied.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1962
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Based on: a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murrary, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef

Paramount Pictures, 123 Minutes

the_man_who_shot_liberty_valanceReview:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is regarded as one of John Wayne’s best westerns. It is hard to argue against that point because truthfully, I think just about every John Wayne western is one of his best, as making bad films was something he never seemed to do. Okay, maybe there are a few.

In this movie, he’s teamed up with legends James Stewart and Lee Marvin, as well as Lee Van Cleef and John Carradine in minor roles. That’s a lot of bad asses to share one screen and it is almost like an Expendables film for its era, except for the fact that it’s actually a good movie.

This is one of my favorites when it comes to the role John Wayne plays. As usual, he is the suave manly man but this time he plays somewhat of a protector to James Stewart’s pacifist lawyer character. This is one of my favorite James Stewart performances, outside of his work with Hitchcock, and he almost steals this picture away from John Wayne. Lee Marvin is also at the top of his game here, as he plays a classic black-wearing western villain that you can’t not love to hate.

This film has a lot of layers to it and it isn’t just a straightforward cookie cutter western film. That is why it stands above most of the westerns of that time. There are a handful of John Wayne films I like better but not by much. This is a stupendous movie and it shows off the acting mastery of three greats.

There is a bigger message with this movie than just being a shoot ’em up affair or a typical western revenge flick. There are multiple social commentary threads running through this film and they are all well executed and presented. While light-hearted at times, this film also comes with a very dark vibe, as the evil and corruption that must be overcome feel very real and very threatening.

Rating: 9/10