The Golden Age Of Hollywood

John Ford (1895 - 1973)

John Ford is best known as the greatest director of westerns in film history. The Western was a particularly American contribution to the century of cinema because it was inspired by the country's own history.

Ford's silent western epic The Iron Horse (1924) recreated an important phase in that history : the building of the first railroad to cross the continent. Ford was often concerned with western history in his films and The Iron Horse (1924) is very authentic.

Despite his connection with the genre in modern minds Ford directed no westerns between 1926 and 1939. For most of this period he was under contract to Fox the studio that specialised in vintage Americana, he directed Will Rogers in Judge Priest (1934) among others but was the wrong man to direct Katharine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland (1936) at R-K-O.

Ford directed Henry Fonda in Young Mr Lincoln (1939) and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) but it was Stagecoach (1939) which established the Western as a great American film genre after a period in which it had been kept alive mainly by the poverty row studios. It made John Wayne a star and established a potent director/star combination in Ford and Wayne. The Duke gave some of his greatest performances under Ford's direction including the US Cavalry Trilogy : Fort Apache (1948), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950).

Best of all though was The Searchers (1956) in which Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter tracked down Natalie Wood. Other memorable Ford westerns included My Darling Clementine (1946) with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and his last great Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Ford's best non-Western was his adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) starring Henry Fonda.

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Written content copyright Derek McLellan,2005.
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