The Films of John Ford

Few movie directors are more respected, more acclaimed or more controversial than John Ford (1894-1973).  Although best known for directing westerns, Ford also directed comedies, dramas, and war movies.  In fact, there were few film genres that John Ford didn’t touch.

After working as an actor and various roles behind the camera, Ford directed his first film, The Tornado, in 1914.  This and many of his early work are considered to be lost.  By the 1920s, Ford had begun a long collaberation with Fox Films (now part of 20th Century-Fox).  Early hits include the western The Iron Horse (1924) and war drama Four Sons (1928).  A series of Will Rogers comedies followed, including: Doctor Bull (1933) and Steamboat Round the Bend (1935).

1935’s The Informer, brought John Ford the first of four Best Director Academy Awards, currently a record.  This was followed by Best Director wins for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941, also Best Picture), and The Quiet Man (1952).

Stagecoach (1939), marked Ford’s first sound western.  It also launched John Wayne as a leading man.  John Wayne made a total of 19 movies for Ford (this includes numerous bit roles in silent films).  This most famous include: They Were Expendible (1945), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Donovan’s Reef (1963).

Over the years Ford develpoed a “stock company” of regular players he often worked with, including: Henry Fonda (9 films), James Stewart (5), Maureen O’Hara (5), Victor MacLaglen (12), and Ward Bond (24).  He was known for his cantankerous demeanor, even throwing people (often studio executives) off the set for disagreeing with him.

John Ford’s filmography is among the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, other classics include The Grapes of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950), Mogambo (1953), Mister Roberts (1955), The Last Hurrah (1958), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Film scholars and fellow directors have heralded Ford for his sweeping camera movements and wide angle lenswork.  Many of his films are known for their powerful cinematography, particularly the grand vistas of Utah’s Monument Valley.  Ford used this location nine times, most notably in Stagecoach and The Searchers.

John Ford is truly one of the great directors of our time with a considerable list of must-see classics, many of which are available for check out.

Do you have a favorite John Ford movie?





2 thoughts on “The Films of John Ford

  1. I haven’t seen many John Ford movies but the cinematography of “The Searchers” always sticks out to me. Certainly the closing doorway shot has been referenced many times, but there’s also a very brief shot of Jeffrey Hunter grieving his burning homestead that is recreated by George Lucas in the burning homestead scene from Star Wars.

    John Ford was also a US Navy Reserve officer during World War II and personally filmed the Japanese attack on Midway Island at great danger to himself and his crew. Not only did a hundred enemy planes bomb a few square miles of island, but Ford and the rest of the Americans knew they were scheduled to be invaded in a few days by a much larger force with no US reinforcements available. Fortunately the US Navy won a suprise victory and Ford and the others weren’t killed or shipped off to Japan as POWs.

  2. Many directors claim John Ford as a major influence, from Alfred Hitchcock to David Lean to Steven Spielberg.
    When asked who his favorite directors were, Orson Welles replied, “I like the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

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