FEB. 1

Opening reception

Learn about the indelible influence of John Ford’s immigrant roots.


FEB. 1


After serving four years for murder for killing a man in a saloon, Tom Joad is paroled and returns to his family farm in Oklahoma, only to learn the Joads have been "tractored off the land" and are joining the desperate migration to California. “A left-wing parable, directed by a right-wing American director, about how a sharecropper's son, a barroom brawler, is converted into a union organizer. The message is boldly displayed, but told with characters of such sympathy and images of such beauty that audiences leave the theater feeling more pity than anger or resolve. It's a message movie, but not a recruiting poster. Based on John Steinbeck's novel, arguably the most effective social document of the 1930s, and it was directed by a filmmaker who had done more than any other to document the Westward movement of American settlement.” - Roger Ebert.


FEB. 2


Ethan Edwards' niece is captured by Comanches and he sets off with his nephew, half-Indian himself, on a long and bitter search. Slowly he begins to reveal more and more about his motives and ultimate objectives to his wary young companion. “In truly great films--the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable--nothing's ever simple or neatly resolved. You're left with a mystery. In its final moment, The Searchers suddenly becomes a ghost story. Ethan's sense of purpose has been fulfilled and…he's destined to wander forever between the winds” - Martin Scorsese.


FEB. 3


“A film in which two great careers were renewed. Although he had appeared before in many films, as an extra, a stuntman and then an actor in B films, this was John Wayne's first starring role in a film by John Ford. For Ford, it was a return after some years to a genre about which his ideas had grown--the genre in which he would make many of his greatest films. Confined for a good deal of the film inside the stagecoach, [the] actors create a fascinating community as they gradually reveal their hidden reasons for traveling in great discomfort though hazardous Indian territory. The Ringo Kid, Wayne's character, is a wanted murderer being taken to prison by a U. S. Marshall (George Bancroft). The film's attitudes toward Native Americans are unenlightened. The Apaches are seen simply as murderous savages; there is no suggestion the white men have invaded their land. But [Wayne] never suggests evil, and seems prepared to be taken to prison even though he has many opportunities to escape. [Perhaps] he stays with the stagecoach because he is needed to protect its passengers. We see here Wayne's extraordinary physical grace and capacity for tenderness, and understand why Ford later cast him as The Quiet Man" - Roger Ebert.


FEB. 3


“Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his two brothers indefinitely extend their stay in Tombstone after discovering their cattle stolen and other brother murdered, most likely by another all-male familial clan, the Clantons. Revenge against the Clantons soon quickly takes a back seat, however, as newly minted town sheriff Earp soon finds himself embroiled in a ever-fluctuating friendship-cum-rivalry with Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), a black-clad local powerbroker. Prone to heavy boozing and intimidation of local riffraff, Holliday also appreciates the finer things in life, like sipping champagne and reciting Shakespearean soliloquies from memory, signs of a more-cultured past back East that he mysteriously abandoned for the anonymity of the West. This history catches up with Holliday soon enough in the form of Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), a nurse and former lover who has scoured the frontier in search of him. Their reunion is complicated by Holliday’s self-destructive rejection of his former life and his present romance with local saloon singer Chihuahua (Linda Darnell)—not to mention Earp’s tentative interest in Carter” - Matthew Connolly, Slant. ”Astonishingly, this masterpiece starring Henry Fonda as the upright town-taming marshal Wyatt Earp, and culminating in the 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, was only Ford’s second western of the sound era (the first was Stagecoach in 1939). Marking the director’s homecoming to Hollywood after distinguished war service, Henry Fonda also returned from active service as a naval officer to play the part in the film, his fourth collaboration with Ford” - Roger Ebert.


FEB. 4


“The greatest American political filmmaker, John Ford, relentlessly dramatized, in his Westerns, the mental and historical distortions arising from the country’s violent origins—including its legacy of racism, which he confronted throughout his career, nowhere more radically than in Sergeant Rutledge. Set in Arizona, in 1881, it’s the courtroom drama of a black soldier (Woody Strode) who is charged with raping and murdering a woman—a white woman. It’s more than a story of establishing the truth of this particular case and defying prejudice—it’s a story of the law’s systemic injustice and of deeply ingrained, unchallenged, and brutal extrajudicial constraints on the behavior of black Americans. Above all, it’s a story of terror—of the racist terrorism to which black Americans are subjected, and their bitter paradox of being citizens of a nation that keeps their prospects severely narrowed and repays them with hatred and contempt. Yet it’s also a military movie—the story of martial virtue and valor as the ultimate equalizer, the ultimate test of character. The contradictions at the heart of Ford’s work make him an artist of a seemingly comprehensive vision, make his films tragedies” - Richard Brody, The New Yorker.


FEB. 5


“One of John Ford's masterpieces of sentimental human drama. It is the melodramatic and nostalgic story of a close-knit, hard-working Welsh coal-mining family (the Morgans) at the turn of the century as a socio-economic way of life passes and the home-family unit disintegrates. Episodic incidents in everyday life convey the changes, trials, setbacks, and joys of the hard-bitten community as it faces growing unemployment, distressing work conditions, unrest, unionization and labor-capital disputes, and personal tragedy. Domestic life, romance, harsh treatment at school, the departure of two Morgan boys to find their fortune in America, unrequited love between the local preacher (Walter Pidgeon) and the only Morgan daughter (Irish actress Maureen O'Hara), and other events are portrayed within the warm, human story. The film was nominated for a total of ten awards and walked away with five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction” - FilmSite.


FEB. 6


“Irish-American boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne), recovering from the trauma of having accidentally killed a man in the ring, arrives in the Irish village where he was born. Hoping to bury his past and settle down to a life of tranquility, Thornton has purchased the home of his birth from wealthy local widow Mildred Natwick, a transaction that has incurred the wrath of pugnacious squire Victor McLaglen, who coveted the property for himself. By and by, Thornton falls in love with McLaglen's beautiful, high-spirited sister Maureen O'Hara. Though it tends to perpetuate the myth that all true Irishmen live only to fight, drink and make love, The Quiet Man is grand and glorious fun, enacted with gusto by a largely Hibernian cast and directed with loving care by a master of his craft. Graced with a lilting musical score by Victor Young, the film won Oscars for Archie Stout's Technicolor photography and for John Ford's direction” - Hal Erickson, Rovi.


FEB. 7


“Most war films are, ultimately, about winning. In 1945, however, as World War II was ending, John Ford made probably the finest U.S. war picture, about one of America’s greatest defeats—-in the Philippines—-the title of which alone is devastating in its implications: They Were Expendable. The picture focuses on the use of PT-Boats in the Philippines, specifically through the deeds of its central pioneer John D. Bulkeley, a good friend of Ford’s and one of the most decorated men of the war: he is played with simple dignity by Robert Montgomery, also a Naval veteran. His fictional cohort—-who gets the brief but memorable love interest with a Navy nurse perfectly incarnated by Donna Reed—-is done in a most effectively understated performance by John Wayne. Essentially, like a good many of Ford’s pictures, They Were Expendable deals with the peculiar glory in defeat. When I pointed this out to him, Ford said it wasn’t something he had “done consciously,” though he allowed, “it may have been subconscious… Of course, they were glorious in defeat in the Philippines—-they kept on fighting” - Peter Bogdanovich, IndieWire.


FEB. 8

AND DECEMBER 7th (1943)


“John Ford served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and worked for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services) as Chief of the Field and Photographic Branch. During this time, he undertook various missions for the Navy, and was involved in the production of training films and war documentaries, one of which was The Battle of Midway. The battle itself took place in the Central Pacific from June 4 to June 6 1942, and Ford was present as the Japanese attacked the American outpost on Midway Island. ‘This is the actual photographic report of the Battle of Midway’ declares the film’s opening titles. The Battle of Midway chronicles a significant moment in U.S. History, as have other Ford films like Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946), but the focus here is on ordinary Americans filmed at the time, not famous historical figures seen in retrospect.” - Martin Bamber, Senses of Cinema.

“One of Ford's most famous efforts, December 7th, won a Best Documentary Short Subjects Academy Award in 1943. It was difficult if not altogether impossible to see in its original form for nearly half a century. It's not hard to see why the War Department had second thoughts when they saw the completed December 7th. The movie is anything but conventional war-time propaganda.” - Gary Johnson, Images Journal. “Adm. Harold Stark, the chief of naval operations at the time, wrote the lines that put December 7th in storage: "This picture leaves the distinct impression that the Navy was not on the job, and this is not true." Later, the film was pared down to 20 minutes of battle scenes and presented as patriotic testament to the courage of the men who endured the surprise onslaught” - Mark Chalon Smith, Los Angeles Times.


FEB. 9


The Informer is forcefully and intelligently written, directed and acted. The story by Liam O'Flaherty deals with the Irish rebellion against British authority prior to 1922, when the Irish Free State's creation finally removed the hated symbols of British domination” - Variety. “The Informer won Oscars for best direction, script (Dudley Nichols), music (Max Steiner) and acting (Victor McLaglen); [it’s among] Ford’s finest works for its status as a Hollywood art film…through expressionistic visuals, symbolic touches, and a downbeat story centred on the figure of a man who informs on a fellow-Republican and then goes inexorably to pieces. It was a box-office draw at the time, though not in Ireland: the censors found its image of the nation unacceptable, despite the fact that Ford and Nichols had shifted the period back from the Civil War of O’Flaherty’s novel to the less controversial territory of the War of Independence” - Irish Film Institute.


FEB. 10

UP TIGHT (1968)

By all cultural accounts, 1968 was a hellish year for America. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy helped spark the “burn baby burn” sensibility ignited in the streets. It was also during this turbulent period that Paramount Pictures reluctantly agreed to finance Jules Dassin’s remake of the classic film The Informer into militant action film Up Tight. Moving the action from the streets of Ireland to the ghettos of Ohio, Dassin’s bleak exploration into the world of sharp-dressed Black revolutionaries introduced the Blaxploitation aesthetics that later influenced a crop of Black action films including Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (197), Super Fly (1972) and others. Working with cinematographer Boris Kaufman, Dassin created a claustrophobic cinematic landscape that New York magazine critic Judith Crist described as, “teeming and pulsing one minute, stark in its solitudes and isolations the next.” “But, it was about the music too,” says Darius James, author of That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude. “‘Time is Tight’ by Booker T. & the MG’s is heard in fragments throughout, and the complete song serves as the film’s coda. While Up Tight remains one of the best gritty political crime features from that period, it was soon, according to Ruby Dee, withdrawn by the studio” - Michael A. Gonzales, Ebony.