For Reel


The Hurricane (1937)
May 31, 2015, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Ford
4 Stars
The HurricaneA complex adventure film about colonialism in the South Pacific, John Ford’s The Hurricane is capped off by its titular natural disaster, as spectacular as any special effects sequence of its era. But what really makes the film special is its dialogue about the nature of the law and oppression. Ford has been lazily criticized by some contemporary critics as being distractingly socially conservative, but in fact his films often showed progressive themes. The Hurricane is a terrific example, with its deep consideration of the injustices faced by repressed people. Critic Andrew Sarris praised not the central couple of Terangi (Jon Hall) and Marama (Dorothy Lamour) (whom he largely described as passive victims) when he wrote about the film in You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: The American Talking Film, but rather the French Governor Eugene De Laage (Raymond Massey) and his wife Madame Germaine (Mary Astor). Their relationship is rendered as a dialogue between the laws of man and the matters of the heart. It is curious that the last moments of the picture do not concern the reunited young lovers, but instead whether or not Massey will give way in his stubborn observance of the law. It plays out like a standard romantic comedy trope–Massey and Astor are lovers who have hit an impasse, only a last minute compromise brings them back together and closes the film in romantic harmony. In the end, compassion and sensitivity trumps the rigid social order.



The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
May 1, 2012, 10:42 pm
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Director: John Ford

Edward G. Robinson plays a dual role in one of his very best showcases, The Whole Town’s Talking. Today’s viewers might be surprised to see that John Ford is credited with directing the picture, however Ford did make a number of comedies in his career and, even in his serious outings, his boisterous Irish humor would often come through. An office clerk at an accounting firm is mistaken for a notorious bank robber on the day that he was to be fired. When the police give him an identity card so as not to lead to any future confusion, the bank robber catches word and shows up on the clerk’s doorstep with intentions of routinely borrowing it. As the comedic elements of Ford’s pictures, especially his westerns (The Searchers being the prime example), are often brash and off-putting, it is a surprise to see how delicately he handles the humor that comes at the expense of the meek, affable clerk. The screenplay is credited to Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin, frequent collaborators with Frank Capra, and in its warm sentiment it possesses more of the traits of a Capra vehicle than it does a Ford. Most touching of all is the relationship that develops between the clerk and Jean Arthur, who, like many of Capra’s heroines (Arthur chief among them), gives the hero the confidence and drive to succeed. Robinson was initially reluctant to work on another tough guy part, but the picture is wholly devoted to presenting his dynamism – he makes a convincing romantic lead, and is given the chance to both convey the sensitivity of Marinius of Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and the menace of “Little Caesar” Bandello.



The Searchers (1956)
January 4, 2012, 8:49 pm
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Director: John Ford

One of the most terrifying films ever made about obsession, Ethan Edwards is John Wayne at his most dynamic. He is a long way from the Ringo Kid – here, he angrily shoots Indians as they’re running away, and, for the majority of the picture, it seems clear that he will execute his niece. To say she is his niece, though, is to overlook the evidence that Edwards carried out an affair with his brother’s wife (watch, for example, the scene in which she folds Edwards’ clothes and tenderly delivers them to him while the Reverend struggles to turn a blind eye). What makes John Ford fascinating to study is his evolution – though he would never admit to be an artist, in The Searchers he is at his most self-referential. After Edwards’ frightening declaration, “They ain’t white. Not any more.”, watch the way Ford pans towards Wayne’s face – a clear echo of the Ringo Kid’s introduction in Stagecoach. This is post-war Ford at his most unromantic.