As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible for me to accept.
I had to stop reading the book. At least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I need to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.
This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.
Until I got to the section in which the author claims Ford used Stepin Fetchit and other minorities to “slyly mock America’s racism”.
That’s absolutely untrue.
What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films.
Western movies. You love them or hate them. Hardly anyone is neutral. I’ve always loved them, since I was a little girl, pretending to be a cross between The Lone Ranger and Jesse James.
But why? What is it about westerns that makes them so appealing to those of us that love them?
Let’s work this as a list, top to bottom. Remember, this is my list. You may have a completely different list and totally not relate to mine. That’s okay.
Why I love Western Movies
1) Horses. I love horses. The more horses, the better. You could leave out the riders and I would sit there and watch the horses, no problem.
2) Scenery. The deserts, the mountains, the plains. The dusty trail as the wagon train rolls westward. The Rocky Mountains looming, challenging. Sunsets over Monument Valley. Some of the most incredible cinematography has been done for westerns. From Ride the High Country to almost anything ever filmed by John Ford. To the dusty streets of Tombstone… the big sky hangs over everything, a huge blue dome. Everything is bigger, brighter, younger. The beauty is hard to match and it goes so well with the eye of the camera.
3) Simple ethics, simple philosophy. There is something terribly appealing about a world where the excuse “He needed killing” is an actual defense at trial. You can put a lot of violence into a western and it’s just fine. The bad guys wear black hats, figuratively or literally. The good guys are the ones with the nice horses, better clothing … and white hats. No ambivalence. No confusion. Not at all like the real world made up of endless shades of gray. It’s a black and white world, black and white morality. “He needed killing. So I killed him.” I get that.
4) Heroes. This is really a continuation of the previous, but Wyatt Earp kills a lot of people and it’s okay. I can cheer him on as he and Doc Holliday rampage through the west. “Yes!!” I cry, waving my fist in the air. I could never kill anyone, but I can be really grateful that someone else is doing it for me. In real life, I favor gun control. In westerns? Blast away!
If the movie also has a good plot, terrific sound track, great cinematography? Some wit, cleverness and even a few laughs? Bonus material.
That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? Horses, gorgeous scenery, good guys being good, bad guys being bad. Add music, dim the lights and pass the popcorn.
There are so many movies … and this is far too short a list to really tell the story. Call it the tip of my iceberg. That said, here we go — the movies I never tire of watching.
I love westerns. This may be the best ever made and it’s Duke Wayne’s finest performance. My director idol, John Ford, said of his masterpiece, “It’ll do”.
Everyone’s go-to movie easily could be number one. I remember chatting with Julius Epstein, one of the co-screenwriters, who told me how crazy it was on the set with revised scripts rushed in every day as they set up shots.
Epstein said Bogie was never fazed and usually nailed his lines on the first take. Director Michael Curtiz, on the other hand, was very “upset”, according to Epstein.
The Best Years of our Lives
Wonderful film but, admittedly, a sentimental choice here. The very FIRST film I ever saw ata movie theatre.
It was 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was dressed in his uniform. He seemed ten feet tall and very heroic. The theme of the movie, GI’s trying to cope with post-war life, is timeless. Little did I know that it would be an issue in my family.
Another great western. I saw it numerous times when it opened in 1960. I know all the lines.
The cast of then relatively unknown actors was terrific. Steve McQueen was my movie hero — next to Duke Wayne. I even tried to dress like McQueen. Didn’t quite work out. Years later, I had a sit down chat with James Coburn who related how wild things were during the shooting of “Seven”. He told me how McQueen used to drive the nominal star, Yul Brynner, crazy with upstaging bits of business. Charles Bronson was described as “one very quiet and strange dude”. Coburn admitted everyone was sneaking in “bits” trying to outdo each other.
The Great Escape
Think “The Magnificent Seven” as a World War two prison escape war movie instead of a western. James Coburn said he marvelled at how director John Sturges kept control of the “boys”, including several of the “Magnificent Seven” cast members.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Elmer Bernstein‘s distinctive musical score in both films. Those scores or “themes” would achieve their own celebrity over the years.
I’ve always loved this one!! The cast, acting, dialogue, and script are superb. It’s about the theatre world. But anyone who’s had a professional life in the public eye can relate to the characters and the plot. Bette Davis was at the top of her game (role was originally slated for Claudette Colbert who had to pass).
The wonderful supporting cast included Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, a young Marilyn Monroe and the estimable George Sanders in his career-defining role. I shared Bloody Mary’s with Gary Merrill when he was in Boston (that’s another story) and had me laughing about life on the set of “All About Eve”. He and Ms. Davis fell in love while making “Eve”. However, the theatrics within the theatrics were something to behold, Merrill recalled. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else but nobody upstaged Bette Davis. Gary Merrill grinned as he refilled my drink. And, George Sanders, Merrill said, was George Sanders on and off camera.
Oh, how I adore this movie and WHY didn’t they make it in color?? Had the great fortune to meet James “Call me Jimmy” Cagney in the early 70’s on Martha’s Vineyard. I was awestruck. He was very kind. Seems he had caught my work as a TV news reporter and just wanted to say he liked what he saw. Over coffee, we talked about the joys of doing what we loved and the frustration of dealing with “suits” or executives. I mostly just listened. He talked about the making of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how, clearly, that was his personal favorite “job” in his long career. He was glad to do the music biopic and show off his dancing chops which he’d always had but were rarely used in previous films. He credited his unusual dance movements to mannerisms of his old street pals in New York’s “hell’s Kitchen” where he grew up.
My favorite scene in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is near the end where Cagney/Cohan, dances down the stairs at the White House.
My wife Marilyn and I usually replay this scene three, four, five times whenever we watch the film.
Another classic western. Alan Ladd’s shining hour and another gem in director George Steven’s illustrious career. The photography and editing are wonderful. Victor Young’s music is evocative. Perhaps my favorite sequence is the burial of “Reb”. The dialogue is muted and the plaintive harmonica music, “Dixie” and then “Taps” is contrasted with Reb’s dog softly wailing over the grave and two youngsters nearby — oblivious to the tragedy — playing with a horse. The continuous scene then pans down to a long shot of the nearby town ending with an ominous dirge. Powerful, poetic stuff!!
The final scene of Shane — slightly slumped in saddle — riding away to the mountains with the boy calling after him is the stuff of movie legend.
Another John Ford – John Wayne classic. This is Ford near the end of his career. It’s his homage to the ending of the west as he’s depicted it for most of his professional life, dating back to silent films. Shot in black and white on a small budget, Ford is more concerned about characters than action.
Duke Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, teamed for the first time, are the perfect choices, albeit a little long in the teeth, to play the contrasting leads. Wayne is the rough tough cowman. Stewart is the sensitive lawyer who wants to see justice meted out by the court rather than Wayne’s six-shooter. Lee Marvin’s “Liberty Valance” borders on parody but that’s okay.
Great supporting cast including Edmond O’Brien, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin and Woody Strode (why did they have to call him “Boy” in one scene). The “print the legend” theme is so ironic and haunting. Ford is trying to break his habit of printing the legend but the public doesn’t want the facts.
The haunting theme at the end of “Liberty Valance” is the same mournful theme Ford used 25 years earlier in “Young Mr. Lincoln”.
Ford and Wayne again — this time in Ireland. Ford’s tribute to his birth place. Wonderful photography!! The green hills and pastures of Ireland never looked lovelier. Just watch out for the sheep dung. The music is memorable. “Wild Colonial Boy” pub sequence is pure John Ford. The Wayne-McLagen epic fight is in Hollywood’s hall of Fame.
Marilyn and I visited Cong and the remnants of “The Quiet Man’s” cabin during our honeymoon in Ireland in 1990. That’s when we found out that — guess who — has Irish roots.
Another western and a relatively unheralded film. It’s Charlton Heston‘s realistic take on the life of an aging cow puncher. Had the genuine pleasure to “hang out” with “Chuck” on several occasions and he was a very nice, down to earth guy (just ask Marilyn). This was the pre-NRA Heston. Anyway, during one of our sit-downs, he talked about making “Will Penny” as a personal project.
He had done several traditional westerns and wanted to do one that was authentic and free of Hollywood glamour and happy endings. “Will Penny” is perhaps Heston’s best acting work. It is understated with Heston showing a range of emotion not usually apparent in his more typical epic screen characters.
Terrific Blake Edwards film that angered Hollywood insiders — with good reason. Again, if you’ve had a professional career in the public eye, you will absolutely love this movie. You know these people. You’ve worked with and for these people. William Holden’s talk to his depression-ridden pal was all too real and could easily have been Holden’s own eulogy.
Most of the ensemble star cast, plus Edwards, stopped in Boston to promote the movie. The behind the scenes arm-twisting coming out of Hollywood was trying to kill the film. On that memorable Saturday morning, I was with only one or two other reporters (who also left after 5 minutes or so to chase more meaningful stories), listening to William Holden (a few sheets to the wind), Robert Preston, Craig (Peter Gunn) Stevens, Loretta Swit, Blake Edwards and others chat about making “S.O.B.”. It sounded more like a “Bitch session” than a movie promotion. In fact, it sounded very familiar to me.
There are so many other films on my list. “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Atticus, I believe, was rated the most popular movie hero in a recent poll. Then and now, “Mockingbird” resonates on so many levels. The movie does Harper Lee’s wonderful book full justice. That, alone, is a miracle.
There are so many favorite films and stars I could mention with personal “war stories” or anecdotes. And there are musicals, romance. And comedies. “So many movies, so little time” takes on new meaning. All great movies. Just not the only great movies.
I need to sign off because I’m burning daylight. Maybe another time if there is interest. There’s still the John Wayne story to tell, Pilgrims. There are plenty more movies to talk about and many more tales to tell … Happy trails!
As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible to simply accept.
I actually had to stop reading the book, at least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I needed to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.
This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, JohnWayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.
Until I got to the section in which the author claims Ford used Stepin Fetchit and other minorities to “slyly mock America‘s racism“.
That’s just not true. What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films. They were still calling Woody Strode “boy” as late as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Even considering his belated attempt to make some reparations with Cheyenne Autumn, it was much too little and way too late.
I’ll get back to the book in a while, when I have calmed down a bit. Right now, I’m sorry. I simply can’t continue reading it.
Growing up all three of these men were an integral part of my childhood. Specifically John “Pappy” Ford in the cinemas and of course John Wayne ‘Duke’ and Ward Bond as well, but Mr Bond had the added distinction of being in my folks’ living rooms each week as Major Seth Adams, in Wagon Train.
Of course, I saw all the films and television shows long after they were initially made. The films, I saw on Saturday night at the movies (usually accompanied by a huge bowl of popcorn and a tall ice filled glass of Coca-Cola) and the Wagon Train episodes I watched were the newer ones with John McIntire with the occasional re-run with Ward Bond in. Come to think of it, the McIntire ones were probably re-runs as well.
I do remember with perfect clarity that my family adored the John Wayne film Rio Bravo…
It’s exactly what you hope for in a historical movie … and so very rarely get. Spielberg not only made this wonderful movie well, he made it smart. Instead of trying to cover the entire Lincoln saga or perhaps myth, he focuses on the President’s last months on earth, the period following his reelection during which he pushed through the 13th amendment that finally eliminated slavery in the United States, and ended the war. You will see more about the man Lincoln than in any previous movie or documentary about Lincoln.
The performances are universally brilliant, as you would expect. This is the Hollywood A Team where the magic comes together. Everyone is in this movie — some not even credited but you will recognize them — even if only for a tiny cameo, as if being part of this movie was an honor.
And perhaps so. I suspect actors volunteered for the privilege of being included. The script is intelligent, elegant, somehow managing to convey both the greatness of the man and his pained humanity. There is no reason for me to go into the details of the cast, writing, history, and so on. The review published in the New Yorker covers those bases well and you can read it here or on its original site.
Daniel Day-Lewis has gotten the role of a lifetime and gave a performance that will probably define his career. Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and so many others … literally too many to name … are all brilliant. There are not many big roles for women in this story, but I’d like to make a special mention of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Her performance as First Lady gives this suffering woman the first real depth and three-dimensional portrayal I’ve ever seen. Mrs. Lincoln has in cinema and history been given short shrift, labeled a crazy lady, then dismissed.
That she was not quite “right” after the loss of her son is well-documented and disseminated, but she was more than a mere wacko. She was politically savvy and highly intelligent, albeit emotionally unstable and in great pain. Perhaps a more stable, supportive mate would have been able to provide some rays of light in the dark world of President Lincoln … but given the dreadful times through which they lived and were destined to play major and tragic roles, this couple was probably doomed to misery, even had Mary Todd been the incarnation of Pollyanna.
The enormity of their personal tragedies combined with the responsibility of being the nation’s leader at this particularly desperate historical turning point would have crushed anyone. Lincoln was a giant, but also a man with a wife, children and more than his share of family drama.
The movie is mesmerizing. The way it’s shot, moving from panorama to private moments keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion, you live through the battles on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the back rooms where agonizing bargains are struck as if you’ve never seen it before. It’s a painfully accurate and timely look at the real process of getting legislation passed, the viciousness, ruthlessness, chicanery and all else that goes into a process that hasn’t significantly changed over the past 150 years or more. Great cinema and a Real Politik civics lesson for young and old.
Most of the reviews I’ve read have emphasized the historical importance but failed to mention that this is a really compelling movie that makes you feel you have traveled back in time. It’s great drama with more than a dollop of wit and humor. Watch and chew your nails while Lincoln and his carefully picked team somehow push through an amendment to the constitution against staggering odds while simultaneously ending the deadliest war in American history. It feels like you’ve never heard or seen it before. Spielberg manages to inject a level of tension and excitement that should be impossible. There are surprises, some of them very funny.
Given the subject matter, it’s amazing how often film will make you laugh. There are wonderful scenes, small and intimate, revealing of magic and myth. There are the mandatory “big scenes,” of battlefields heaped with corpses, but most of the story takes places in small places, in sheds and basements, back rooms, parlors and hidden corners where the light is always dim. Everyone always looks cold … in the most literal sense. It’s winter without central heating and while no one mentions it (why would they? that was the way their world was), men and women alike constantly wrap themselves in blankets and shawls to fend off the chill. It makes you grateful for electricity and radiators, not to mention thermal underwear.
Lincoln is too tall for the world in which he lives. It can barely contain him or the sorrow he carries. He stoops, bent under the weight of impossible choices and ducks through doorways never high enough.
Go see this movie. Take your kids. Take the grandchildren. Then buy it on DVD and watch it again. Let it remind you of how painful it is to have a free nation and how heavy is the price we pay for the privilege.
This is grand entertainment, history, civics and drama wrapped in a story so insane it could only be true. To quote a familiar phrase, “you can’t make this stuff up.” You rarely get to see movies this good. It’s a treasure that will be even more appreciated in years to come.
Regardless of how many Oscars it wins … or doesn’t win … this is destined to be a classic. It can’t help it. It’s just got classic written all over it.
One more interesting note. When the movie ended and the credits started to roll, no one got up and left. No one at all. Every single person in the theater sat there and watched the credits until the screen went dark. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that happen before.