Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I already own The Essential John Ford Collection -- a boxed set that includes a documentary as well as four fantastic fiilms: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and My Darling Clementine (1946).

Now, Turner Classic Movies is releasing John Ford: The Columbia Films Collection. It contains four films: The Whole Town's Talking (1935), Gideon's Day (1958), Two Rode Together (1961), The Long Gray Line (1955), and The Last Hurrah (1958).

Two of these are, I think, spectacular films. The Whole Town's Talking stars Edward G. Robinson as Arthur Ferguson Jones, a meek advertising company clerk who is a startling double for a gangster known as "Killer" Mannion. The lovely and always spot-on Jean Arthur is the woman the shy and terrified Jones has his eye on. Mannion breaks out of jail, and naturally Jones is arrested. Jones proves his real identity easily enough, and the cops give him a "pass" so that he won't be arrested again. But when the real Mannion encounters Jones, he hatches a scheme: Impersonate Jones so that he can commit a host of crimes and get away with it. The film involves a neat twist at the end, and a suspenseful check-cashing scene at a bank. I know, right? "Suspenseful check-cashing scene"? But you have to see it to believe it!

The other film is one of my all-time favorites: The Last Hurrah. Spencer Tracy plays Frank Skeffington, an Irish Catholic mayor of a overwhelmingly Protestant town in New England. Skeffington's held office for years, mostly through corruption, bribery, and patronage jobs. Nothing outrageous, but enough to keep him in power -- and to challenge the city's bankers and WASPs, who care nothing for the poor. Jeffrey Hunter plays Adam Caulfield, the son of the city's Protestant newspaper owner and a reporter. Disgusted by Skeffington's tactics, he comes to appreciate just how Skeffington has undermined the Main Line families that once controlled the town. The elites, however, have turned the Catholic bishop against Skeffington, and they decide to run a political neophyte against him -- Kevin McCluskey, a brain-dead, dull, boring but handsome ex-soldier. Using television and radio, the elites begin turning the town against Skeffington...

The Long Gray Line is a Tyrone Power bio-pic about a long-time instructor at West Point. I find it boring and treacly. Gideon's Day is a minor film about a Scotland Yard policeman that switches from his family life to the legwork he engages in to catch criminals. Two Rode Together is a James Stewart, Richard Widmark, and Shirley Jones Western about a sheriff (Stewart) and Army officer (Widmark) who save four people long held captive by the Comanche Indians. Jones plays a young woman who believes her baby brother (now in his late teens) is probably one of the captives.

Two Rode Together is an interesting film, because it's really about American hatred of sex and other cultures. An old white woman considers herself "less than dead" after being forced to have sex with the leader of the Comanches and be his wife for the past 15 years. A young Mexican woman, however, is glad to be rescued (hence, "Mexican" is associated with "whore"). Another captive is a teenage boy just come of age, Running Wolf. Is he or is he not the lost white boy now grown to manhood? Can he adapt to white culture again?

John Ford called the film "just crap" and said he'd done it a hundred times better in his classic film, The Searchers. But there are some incredible cinematic shots in Two Rode Together that have to be seen to be believed. There are many who say that by 1958 John Ford was a half-blind old man who had nothing left in him, that he showed up on the set of John Wayne's The Alamo begging for work, and that he was drunk and broken.

Yet, this is the man who would produce the stunning, pessimistic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance just a year later, and who'd push Cheyenne Autumn in 1964 into an Oscar nom for best cinematography. (And neither film relies on goddamn Monument Valley, either.)

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