Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Wayne and Ford


Released from Doubleday Books, Nancy Schoenberger looks deep into the life-long career relationship between two titans of the 20th Century cinema landscape, who are both synonymous with that most American of film genres - John Wayne and John Ford - who forever will be the cowboy and the man who shot him.

The book covers all of their careers but touching base especially on the landmark films such as Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1942), The Quiet Man (1952) and The Searchers (1956).  Whilst Ford showed versatility throughout his filmography, he himself in later life succumb to the public opinion, 'I'm John Ford. I make westerns' mindset.

John Wayne for years worked in B-movie pictures before getting cast as the Ringo Kid in 1939's Stagecoach, a film that would be the making of his mythic status as the archetypal western hero. Stagecoach was the start of the Western film as we know it; the clearer boundary of good versus evil, the east intruding upon the west and the use of Monument Valley as the key backdrop for action.

Ford made Westerns without Wayne, and yet they did not match the illustrious status of those collaborations yet Wayne made Red River with Howard Hawks and won his only Oscar for True Grit in 1969, a throwaway role and film.

The book goes into the background of Ford, a heavy drinker between films who lived in a loveless marriage and due to his Catholic upbringing could not divorce, who harboured romantic feelings for Katherine Hepburn and suppressed homosexual yearnings for years.  Ford was a complex figure who found salvation in his work during the Second World War working with the Navy, whilst Wayne that most emblematic figure of masculinity and manhood chose to stay at home during the conflict whilst Ford and Wayne's contemporaries, James Stewart and Henry Fonda engaged in combat.

That difference of role during the early 1940s led to arguments between the men, as did Wayne's political beliefs for the Republican party.  Whilst Ford used his demons to make great work and found solace in the unity of a film crew and team, Wayne became the star of the industry that made him and shied away from moral responsibility at the behest of personal fortune.  Wayne attempted to direct his great picture in The Alamo, a film that nearly bankrupt him and became forgotten and a laughing stock.

The film skates over some films in parts which is unfortunate and should not be thought of as a book of film criticism but nevertheless does do credit to a great chapter in American film history with these two figureheads standing tall above them all.