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What are we doing here?

Jan 18, 2017


Answer; John Ford, John Ford, John Ford. Orson Welles made his signature movie Citizen Kane when he was 25.  Legend has it that he watched John Ford’s Stagecoach 40 times before making Citizen Kane and when asked what three directors influenced him the most Orson Welles replied “John Ford, John Ford, John Ford”.

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Several weeks ago the Library was abuzz with a news story about two Florida Librarians that were suspended for creating fake customers to check out books. These librarians weren’t trying to embezzle money or to appear to be doing a job they weren’t.  They were trying to protect books from being automatically weeded or culled from the collection based on how many times and how recently the books had been checked out.  They created the fake customers to boost circulation for items they wanted to save.  I’m a Librarian and I have collection development responsibilities. I decide which items get purchased for several different Rogers Public Library collections.  One of my colleagues who does not have collection development responsibilities asked me about the Florida library news story because they didn’t understand what the hubbub was about.  I replied “John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.”

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In my opinion John Ford is the greatest movie director ever.   He began directing movies during the silent era and directed over a hundred films.  He is responsible for advancing the craft of cinematic story telling as much if not more than any other single motion picture director.  Two of his films, The Informer and The Lost Patrol are important films that are little known today.  Before Orson Welles Citizen Kane, The Informer was widely regarded as the best movie ever made. The Informer won four Academy Awards including John Ford for best Director and Victor McLaglen for Best Actor in a leading role.  Whether you know it or not you’ve seen the Lost Patrol. It is the story of 11 British soldiers stranded at an oasis in the Iraqi Desert during WWI.  They are slowly picked off one by one by an unseen enemy.  It established several movie cliché’s, the religious fanatic, the man who cracks because he “can’t take it anymore!” and the oblivious victim who walks into danger while the trapped men try to warn him were developed in this movie.  Movies as varied as Alien and the Mist have used cinematic plot devices pioneered by John Ford in The Lost Patrol.


Today John Ford is mostly known for his Westerns. He invented the Modern Cinematic Western.  Before John Ford’s Stagecoach westerns were generally cartoonish singing cowboys with comic sidekicks.  It was Stagecoach that introduced the movie mythos of the tall strong loner whose code of honor leads the hero into danger.  The plot tension is maintained by circumstances trying to force the Hero to abandon his code of honor but the hero wins the day by sticking to his ideals.  John Ford casting John Wayne as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach made John Wayne a star.

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While John Ford is famous for his westerns none of his four Best Director Academy Awards were for westerns. He won Oscars for The Informer, Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and the Quiet Man.  So while I would never create a phantom customer to cheat the system, I would think very hard and resist the temptation to weed either The Informer or The Lost Patrol from the Library’s DVD collection.  They may not circulate but they are important movies in the history of cinema.  Both films deserve to be in any serious movie collection.

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If you don’t think John Ford is the greatest director ever, check out this partial list of films he directed!

Iron Horse (1924) He was pioneering westerns even in 1924!

The Lost Patrol (1934) Countless movies have copied this one.

Judge Priest (1934) Stars Will Rogers and Hattie McDaniel.

The Informer (1935) Once considered the best movie ever made.

Steamboat Round the Bend (1935) More Will Rogers.

Wee Willie Winkie (1937) Shirley Temple and Victor McLaglen.

Stagecoach (1939) John Wayne stars in the Western that changed movie history.

Young Mister Lincoln (1939) Henry Fonda plays Lincoln.

Drums along the Mohawk (1939) Still the best movie of the American Revolution.

Long Voyage Home (1940) Based on three Eugene O’Neil  one act plays.

Grapes of Wrath (1940) Won two Oscars and Nominated for five more.

How Green Was My Valley (1941) Won five Oscars Including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.

They Were Expendable (1945) An excellent John Wayne war movie.

My Darling Clementine (1946) Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Fort Apache (1948) Henry Fonda & John Wayne two of Ford’s favorite actors go head to head in the first of John Ford’s Calvary Trilogy.

3 Godfathers (1948) Western version of the three Wise Men with John Wayne.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) Second of Ford’s Calvary Trilogy.

Rio Grande (1950) The last of John Fords Calvary Trilogy.

Quiet Man (1952) Ireland as it should have been and never was.

Mogambo (1953) Clark Gable, Grace Kelly & Ava Gardner in the steamiest romantic triangle in African history!

Mister Roberts (1955) stars Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, and William Powell.

Searchers (1956) maybe the best Western ever made and one of the top 100 films.

Horse Soldiers (1959) John Wayne and William Holden (Althea Gibson plays Lukey).

Man who shot Liberty Valance (1962) “When legend becomes fact print the legend!”

Donovan’s Reef (1963) Highest grossing film of 1963.

Posted by Robert Finch