Directed by John Ford, Updated

DATELINE:  America’s Master Director

Johns Wayne & Ford

Johns Wayne & Ford

A documentary on the career of American film master John Ford really came about shortly before he died in 1971. A few years ago, Turner Classic Movies produced an update with newer interviews to go along with the original insights into Hollywood contrarian Ford.

This is one of those documentaries that will send you scurrying to watch the classics of the past: Directed by John Ford.

The result is to bring back Peter Bogdanovich decades later, with other modern masters like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorcese, and Steven Spielberg, noting the importance of Ford to history.

The original narrator was Orson Welles—and his voiceovers continue with some amusing anecdotes added by Bogdanovich.

The heart of the film is always the clips of an endless 140-movie filmography of sheer brilliance, legendarily American.

We could fill the page with notable titles to remind you of what you have missed or should see again. If John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda, are not enough, you might also ask Maureen O’Hara, another staple of his movie stock company of actors.

Use of musical motifs transcend his films whether set in Ireland or the Old West. His panoramas and vistas show invariably minor characters against the progression of history. And, Ford covered it all: from Revolutionary War, Old West, to World War II, as settings.

His films have composition that give peace and still-life of painting with deep emotional wallops. Color movies only gave his canvas more depth, but black and white looks documentarian.

Spielberg, among others, give more than cursory interviews. You have here insights into what challenge there was working with a genius of the first order: the belligerent, irascible curmudgeon who was John Ford.

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Five Great Directors Go to War

DATELINE:  History Backstory

five

Netflix has put together a three-part documentary, based on a Mark Harris book, Five Came Back about the impact World War II had on the careers and personalities of Hollywood’s legendary directors.

They called the work “propaganda,” and it was dismissed by many over the years as secondary to the art of film.

Starting with Frank Capra, the great directors wanted to serve their country—in the best way they could, as filmmakers. The military was suspect of them as creators of fiction. Indeed, even Capra asserted he never watched documentaries when he was thrust into making them.

Others followed suit: John Huston, William Wyler, John Ford, and George Stevens. Each had been highly successful during the 1930s, but after serving in dangerous war zones, seeing death close up, their seminal work would come in the post-war years.

After the war, each had a signature film that displayed the horrors etched into their art form: for Wyler, it was The Best Years of Our Lives, about returning veterans; for Ford, it was They Were Expendable, about the toll on sailors; for Huston, it was The Treasure of Sierra Madre, seeing the deadly sins up close; for Stevens, it was a series of dramas like Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, filmed as A Place in the Sun; for Capra, it was about confronting the darkness from It’s A Wonderful Life.

Along the way, we have the insights on how these men navigated the politics of Washington as deftly as they traversed the world of big studios.

Today’s masters of cinema, like Spielberg and Kasdan, Coppola, Del Toro and Greengrass, speak to the affinity they have for the old masters and their integrity—and their pain.

As a history of Hollywood, the documentary is brilliant and poignant. As a depiction of the war against Hitler, there becomes another layer how our legends may shape our reality. A few of the documentaries produced during World War II were, in fact, re-enactments, much like we see on TV docudramas all the time nowadays.

Though the directors ran the gamut of political attitudes and personal foibles, from arch-conservatives to immigrants, they were drawn together in an epic and spiritual journey.

Rare clips and lost interviews bring insight and deserving recognition. This serves as an important backdrop and backstory to the great films and great men who made them.

Mo’gambo: Mo’Gable, Mo’Gardner, and Mo’Grace

DATELINE:  Safari Fun

Mogambo

Mogambo could have been made in 1953 as a movie chestnut with Stewart Granger, Maureen O’Hara and Gene Tierney. The title name isn’t even African. It’s portmanteau.

We might have found this trifle cast entertaining, but it would never have reached the electrifying fun of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly, having at it in the jungles of Equatorial Africa.

Put John Ford in the director’s chair—changing his pace from Ireland and John Wayne’ Quiet Man, and you have glorious banter among stars at their peak.

You may find the beauty of Ava (playing Kelly) and Grace (not playing Gardner) overwhelming. It is topped off with Ava in one of her more delightful feisty roles, bantering with elan, with everyone in the cast. She even finds herself knocked into the mud by a baby elephant as she asks him to stomp on Gable when he grows up.

Some might say that Gable was on the downslide by mid 1950s, but no moreso than Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy. He is Rhett Butler again, with gray at the temples.

Ford manages to weave his usual magical images with story and character here. Moonlight on the African Serengeti is matched with moonlight on Ava.

This is not one of those modern cartoon movies that directors today must merge with special effects. Life has enough effects for a movie with adults and for adults with a mature perspective.

Mogambo was lost in a plethora of on location movies of the era as Hollywood tried to play against television at the box-office, but the stars here were up to the task of adventure in the remote jungles. Oh, yes, African Queen, King Solomon’s Mines, and even Woman and the Hunter were glorious Technicolor romps—but for pure delight, this one wins, safari, so good.

Celtics Tank Comes Up Empty

DATELINE: SPORTS SATIRE

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Sullinger in Mufti

 

As no one watches the Celtics when they go head-to-head with the New England Patriots, we are certain most Boston sports fans missed another brilliant effort by the team most deemed likely to tank, your first-place Celtics.

The Celtics blew out the New York Knickerbockers in MSG.

The vaunted three-point shooters turned out to be pea-shooters, and that would be giving Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire something of a compliment. Oh, yes, they call for World Peace off the bench.

You know they are in trouble.

Perhaps sometime after the Patriots are knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, fans will turn to the Celtics in the interim before the Red Sox retake the field—and discover joy again.

There were only a few observations to note for absentee Celtic fans.

Rajon Rondo dapperly sat on the bench with a stats sheet on his lap. If his prolonged absence has a silver lining, it is that Rondo may have discovered his next career as a coach. He has been studying battle plans like General Rommel on holiday.  And, he rather dresses like Rommel in mufti.

If Coach Brad Stevens has a favorite on this team, it is not Rondo—but Jared Sullinger.  And, it’s just the right combo.

John Wayne had John Ford.  Robert DeNiro had Martin Scorcese. Brad Pitt still has David Fincher. Great stars have great directors, and Stevens and Sullinger may join the list of matches with great chemistry.

Sullinger has taken the cue, become outspoken on and off the court. He is the new Celtic Messiah, and you heard it here from the prophet living off desert rats.