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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Brandon DeWilde: Gone 45 Years Ago

DATELINE: Memories

Audie with Brandon DeWilde

Audie Murphy with Brandon on set of Night Passage

Forty-five years is a long time, no matter how old you are.

It is especially long when you think that young actor Brandon DeWilde died on a road in Denver that many years ago. He’s buried in East Farmingdale, New York.

Brandon is likely remembered as the little boy in the movie Shane who cried, “Come back, Shane, come back!” as the mysterious gunman kept on riding his horse into the clouds.

Our personal favorite movie with Brandon was Hud, though when he stood up to father figure John Wayne, his costar for In Harm’s Way, he gave another interesting performance. Challenging the man playing your father is not an easy trick when it’s the Duke.

Julie Harris starred on Broadway in 1950 and in the movie version of Member of the Wedding, largely forgotten nowadays, with Brandon as her little friend. She once told us in an interview that their bare feet would be so dirty after a stage performance of pretending to be outdoors in the Old South. For years afterward, he would greet her by announcing his feet were clean. She remembered him fondly as her costar on stage and in film.

Who didn’t adore Brandon?

He glowed in every performance, not like so many insipid child actors.

Brandon was such a scene stealer that, when he costarred with dangerous war hero Audie Murphy in Night Passage, he was knocked on his keester by Audie, wearing a black hat and black leather vest for this bad guy role, in one scene. Yes, it was in the script.

You could put Brandon up against Warren Beatty and Paul Newman—and he matched their intensity.

DeWilde is now a trivia piece of history for many movie fans. But his demise so long ago was a shock when it happened. He rode off into the clouds, leaving us to cry out, “Come back, Brandon. Come back.”

Alas, he can only do it in his marvelous movie roles.

 

 

 

Eastwood as Sully; Hanks as Eastwood

DATELINE:  High & Mighty

clint

This film is not Airport, nor Airplane.  It’s a true story, ripped from the headlines, as they say, that dumbfounded a national watching on television. The pilot was a white-haired gentleman named Sully.

Sully is no John Wayne flying through hell and back. He is more like Tom Hanks. Twenty years ago, he would have been played by Clint Eastwood. Now Eastwood only directs the scenes. Eastwood would have given us laconic and stoical heroism, and now he can only direct it.

This film does not soar, and its wings have been clipped to 90 odd minutes, which suits us fine. Clint appears to have selected this project to deal with the irritating issue of the difference between connotation and denotation.

He grapples with terms like “hero,” that the NTSB dismisses, or “timing” that seems to indicate the wrong man and the moment mean catastrophe, or the difference between crash landing and “water landing,” as Captain Chesley Sullenberg calls it.

Tom Hanks is not John Wayne. The heroics here are from a white-haired man at the end of his career, cool and professional. Another actor might have used the swagger of an earlier generation of actors. That would not have worked. A lesser man would have tried to land at an airport—and New York would have another nightmare of a passenger jet smashing into skyscrapers

Re-living the event a half-dozen times is standard in the media dominated age when overkill coverage of tragedy and heroism comes in endless replays.

What we have here is old-fashioned values in modern dress.

John Wayne’s Legend Returns in Legend of the Lost

DATELINE: Treasure of the Libyan Desert

wayne & loren lost

It’s been lost for years.

Now John Wayne’s classic treasure hunt movie, Legend of the Lost, has returned to DVD, available to Lost fans.

Written by Ben Hecht and directed in manly form by Henry Hathaway, this is the sort of boys’ adventure that was meant to put H.Rider Haggard to shame. And, it does a good job of it.

Wayne might as well be fighting Indians for all his character is concerned with the Tuareg Arabs. He’s stuck at the ends of the world in Timbuktu when morally righteous Rossano Brazzi shows up looking for a guide to find a lost city in the Sahara.

When big money is involved, a local beauty and prostitute, in the person of young and voluptuous Sophia Loren is bound to tag along.

James Mason turned down the Brazzi role, which is a shame, and Wayne suffered a broken leg during filming in Libya. But, the desert vistas are worth it—as is the ghostly lost city.

Most young viewers have likely not seen this one, featuring the legendary Duke Wayne at the peak of his powers, playing with wry humor. It’s also plain to see why Loren was about to explode onto the American screen.

The foreshadowing is fairly heavy handed, but who’s to quibble or even notice the augurs when Loren is seducing each man in turn.

We were also amused that the bottle of whiskey keeps being broken—and replaced with an endless supply. One mule must have been carrying nothing but booze. Who needs water in the Sahara?

This movie was a popcorn muncher in its day—and we are happy to say, it still is.

 

Shane Versus Hondo

DATELINE:  Western Heroes

The similarities are unmistakable for these 1953 Western movies, which are classics of their type.

Alan Ladd was Shane, a pint-sized gunfighter, and John Wayne was a giant gunfighter. Each had a shady past, though Wayne carries a Winchester ’73 rifle he won in a contest in 1870, thus trumping James Stewart in his movie of the same name.

Jean Arthur played the married woman with a little boy in Shane, though she was over 50 at the time in her last movie; Geraldine Page made her first movie (Oscar nomination, thank you) playing a plain pioneer wife (bearing a startling resemblance to the woman Wayne later hired for The Alamo—who was promptly murdered in real life).

The boys are respectively Brandon DeWilde and Lee Aaker. One was a bona fide stage actor and film star, and the other was Rin Tin Tin’s sidekick.

Hondo is interesting because the ranch where Mrs. Lowe and her son reside is a Mexican desert during the day. At night, there are lush vegetation, a pond, and big trees.

There are no native Americans resembling Cochise in Shane, which takes place in the Tetons where the villains are businessmen with cattle ranches, not displaced Apaches.

Wayne’s Hondo has great sympathy for the Indians, whereas Ladd’s Shane has no sympathy for the cattlemen.

Wayne felt his movie did not do well because of its comparison to Shane—though George Stevens created a masterpiece whereas John Farrow had to be replaced by John Ford for the final Indian attack scenes, shot in 3-D.

When you finally boil it down, Hondo is heroic beyond Shane—and John Wayne has it all over Alan Ladd. Give us Hondo, please.

Alternative History of Hollywood Murder!

DATELINE: New movie book challenges true story!

One of the more interesting, great untold stories about Hollywood concerns the murder on location when John Wayne was filming The Alamo in 1959.

Most books on Wayne assiduously avoid the topic, but Wayne’s progtege, actress LeJean Ethridge, was given a larger role in the picture by Duke Wayne—and one of her roommates, a man named Chester Harvey Smith, stabbed her to death.

Wayne testified at a hasty hearing—and the subject was buried almost as fast as the unfortunate actress. Chester Smith was given a 30-year sentence—and the story was allegedly over.

Now comes an alternative history book called MURDER AT THE ALAMO, which pulls no punches with its speculative look at what may have precipitated the controversies around the movie.

Wayne apparently lost control of his film—and nearly lost his personal fortune. Casting problems and egotistic costars dogged Duke. It’s no wonder he had John Ford come to the rescue to film scenes and give the star a break. It was too much to star and to direct under such pressures.

The book looks at how a rival star seemed to exacerbate Wayne’s troubles. We can’t tell where the truth ends and fictional speculation begins. And, if you can’t tell, perhaps the difference no longer matters after 50+ years.

The story is told in press releases, news reports from minor newspapers, and gossip columnists. And, there is a who’s who of appearances of notable figures to weigh in on the controversy.

A fascinating tale, this re-telling of tragedy and movie history compels the reader to wonder why the killer was let out of prison 4 years later with a large stipend of money that he parlayed into a radio network empire.

Now available on Amazon.com for ebook and soon as paperback by 1960s gossip columnist Dam Chewy.

Several Cowboys Removed from John Wayne

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Randolph Scott was a rich man’s Audie Murphy. In the 1950s, all the good western B-scripts were sent to Scott. Those he didn’t want went to Audie.

As a result, both cowboy star actors made half-a-dozen fascinating and memorable Westerns in the late 1950s.

Many of the films were made with legendary Budd Boetticher as the director. His sense of what made a Western great made for great western drama that transcends cultures and times.

That brings us to a re-viewing of Seven Men from Now, a revenge tale perfectly suited for Randolph Scott who was then in his late fifties with steely gray hair replacing his blonder locks.

If John Wayne was not looking over his shoulder at Scott, he ought to have been. The two stars did make several movies together earlier in their careers, but Scott never garnered the popularity of Wayne and was far more understated in a William S. Hart cowboy fashion

Seven Men from Now also featured Lee Marvin, already in cross-over mode and ready to costar with Wayne in Donovan’s Reef and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He was always a dangerous bad guy in movies, but was making waves that would finally send him into leading man territory within a few years.

The female lead was another personality on the ashcan perimenter of Hollywood, Gail Russell, who had also made some movie history with John Wayne, but was on the downslide to oblivion and premature death. Here she is slightly disturbing as a “good wife” to another man.

By today’s standards, Scott’s revenge at taking down seven killers responsible for a heinous murder is rather tame—except for the hero’s steely resolve.

It is not the best of the Scott Westerns of the era (see The Tall T), but at 75 minutes, it is short and stunning.

Movie insights from Ossurworld’s Dr. William Russo can be found in his books like MOVIE MASHUP and MOVIES TO SEE–or NOT TO SEE!  All Russo’s books are available at Amazon.com in softcover and in e-book formats.

 

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.