Though today best known for the westerns he made in the 1940s and 1950s with John Wayne, its often forgotten that a good number of John Ford’s films were actually made in the silent era. Sadly, many of these films now appear lost. Happily increasing numbers are being discovered in archives, restored and released. This season presents a representative selection of Ford’s early work, charting his development into one of the great American filmmakers.
Bucking Broadway AKA Slumbering Fires
John Ford | USA | 1917 | 53 minutes
Considered lost for many decades, a print of this film would eventually show up in a French vault and making it one of the earliest films by John Ford to survive. In the film Harry Carey plays Cheyenne Harry, a simple cowhand who asks the woman (Molly Malone) he loves to marry him. She says yes but a few days later a city man (Vester Pegg) comes to town and steals her heart with a bunch of lies. She runs off to NYC with him before learning what a jerk is so it’s up to Harry to show up and save the day.
John Ford | USA | 1920 | 50 minutes
Just Pals is a fairly effective little comedy drama, very typical of its time, which would probably have been all but forgotten were it not for its having been directed by a young John (or rather “Jack”) Ford.
Ford may be better known now, but the star of the show is Buck Jones – one of the legion of cowboy actors (who got into the business because they could ride a horse) around at this time, but a talented and very popular performer nonetheless. He rarely did comedy, but he seems to have taken to it well, and yet he also displays a dramatic depth that is important here. Crucial to the mix though is the rapport he obviously struck up with his co-star, young George Stone, who gives the sort of naturalistic performance you can get from inexperienced child actors.
The Iron Horse
John Ford | USA | 1924 | 150 minutes
A young boy grows to fulfill his murdered father’s vision of seeing The Iron Horse, the mighty transcontinental railway, stitch the country together, binding East to West.
Bursting with excitement & patriotic fervor, The Iron Horse is the film which put young director John Ford on the cinematic map. He brought together all he had learned from years of making shorter, smaller films and he produced a product which heralded his enormous contributions to sound films in the years to come. This is a director’s picture in that the stars, as good as they are, are almost negligible; what was important here was Ford’s vision & his ability to place it before the audience. Indeed, he does not even bring his leading man (George O’Brien) on screen until 45 minutes into the story – a shortcut to disaster almost anywhere else.
Long term members should note that this is a different cut of the film to the one shown in our programme a few years ago.
3 Bad Men
John Ford | USA | 1924 | 92 minutes
3 Bad Men (as the title card shows it) is an outstanding example of the silent western and one of John Ford’s earliest triumphs. The photography is stunning and the land rush sequences truly impressive, and while the story of redemption and sacrifice is predictable it is nonetheless still moving.
John Ford | USA | 1925 | 114 minutes
Director John Ford was out of his element with this comedy, based on the hit Broadway play by Winchell Smith and Frank Bacon (Bacon also played the role of Lightnin’ Bill on-stage). On the border between California and Nevada there is a hotel run by Mother Jones (Edythe Chapman). Her husband Lightnin’ Bill (Jay Hunt) doesn’t help much, but he does no harm either — the easy-going fellow prefers to share a little nip with his pal Zeb (Otis Harlan) above anything else. Some swindlers attempt to buy the hotel with junk bonds so they can turn around and sell it to a railroad company for a sizable profit. John Marvin (Wallace McDonald) finds out about the scheme and when he goes to discuss the matter with Bill, he discovers that Millie (Madge Bellamy), the Jones’ adopted daughter, is a girl he had met and fallen in love with some time before. Mother Jones convinces Millie that selling the hotel to the swindlers is the right thing to do, so Millie gets mad at John when he denounces the men and convinces Bill not to sign. Bill and Mother Jones split up over the matter and he goes to live at an Old Soldiers’ Home.
John Ford | USA | 1928 | 100 minutes
A family saga in which three of a Bavarian widow’s sons go to war for Germany and the fourth goes to America, Germany’s eventual opponent.
John Ford | USA | 1928 | 80 minutes
Victor McLaglen plays an exile Irish patriot, risks his life by returning to Ireland and helping a young couple. John Wayne is an over-enthusiastic spectator who smashes a picket fence.