Fade Out/Fade In

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My final home video column for the New York Times is here. I get to go out on the greatest, John Ford, thanks to a five-film box set from TCM and Sony featuring Ford’s work at Columbia: “The Whole Town’s Talking,” “The Long Gray Line,” “Gideon’s Day,” “The Last Hurrah” and “Two Rode Together.” Let’s hope the last one, at least, makes it to Blu-ray.

I’ve heard from some members of our little community who are working on setting up an equivalent discussion space, and I’ll pass along the appropriate information when that becomes a reality. In the meantime, I won’t be updating this blog very often, but I have placed a toe in the turbulent waters of Twitter, where those so inclined can follow me at @dave_kehr.

The new job begins at MoMA on Dec. 2. Curating, I hope, will be an extension of criticism by other means. It’s a big change, but after a few decades of daily journalism, a welcome and reinvigorating one.

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121 comments to Fade Out/Fade In

  • Joe

    I’d wish you the very best of luck, Dave, but won’t. I’ve a hunch that you’ll enjoy just that. Deservingly so. Have fun at your new gig. And … congratulations! -J

  • I belong to those who have found The Whole Town Talking Capraesque, but according to Dave it would be more accurate to call Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Fordian. For Dave Two Rode Together is Ford’s “darkest and most bitter film”. I’d also argue that it’s his most Cervantesian, the darkness balanced by an engrossing sense of humour.

  • david hare

    I have not had much time to send a note, given our recent transcontinental move upheaval, but this seems a good note on which to wish you all the best in this new role. I couldn’t imagine either a better place to work, or a better person to be doing the job! Maybe you might one day unearth some of those long missing pristine prints of Black Hole semi-PD hell like Swing High Swing Low or Shanghai Gesture?

    Anyway all the best Dave.

  • alex

    Nice package of Ford DVDs to have available — exceptional for the neglected “The Last Hurrah,” the much neglected “Gideon’s Day,” and the worthy AMC/TCM popularity of the very strong “Two Rode Together.”

    On “The Whole Town Talking,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” is Fordian in its debt to “Whole Town” — Ford’s use of Jean Arthur in particular. However, “Whole Town” is third tier Ford, up against top-notch Capra where ““Mr. Deeds” is concerned, far less lively, funny, lyrical and moving, than the great “Mr. Deeds.”

    “The Long Gray Line” founders some on the Tyrone Power performance, which is not only too “broadly played,” as Ford (1968) noted, but played by too jowly an aging Power to pair well the undiminished radiance of (“Amazon”) Maureen O’Hara (too slackly jowly, indeed, for the requisite repect of that young gray line).

  • “Maybe you might one day unearth some of those long missing pristine prints of Black Hole semi-PD hell like Swing High Swing Low or Shanghai Gesture?”

    As a matter of fact, Tim Hunter owns a pristine 35 mm print of “The Shanghai Gesture” that’s been screened from time to time at UCLA (which also owns nitrate prints of almost all of Sternberg’s pictures except “Anatahan” and “Jet Pilot.”)

  • Robert Garrick

    When I think of “The Whole Town’s Talking” (1935), I don’t think first of Frank Capra or even of John Ford. I think of Frank Tashlin, who “supervised” the brilliant “Porky’s Double Trouble” (1937), eight minutes of pure bliss distilled from the earlier Ford film.

    Tashlin often put a busty-parody-of-a-woman in his movies, as a comic device. Sometimes it was Jane Russell, sometimes it was Anita Ekberg, and sometimes it was Jayne Mansfield. That character is in “Porky’s Double Trouble” too, but with the alarming wrinkle that it’s actually a man in drag. That should have been enough, but for good measure we also get Petunia Pig as a nymphomaniac, with very busy hands. There are more great gags and bravura mise-en-scene in this cartoon than in the entirety of most Hollywood careers.

    The late Ron Haver billed the Ford film and the Tashlin cartoon together back in the mid-1970s at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I thoroughly enjoyed the Ford film. It works beautifully as a screwball comedy, with elements of suspense worked in. But there’s no question that it’s a Capra-type project, and that Ford was lending his talents to an already-well-established formula. For starters, “The Whole Town’s Talking” was written by Robert Riskin. Yes, he wrote it before he wrote “Deeds” for Capra. But previously for Capra, Riskin had written “The Miracle Woman” (1931), “Platinum Blonde” (1931), “American Madness” (1932), “Lady for a Day” (1933), “Broadway Bill” (1934), and “It Happened One Night” (1934). Riskin was Capra’s right arm, and he brought the same sensibiliy to the Ford film, for the same studio. If the Ford film works brilliantly well–and it does–I guess that tells us that Ford knew how to direct. Ford never again worked with Riskin, nor did he ever again make a film quite like this.

    Riskin’s co-scenarist on “The Whole Town’s Talking,” Jo Swerling, had also done a great deal of work with Capra prior to 1935, and nothing with John Ford. And like Riskin, he never worked with Ford after this.

    For purposes of comparison, I would look not to “It Happened One Night” (as Dave does in his Times piece), but to “Lady for a Day,” which Capra and Riskin had made two years before the Ford film. “Lady for a Day” is full of gags and charm, and it mixes the underworld and the overworld. I think it might be Capra’s best film. To quote John Ford’s blurb on the back of Capra’s autobiography, “it’s great, great, great.”

  • David Cohen

    To our host: At some point, during my 10 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, it became the custom to salute well-regarded colleague on their departure by applauding or banging one’s hands on the desk as they walked through the newsroom for the last time. The room was almost a city block long so one could raise quite a din in tribute to a departing colleague for a job well done.

    I know of no way to do an equivalent online tribute, so I bang my desk in your honor.

  • Robert Garrick

    I’m not a fan of social networking in general. I’ve sneered at the Twitter phenomenon, and I’ve never “followed” anyone, but I have to say that Dave’s tweets so far have been tremendous, and they’re coming in a gusher. They’re available at this link:

    https://twitter.com/dave_kehr

    Today we learn that Jim Hoberman will be taking over the “video” column at the NYT–I assume that’s the thing that used to feature Kehr’s byline. And, on a tip from another tweet, I have already watched half of Phil Karson’s “Swing Parade of 1946,” out of Monogram, which features an astonishing array of talent. How could Monogram afford all of that? Perhaps they made it up in volume.

  • Steve elworth

    I also love the picture of Mister Ford. Good luck, Dave. Welcome, Jim

  • Ford at West Point with the Hudson River in the background. Very nice.

  • I’ve never much liked or admired any of Fords direct goes at comedy — WHOLE TOWN ‘S TALKING, WHEN WILLIE, MISTER ROBERTS — except the Judge Priest trio (less centrally comedic than elegeic), the concebtrated service horseplay of DONOVAN’s REEF and the sublimlely lusty high spirits of THE QUIET MAN

    Ford has great comic energy and high spirits but little comic wit and only rare rifts of the romantic lyricism Behind muchgreat comedy.

  • David Cohen

    MISTER ROBERTS isn’t really a Ford film, is it? I thought he left that one pretty early on, because of disagreements with Henry Fonda about how he was treating the source material.

  • Barry Lane

    Dave, Coming here for me has become a welcome addiction. What will we do without you? What will I do…? I believe you will figure something out and come home soon.

  • “MISTER ROBERTS isn’t really a Ford film, is it? I thought he left that one pretty early on”

    According to Ford and his biographers, he shot all the location work and all the exteriors and quit the picture when the unit returned to the Warner Bros. lot to shoot the interiors. That’s a little more than half the movie.

  • It is good to know that even non-Twitter users (like me) can read Dave Kehr’s tweets through a webpage. They are informative!

    A big problem with Twitter: it doesn’t do Lists :)

    In any case, here is a Ford list:

    Gideon’s Day resembles Born Reckless (1930) among Ford’s work:

    Both are crime dramas – but neither contains any mystery.
    Both have tough urban settings (New York City in Born Reckless, London in Gideon’s Day). These get a full ethnographic treatment, in the Ford manner.
    Both give an inside look at both the police as an institution, and criminal gangs.
    Both have English characters (Sir Maurice in Born Reckless, everyone in Gideon’s Day).
    Both are episodic tales, made up of numerous disconnected subplots.
    Both films skirt the edge of subgenres, containing gangsters in Born Reckless, a serial killer in Gideon’s Day – but avoid making such characters the leads as they would be in typical gangster or serial killer films.
    The heroes are both tough, bull-like men of around 40, handsome and well built. They share a dry sense of humor, are exceptionally macho, and fully understand a tough urban world of crime, without being mean spirited themselves.
    Both heroes are between classes, dealing effectively with characters who range from the poor to the rich.
    Horrendous crimes which attack women’s home life are denounced in both films (kidnapping in Born Reckless, the rapist in Gideon’s Day).
    Both heroes have to deal with betrayal to their organization (mob informers in Born Reckless, a corrupt policeman on the take in Gideon’s Day).
    Widows relate to the heroes in both films (his sister in Born Reckless, the cop’s widow in Gideon’s Day).
    Both heroes have a warm – and honest – family base, which contrasts with the criminal world outside the door.
    Food is important in the family world – the family actually runs a grocery store in Born Reckless, and the hero has to get food for the family in Gideon’s Day. Meals at home are in both films.
    Both heroes deal with, and have to approve, the courtship of a nice, refined-but-staunch, younger man for a female relative (a sister in Born Reckless, a daughter in Gideon’s Day).

  • Mike Frost,

    Great GIDEON’S DAY list — though maybe not ss fine as the preceding lists joke!

    Cognescenti,

    Can we be sure that this blog’s picture of Ford by the canon is one of Ford at West Point ca. the making of TLGL?

    Interesting slouch from Ford leaning on the canon.
    A principal recollection of mine of WP at about the time of the Ford photo was how straight the cadets ‘ posture was at all times — especially dining.

  • Robert Garrick

    Today is Seiterday at TCM. (I wrote about it on the last thread.) They’ll be showing seven of William A. Seiter’s lesser-known (but better) films today, and another one tomorrow.

    In a Thursday tweet, Mr. Kehr highlighted three titles as “unmissable” and called Seiter the “most underrated U.S. auteur.” One of the not-to-be-missed-per-Kehr titles is “Sing and Like It” (1934), with Zasu Pitts, Pert Kelton, Edward Everett Horton, Nat Pendleton, Ned Sparks, and John Quaylen. The TCM synopsis: “A gangster tries to turn his tone-deaf girlfriend into a singing star.”

    You could use the same description for Frank Tashlin’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” (1956), but I’m guessing the films aren’t too similar. Zasu Pitts is no Jayne Mansfield, and I’ll be watching today to see how Seiter compensates for his lack of access to Little Richard and Julie London.

    I’m also interested in “Back Pay” (1930), the first title being shown by TCM, and not one of the three films singled out by Dave. This film was essentially “lost” for years, and TCM played a role in reassembling it, albeit with a shorter running length (by twenty minutes) than it had on first release. It’s a Fannie Hurst tear-jerker, a remake of a 1922 Frank Borzage film, and not one of the effortless comedies that Seiter would soon be directing in serial fashion. By some accounts it’s a good example of what went wrong in the early days of the talkies. We shall see in a few hours.

    The film’s star is Corinne Griffith, and there are reports that she doesn’t shine in “Back Pay.” That’s interesting (if true) because Griffith was a great beauty and a major silent star. Just a year earlier, she’d been top-billed in one of the biggest films of the late ’20s, “The Divine Lady” (1929), which was prepared as a silent film but which had some sound added later. The director of “The Divine Lady,” Frank Lloyd, won one of the first Academy Awards for Best Director, and Griffith was considered for the Best Actress Oscar that ultimately went to Mary Pickford. (There were no formal nominations back then–it was all done in a smoke-filled room.)

    Griffith glows in “The Divine Lady,” but it turned out to be her last hurrah. Shed no tears for her, though; she invested well in real estate, became one of the richest women in the United States, married the owner of the Washington Redskins, wrote that team’s fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” and lived another fifty years, dying in 1979 in Santa Monica.

  • Noel Vera

    Paalam, Mr. Kehr; magkikita rin sana tayo.

    In the meantime and sadly only in Manila: a year-long retrospective of the films of Gerardo de Leon’s centennial, beginning last September, the latest to be screened being his Gothic melodrama Lilet. Post the link here: Gerardo de Leon Centennial

    Schedule of the rest of the films being screened found here

  • Alex Hicks

    Especially fond personal Ford memorabilia:
    Wayne in the doorway in THE SEARCHERS

    Fonda ambling up to the Walker-Evan-true truck stop cafe (by Toland-Ford) in GRAPES OF WRATH.

    Wayne up ahead of the Stagecoach, nurturing Dallas, approaching the Plummer Bothers down that night street in Lordsburg IN STAGECOACH.

    The dignified dance of Montgomery and Wayne’s retreat from Bataan INEXPENDABLE.

    O’Hara and Wayne’s blissfully furious romance in THE QUIET MAN

    Fonda, feet on the porch railing, rocking on the hind legs of his chair, sensing Clementine’s approach as Sunday choruses waft down from the hilltop service in CLEMENTINE.

  • Joe S

    Dave,

    A big THANK YOU for your work as a reviewer. I would not be the film buff I am today without it. A closing review that examines the work of John Ford is the grandest of celebrations one could hope for. Especially since it includes Gideon’s Day, a favorite of mine. I can’t wait to see Two Rode Together.

    You are a natural curator and I am delighted that the MOMA has made you the offer.

    Best and XOXOXO,

    Joe

  • Foster Grimm

    How appropriate the final column mentions “The Last Hurrah.”
    Let’s see –
    “The Whole Town’s Talking About Kehr”, “The Long Kehr Line”, “Kehr’s Day”,
    “Kehr Rode Off…”

    It just won’t be the same Dave.
    Cheers.

  • Barry Putterman

    Noel, web sites come and web sites go. We’ll all get along just fine over here regardless of what transpires next.

    However, I’m sure that I speak for everybody when I say that our hearts go out to everybody who is trying to cope with the unspeakable tragedy happening in your part of the world. I hope that the tragedy did not touch you in a directly personal way. But, on a very real level, it touches all of us.

  • Yes Noel, we have seen the devastating images and wish you strength in the aftermath of the Haiyan.

  • jbryant

    Speaking of Ford (which is more fun than speaking of the eventual demise of this wonderful blog), his THE RISING OF THE MOON (1957) airs on TCM this Tuesday, Nov. 19. I know next to nothing about it — anyone want to weigh in?

    I’m also curious about Walsh’s GLORY ALLEY (1952), which TCM will show on Thursday, Nov. 21.

  • THE RISING OF THE MOON is an often fascinating film. First impression: the three episodes are 1) weak 2) good 3) very good. #2 perhaps shares subject matter with THE QUIET MAN, especially its train opening; #3 recalls THE INFORMER and oddly enough, the prison sequences in THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING.

    GLORY ALLEY is one of Walsh’s oddest experiments. A mixture of sports film, jazz musical, war film, psychological drama and social commentary pic, it is a strange synthesis unlike any other film that comes to mind.

  • jbryant

    Thanks for your impressions, Mike!

  • Steve elworth

    Yes, Noel, we have been thinking of you and that unspeakable tragedy of the Typhoon.

  • Lawrence Chadbourne

    Robert Garrick: Re Corinne Griffith, her book Papa’s Delicate Condition about her childhood in Texas was made into a fluffy 1963 comedy, directed by George Marshall, with Jackie Gleason as the father, a number of good character actors, and an Oscar winning song (Call Me Irresponsible.)

  • David Cohen

    Robert, enjoyed SING AND LIKE IT quite a bit – great use of Nat Pendleton, Zasu Pitts, John Qualen, Edward Everett Horton.

  • alex

    “If You Could Only Cook” certainly is very good.
    Actng in some of the early Seiter’s (e.g, that of Pitts in not unfunny SING AND LIKE IT) retains some of the archness of the early talkies that many directors had gotten beyond by 1932 –though that was not a problem with the fine “Hot Saturday.”

    Still have too early Ginger Rogers films to view.

  • Robert Garrick

    David, yes I thought “Sing and Like It” was a riot, though I can’t get that song about “mother” out of my head. Seiter has a nice feel for pacing in comedy–he keeps the tempo steady–and he doesn’t allow his actors to overact or to engage in mugging over their own jokes. His films are full of overdrawn characters, like the wives in “Sons of the Desert” and almost everyone in “Sing and Like It”–the gangsters, Zasu Pitts, Edward Everett Horton, and the “tenor.” In the hands of a bad director, these strong cartoonish characters would overplay and things would get sloppy. But in a Seiter film, it’s almost like drawing room comedy, which is hilarious.

    Seiter’s cameraman in “Sing and Like It” was “Nick” Musuraca, but the look of the film was without distinction. Still, a piece of wonderfully measured comedy.

  • Amidst the jockying for auteurist upward mobility, here’s suggesting not scouring for new figures for consideration but for upgrading a great : Jacques Tourneur. Just had the pleasure of finally seeing JT’s largely untouted EASY LIVING, and it seems yo me a great piece of post-War Americana about as grave and as elegant as the likes of BEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES, THE RECKLESS MOMENT, IMITATION OF LIFE, SOME CAME RUNNING, and the like. Sometimes, as with the Lewton collaboration, one might want to stress JT ‘s expressive genius. Here one can drop all concern for gilding mere “esoterica” and think of a place for Tourneur the vicinity of “paradise.”

  • I completely agree Alex. Tourneur is a profound artist. After the Lewton years films such as STARS IN MY CROWN, CANYON PASSAGE, OUT OF THE PAST and NIGHT OF THE DEMON are all sublime examples of his art. Even a troubled piece like BERLIN EXPRESS has several moments of greatness.

  • jbryant

    Alex: Tourneur’s EASY LIVING has long been a favorite of mine. I recall many years ago in a class on melodrama under Tony Williams at “Black Rock,” one of the scheduled films failed to arrive on time. Since I had EASY LIVING recorded on VHS, and it was written by Charles Schnee, whose Minnelli mellers were on the class schedule as well, Tony gladly showed it and the day was saved. Of course that final scene between Victor Mature and Lizabeth Scott raises eyebrows, but otherwise it went over well. (I’m assuming Alex saw it on TCM, but interested parties can also find it on DVD in the Warner Archive.)

    I recorded PROFESSIONAL SWEETHEART, SING AND LIKE IT and IF ONLY YOU COULD COOK from the Seiter-thon. Now I just need the time to watch them.

  • Robert Garrick

    There’s a long scene in the middle of “Easy Living,” at a cocktail party-type gathering, that showcases Tourneur’s genius. Most of the key characters in the film are there, and a singer warbles the [ironic] title song in the background. There’s a blazing fire going in the middle of the space, and the “other girl”–the one who will soon kill herself–is sitting alone, and quietly, against a pillar. There’s a sense of unease, but we don’t know exactly what’s happening, yet.

    It’s in this scene that Victor Mature and Lizabeth Scott finally get frank with one another, right next to that fire. It’s a long take–absolutely the center of the film–and most of the things that will happen in the final half hour are foreshadowed in this five minute scene. It’s beautiful to look at, and listen to, and it’s powerful.

    There were a number of quasi-noirs made right around this time that presented marriage as a fragile institution. The most notable ones, besides “Easy Living” (1949), were Andre de Toth’s “Pitfall” (1948) and Max Ophuls’s “The Reckless Moment” (1949). “Caught” (1949) and “Under Capricorn” (1949) also dealt with dysfunctional marriages, in a slightly different way.

    It was a difficult topic. Adulterers were not supposed to be treated sympathetically. Dick Powell had a tough time getting “Pitfall” made and released, and all of these films were troubled either in their treatment by Hollywood or by the moviegoing public.

  • Yes, great cocktail – party sort of scene in EASY LIVING thst treats the drift toward adultery almost as openly as Antonioni would a dozen years later in LA NOTTE and looks as stunningly elegant yet grave as if Tourneur had had di Veranzo shooting it instead of Harry…

  • … J. Wild.

    Fine as PITFALL, RECKLESS MOMENT and CAUGHT are, EASY LIVING is both deepenned sociologically and troubled commercially by a steely eyed view of work — pro football most strikenly those other films either lack or merrly provide in the famliar quize of the pathologically ruthless tycoon. (On the other hand, the De Toth and Ophuls films have proto- feminist depths unrealized in EASY LIVING.)

  • … not di Veranzo….di Venanzo.

  • Andrew Loman

    Mr. Kehr, I’ve organized my weekends around your column for the past five years; through your elegant essays, you’ve given me a superlative education in film. I hope the position as curator will be invigorating and rewarding. But who can possibly fill your shoes? Ah, well! For the many hours of pleasure you’ve given me, and for my vastly richer knowledge of movies, sincere thanks. And now, to drown my sorrows, I’m off to buy your book.

  • Thank you, Mr. Loman, and thanks to everyone else who has written in. I know I should probably shut down this thread lest it seem like I am fishing for compliments (deeply offensive to my Protestant upbringing!), but it’s hard to turn the spigot on a discussion of “Easy Living.”

  • David Auerbach

    Good for you; but I’ll really really miss you on Sundays.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yes, it’s good to talk about “Easy Living”–a film long underrated though not, I suspect, by those who’ve seen it! And also to throw some good words the way of Jacques Tourneur in the waning days of davekehr.com. Alex is surely right in what he says about “upgrading a great” in Tourneur’s case, although I’m guessing that many of us did this years ago. It was only a question of whether someone making movies on a non-prestigious level for their whole career could be one of the all-time greats and to me that’s definitively settled both by Tourneur’s sensibility and his style, both more reflective than the norm and so appreciative of even the quietest dramatic nuance, and so especially a stark contrast to most filmmaking now, where everything is so emphatic and in your face. One thing that I most love about him is touched upon well in Robert Garrick’s comments about the party scene and especially the compositional placing of the “other girl” who will be a suicide. In any Tourneur image or scene, even the simplest one, he will do everything he can to give all its elements a sense of equalness of artistic expressiveness. It all counts and has such a fine artistic balance, and along with this I think Tourneur fans love the quieter delivery of actors that tends to prevail in his work and gets a whole different effect even in genres that inevitably feature a lot of action.

    He’s one of those directors one keeps going back to over the years, and I think I’ve seen perhaps half his films again over the last two or three years, mostly the best ones and they’ve all held up extraordinarily well, or in some cases (“Experiment Perilous”) looked better to me. I didn’t get out to many movies this past year, but a highlight was a rare screening of a projected 35 print of “Canyon Passage” which has long been a favorite of mine, truly one of the most beautiful movies which exists.

    Anyone who loves Tourneur should read Chris Fujiwara’s JACQUES TOURNEUR: THE CINEMA OF NIGHTFALL, one of the best director studies I’ve read and goes into all this in great depth, although strangely enough, “Easy Living” is one of the very few Tourneurs that I believe he does underrate.

    Just to add a thought on the subject of dysfunctional marriage (which interestingly comes up in Dave’s Ford piece too), I too am a great admirer of the other films mentioned (“Pitfall” is my favorite de Toth, and the sympathy extended “other woman” Lizabeth Scott–an actress who played a wonderful range of variations for her type in the relative years in which she was kind of a special presence–is one of the things that especially marks it off as special), but I’d say tough-minded critique of marriage continued quite beautifully through the 50s, just thinking right now of movies like “The Cobweb”(Minnelli) and “There’s Always Tomorrow” (Sirk). And that’s just in American cinema. Even bleaker than the Sirk is Naruse’s “Wife” which I wish would be more widely seen because people here would love this if they don’t know it. Also, adultery is looked at compassionately and with a lot of maturity in a fair number of great movies of this period. Has anyone seen Ozu’s “Early Spring” lately? If comments don’t close soon here, I many say a little more about that one, in which the final sequence especially is so sublime.

  • Blake Lucas

    Though I won’t say it made me cry the way the end of “How Green Was My Valley” does, I want to acknowledge that I did kind of tear up reading the last sentence of what is, very appropriately, Dave’s last piece on his N.Y. Times job.

    One of the things that I have most appreciated about davekehr.com is that it is has always been so Ford friendly–that begins with Dave himself, but I think most here (not everyone I know) will readily agree with that view of Ford as one of the greatest of all American artists. I know that I’ve been living with Ford’s work all my life, and it’s been a main current in my thoughts, emotions and artistic responses through all those years, a body of work one wants to live with and keep going back to. This Columbia set is especially welcome because of the three films not on DVD before, and these are all beautiful movies ranging from the underrated gem “Gideon’s Day” to the sublime masterpiece “The Long Gray Line” (and that is a wonderful picture of Ford at West Point!).

    So just a few thoughts and will try not to get carried away–first, those of us who are older experienced “Gideon’s Day” (as “Gideon of Scotland Yard”) in black and white for years, and inevitably, it gained immeasurably when color prints finally started being shown. Columbia’s original choice to show in black and white here was a real indignity for a director of Ford’s stature. Ford loved black and white more and still insisted on it after this for “The Last Hurrah” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” so if he’d wanted to, he would have filmed it that way. I find Ford to always be one of the great colorists when he does use it, maybe because he so appreciates the difference. So this kind of reminded me of Barry Fitzgerald’s character in “The Quiet Man” who, when asked if he’d like water in his whiskey, says “When I drink whiskey I drink whiskey, and when I drink water I drink water.”

    In Dave’s piece, the question of typical Ford films and ones less typical comes up, given the range of this group of films, and I think he spoke well to Ford’s justified confidence over his range. I’d want to add that I’m not sure Ford ever wanted to specialize in a genre or genres and did want this range. For example, I love Westerns, and Ford’s especially, but it was only in three specific periods of his career that Westerns dominated–his first years in silents (especially initially in the Harry Carey period), a relatively brief but very creative period from 1946-1950 and then the years 1959-1964 within his magisterial last phase. Otherwise, it’s just two very special films—“Stagecoach” in 1959 and “The Searchers” in 1956—the first a key initiating work for the genre’s postwar maturity (though years ahead of it, likely because of WWII) and the second gathering threads of the genre’s best years in one work though it was directors other than Ford who worked the genre steadily in the 1950s. Personally, I never care much what kind of film it is with Ford and always feel he can do as well in any genre and did. I think the comments of Dave—and many others in so many threads here—have backed that up.

    The comments about marriage (and by extension) couples were very interesting in this piece. I started thinking about the extent to which Ford was concentrating on this in the 50s more than other times and am not sure about it, since, for example, the early “Arrowsmith” is a good marriage study and Ford generally seemed to address whatever was an important part of a subject in a deep way. But I think there’s a lot to what Dave says and I’ve written about this myself (my own last L.A. Reader piece for the 1994 Ford centennial, which, I’m proud to say, led to my one French translation when the Cannes Film Festival did their centennial). As I talked about then, I feel that the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara pairing in “Rio Grande” “The Quiet Man” and “The Wings of Eagles” was so strong that it inspired Ford to an unequaled trilogy that treated adult love in every possible phase “from courtship and sexual yearning to the challenges and compromises of marriage, the sometimes uneasy nurturing and even loss of children, the realities of bitter separation and permanent estrangement, intimations of death, and love healing itself or surviving, even in the ashes of its failure.” And I have to say that I stand by that; motivated by a beautiful new edition of “The Quiet Man”—which Dave reviewed at the time, my wife and I watched all three of these films in close proximity early this year. To say they are deep-dyed portraits of those relationships are almost an understatement, and contrary to an old cliché about him, Ford is fully as sensitive in his understanding of women as of men.

    Finally, not to overstay this, just a comment about “Two Rode Together” which Dave rightly characterizes as unusually dark and bitter Ford (though the director’s own grasp of its moral and social aspects is characteristically strong and tonic)—and that’s just that it doesn’t start out that way. That great long take by the river between Widmark and Stewart is not only the peak of the movie (though without diminishing anything that follows) but it’s also hilariously funny, and it really seems from the beginning through this scene that this is a comedy. The way Ford can turn a movie on a dime is especially brilliant in this case because when they reach the fort and ride in among the families, he manages to turn the tone and mood on a dime, just within a moment, seeming to summon darkening clouds as easily and naturally as he does Jeanette Nolan’s hysterical mother. Shifts of mood and tone from light to dark, comic to dramatic/tragic most mark a great director to me, and in this especially Ford was always such a consummate master, and this example is breathtaking.

  • Barry Lane

    A truly great essay Blake. I love, not like, the word sublime attached to The Long Gray Line. A personal aside, because of this film, and The Duke of West Point, we visited West Point a few years back — Sublime might be a word easily attached, as ell, to that place and that institution.

  • Blake Lucas

    Couldn’t negotiate content editor fast enough to correct a grammatical gaffe (“…is almost an understatement”) or take out the “…turn a movie on a dime” repetition, so sorry for that carelessness so late in the day though I guess it’s happened to all of us.

    If somehow this closes before I write a last post I hope to write later, I will wish Dave the best on the new job and say how much I’ll miss his pieces and the discussions and how much I appreciate all that has been contributed by everyone here.

  • Auteurists might note: Tourneur made a pilot “Cool and Lam” (1958) for a never produced TV series, about the popular private eye team written by Erle Stanley Gardner. It has surfaced on-line:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4Ab8n3rwLg

    The 30 minute pilot is visually bland, and has only traces of the rich visual style found in Tourneur’s theatrical films. But it is a delightful piece of story telling. And has thematic links to Tourneur.

  • Robert Garrick

    Blake, there is no need to worry about overstaying Ford or any other topic. I know I speak for many of us when I say that your comments have been one of the glories of this site over the years.

    Regarding films about marriage: When I wrote about it above, I was highlighting a single year, 1949. Three of the films we’ve been discussing–“Pitfall,” “Easy Living,” and “The Reckless Moment,” involved seemingly idyllic suburban marriages between cordial, sympathetic individuals. Beneath the surface, though, there was a lack of conviction–an unarticulated sense that something wasn’t quite right. Each marriage was forced to weather a crisis. 1949 was, in fact, a notably difficult year for America. One historian, Eric Goldman, called it the “year of shocks” in his book “The Crucial Decade.” It was the year China went communist, the year that Russia tested a nuclear weapon, and the year that North Korea invaded South Korea. America had gotten through the Great Depression and World War II, and things were undeniably better for most people, but with these unsettling developments there was a sense that perhaps the horror was starting all over again, like the last shot of “Dead of Night.”

    It is glib to say that these films were a metaphor for the national mood. There is a great deal more going on in them than just that. But the environment was right for them, in 1949. That was a peak year for noir as well.

    Another great film about the institution of marriage came a few years later. That was “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), and for the definitive essay on that film, one need only turn to pages 257-259 of Kehr’s “When Movies Mattered.” Obviously, male/female relations were central to Hitchcock in the 1950s (and into the early ’60s). “Psycho” is about many things, but it’s partly about the threat to the equilibrium that can come from the arrival of a sexually attractive male or female. We can measure Hitchcock’s characters, during this period, by the way they respond to this situation.

  • David Auerbach

    I just realized that after getting so much joy from reading the NYTimes column, that my love and knowledge (such as it is) of old and neglected movies goes back to high school days, the early 60’s, when my older sister bought me a membership in MOMA and I would travel down there from the Bronx twice a week to wander its halls and see the old movies in its basement. An oddly perfect gift to a Bronx bound nerd. MOMA was Manhattan, my only Manhattan, for those years. It was, for me, a purely naive interest unburdened by theory, prior knowledge or presumption. I hope and trust that Dave will extend that tradition of outreach.

  • alex

    Dave K.

    Interesting that you had a Protestant upbringing, With you special fondness for Ford, Hitchcock, Borzage, McCarey, and Walsh (not to speak of Bresson Yourneur and Rosselini), I’d come to think of you as very Catholic American, indeed Irish Catholic American,in soime underlying attitudes.

    Anyway, you’ve a great spin on the Pantheon, even if i do regard Ford –indeed all auteurs–a more erratically in top form than you (and most others at this site).

    Robert Garrick,

    Great choice of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) as a great film about the institution of marriage.