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David Carradine, John Gilbert, King Vidor


This week in the New York Times, two cheers for the late David Carradine, and a look at Flicker Alley’s fine new John Gilbert disc, which includes the recently discovered 1926 King Vidor film “Bardelys the Magnificent” and Emmet J. Flynn’s less interesting 1922 “Monte Cristo” — which nevertheless includes an underground tunnel sequence that anticipates Brian De Palma’s ant farm shots in “Casualties of War.”

There’s an interesting debate (as usual) going on at Girish’s place on the often strained relationship between (journalistic) critics and (academic) scholars. My own feeling is that critics don’t read enough scholarship and scholars don’t see enough films, but ultimately there are only 24 hours in a day and choices have to be made. Let me slip in a plug here for a truly excellent, recently published piece of scholarly film history, Dan Streible’s meticulously researched and highly illuminating “Fight Pictures” — a study of the significant role that heavyweight boxing played in the development of early cinema and its associated institutions.

116 comments to David Carradine, John Gilbert, King Vidor

  • Barry Putterman

    Junko, maybe the categories you describe are more universal than you might believe. Left wing conservatism, as you pose it, can easily fit the American anti-war movement that emerged in reaction to the Vietnam War and continues to this day. And how better to describe Dick Cheney than right wing radicalism?

  • Gregg Rickman

    Alex, MEET JOHN DOE is an attack on “quasi-fascistic, ‘America First’ type politics,” from someone who knew a lot about them. (There were at the time black shirt rallies in southern California similar to the motorcycle corps demonstrations we see DOE’s villain sponsor.) MR. DEEDS seems to me to have more in common with “a resentful, status-centered, cultural populism” (Deeds socking the writers who offend him) than does DOE, which goes to show that not even a famous filmmaker’s famous trilogy is all one-and-the-same politically. (It follows that IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’s political economics would also be different.) For more imput on all of the above see Joseph McBride’s Capra biography and Ray Carney’s critical study.

    Vidor is even harder to graph in conventional left-right terms, as my gut is that he’s really so off the charts a dissenter from the 20th century that he may indeed look progressive (or whatever) at times. It’s more than a case of a director’s apparent attitudes shifting with the material (to paraphrase Sarris on ADVISE & CONSENT: “a liberal directing right-wing material”). Maybe his choice to film WAR & PEACE is telling – OUR DAILY BREAD may indicate that like Tolstoy he wants to go back to the land. When I spoke of Vidor as a “royalist,” I was calling attention to the reactionary nature of some of his projects: SO RED THE ROSE is more “pro-Southern” than GONE WITH THE WIND, Vidor’s spoof of Stalinism COMRADE X is more overtly anti-communist than NINOTSCHKA, et cetera. Perhaps more relevant are his evidently strong religious convictions. His first feature, THE TURN IN THE ROAD, evidently had a Christian Science theme, and his last privately made films were documentaries on religion (as I recall, someone posted about seeing one of them in an earlier thread). It’s too bad Vidor didn’t do a film about Christ (as Stevens did instead, and of course Capra did too in his own way). His film might have been closer to Pasolini’s THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW than to Stevens’ THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD – raw, rather than (over) cooked.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, I too like early Ford – thanks for the comments on BORN RECKLESS, which I’ve never seen. Dudley Nichols scripted both BORN RECKLESS and STAGECOACH so the resemblances you spotted aren’t accidents. Of the early (pre-1939) films that aren’t already celebrated, either at the time (THE IRON HORSE, THE INFORMER) or more recently (PILGRIMAGE, which Ford scholars have correctly elevated to the top tier of Ford’s film canon, or the Rogers trilogy), I will single out RILEY THE COP, UP THE RIVER and THE BRAT as charming and likeable films that show Ford at his most relaxed and unbuttoned.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, I see you did indeed already acknowledge Dudley Nichols’ authorship of BORN RECKLESS and STAGECOACH in your earlier post. He also wrote (at least) ten other Fords, both high (THE INFORMER, THE FUGITIVE) and low (two of the Rogers films), not to mention such films that have been discussed in recent threads as BRINGING UP BABY, CAREFREE and THE BIG SKY!

  • BORN RECKLESS went from impossible to see, to being widely distributed on DVD as part of FORD AT FOX. It is a truly odd movie, and not necessarily the kind of thing Ford’s rep is built on. Still I find it fascinating – maybe because I love crime films. One can see many echoes of it in later Ford, such as GIDEON’S DAY or THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. It’s Ford’s DRAGNET GIRL: a gangster film from a director who usually doesn’t do gangster.

    I love UP THE RIVER. Still have not managed to see RILEY THE COP, THE BRAT.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I think this has come up before, but one of the reasons the politics of Capra’s 1930s-early 1940s films are confusing is that most of them were written by Robert Riskin, who supposedly was far to Capra’s left, and who (along with Joseph Walker) was a substantial co-author of much of Capra’s work.

    What has struck me about Capra, which relates peripherally to politics, is how contrary to much critical opinion, he was never really a populist – he clearly was very suspicious of the general public (which in the 30s often meant the working class) and showed a strong preference for a strong leader to emerge to channel public sentiment, rather than consensus flowing from the people.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tom, and Sidney Buchman was even further to the left than Riskin. But Capra chose to work with those writers, their work with other directors is quite different, and Capra himself was nothing if not thematically consistent.

    Yes, Capra always feared the mob instinct of the public and his films are primarily the trials and tribulations of the leaders he feels that they need. However, those leaders are of the people and both shares and represents their best interests and values. Right wing populism.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘The final scene depicted a ceremony involving politicians and yakuzas. It began with the Japanese National Anthem before a politicians spoke of the necessity for everyone present to instill patriotism into the Japanese people and dismantle the post-war democratic constitution. During the speech, a more conscientious yakuku (played by former gangster Nobru Ando) just could not take any more and walked outside.’

    I am glad you like NIHON BORYOKU-DAN KUMICHO Tony. It was the good allegory of right wing come back at end of 1960s. Fukusaku Kinji is making the social criticism of contemporary Japan in his movies throuh popular genre. Not so many Japanese directors making movie like that today.

    Barry, thank you for mentioning that view of American anti-war movement. Yes, it is similar.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Thank you, Junko.

    I’ve just gone through 550 pages of John Dower’s EMBRACING DEFEAT (1999) that I read five years ago to find the source of Riki Takeuchi’s “12 year-old mentality” in his debate with the Japanese Prime Minister in BATTLE ROYALE 2. I suspected it was MacArthur and I was right. It took me two days to find the reference, though.

    Definitely, not many Japanese directors make films like that today but a notable exception is IZO by Takkashi Miike with “Beat” Takeshi himself playing the Prime Minister of Japan!

  • Joseph McBride

    I second my friend and colleague Gregg Rickman in calling attention to the delightful qualities of UP THE RIVER and RILEY THE COP. Both should be seen more often. Fortunately, the battered print of UP THE RIVER that barely survived has been copied for the FORD AT FOX set. But RILEY THE COP didn’t make it into the collection. The great Ford character actor J. Farrell MacDonald plays the lead role of an Irish-American New York cop during the Prohibition era who goes to Germany and cuts loose in a beer garden, romancing a fraulein played with brio by Louise Fazenda. Another rarely-seen Ford gem from that period is KENTUCKY PRIDE — a movie about a horse, narrated by the horse — in silent intertitles! It’s a very Fordian movie about a family (of animals), and the human star again is MacDonald. This film ran on AMC some years back but hasn’t made it to homevideo. Write letters to Fox!

  • Tony Wiliams

    And I second my friend and colleague Joe McBride in recommending RILEY THE COP. In addition to the qualities he has mentioned I’d like to add that this 1928 film is an Irish wish-fulfillment fantasy against Prohibition especially when the title character visits a beer garden in Germany. KENTUCKY PRIDE,I’ve never seen but now want to track it down,Looking at my copies of classic films this weekend such as SUNSHINE SUSIE (1931), starring the tragic Renate Muller, forms a great antidote to the limited choices now available at the local multiplex!

  • Gregg Rickman

    Thank you, Joseph. I’ve always seen RILEY THE COP as Ford’s comment on the German invasion of his home studio, Fox, by F.W. Murnau and his cohorts. Ford himself was deeply influenced by Murnau’s SUNRISE and his own post-SUNRISE films (FOUR SONS, HANGMAN’S HOUSE) are in its shadow. (MacDonald himself is in SUNRISE, as the photographer.) In RILEY THE COP the Irish cop Riley (equals the “down-Easter” John Ford of his early unpretentious work) himself goes to Germany. I’d have to see the film again to see how well this analogy holds up!

    Your mention of KENTUCKY PRIDE allows another opportunity to plug the latest issue of the on-line film journal “Undercurrent,” as Dave did a few columns ago (it’s at Its special John Ford section has a great essay on KENTUCKY PRIDE by Shigehiko Hasum (as well as some regular contributors to this site).

  • Gregg Rickman

    That’s Shigehiko Hasumi who wrote on KENTUCKY PRIDE.

  • Joseph McBride

    That’s a thought-provoking insight from Gregg about Ford mirroring the German influence at Fox in RILEY THE COP. Gerry
    Peary once observed to me that someone could do an essay
    on German-Americans in Ford. Ford grew up among many
    ethnic groups (French-Canadians were another) and includes so many of them in his work. That’s one reason he seems modern in a way that other directors with their mostly all-white, WASP-dominated worlds (e.g., Hawks) do not. I always enjoyed hearing the name of one of the troop musicians (Krausmeyer) in FORT APACHE and then was delighted to find its antecedent in Riley’s nemesis on the police force, Hans Krausmeyer (Harry Schultz), The climax of the running gag is that Riley winds up being related to Krausmeyer after marrying his sister, Lena (Fazenda). Just one of those little correspondences that help make studying Ford’s work so enjoyable.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘That’s Shigehiko Hasumi who wrote on KENTUCKY PRIDE.’

    Hasumi sensei is maybe best Japanese critic writng about American movie. I hope everyone can read his article about KENTUCKY PRIDE that Gregg has recommended. I wish someoen would translate more articles by Hasumi sensie into foreign language. He has written much about John Ford movies.

  • Alex Hicks

    Gregg R. and Tom B.,

    Thanks for the info and insights on Vidor and Capra,