JOHN FORD by Ronald L. Davis


Hollywood's Old Master
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 This new biography of one of America's greatest filmmakers places great emphasis on the nasty side of his personality. As Davis (History/Southern Methodist Univ; The Glamour Factory, 1993, etc.) shows, Ford was a difficult man to know and to work with, a cantankerous, irascible genius with a penchant for hard drinking and verbal abuse of actors and technicians. That doesn't, however, dim the brilliance of his films, as Davis points out: Ford won six Oscars, and his filmography boasts some of the greatest achievements in American cinema, including Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, How Green Was My Valley, My Darling Clementine, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. A first-generation Irish- American, Ford fancied himself as a tough, working-class son of the Ould Sod and wasn't above mythologizing his roots. Davis traces his life and career in equal parts, from his Maine childhood (on which this book is refreshingly enlightening) to his silent-movie days in the budding film industry and on through his many triumphs. Davis appears to have interviewed virtually every surviving member of Ford's informal stock company, eliciting often disturbing stories of his off-set alcoholism and on-set temper. The story of the director's physical and emotional decline toward the end of his career makes for particularly painful reading. However, while Davis has added some brush strokes to the existing picture of Ford, his book is repetitive and frequently dull. Davis has little of interest to say about the films themselves, adding nothing to the already voluminous critical literature, and his occasional excursions into psychobiography are off-target (as in the fatuous, casual suggestion that Ford might have been a repressed homosexual). Although not without its useful contributions to the Ford story, this book does not fill the need for a definitive biography of this major American artist.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8061-2708-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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