John Ford  

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"For example John Ford’s movies are profoundly political."--Panel discussion between Pierre Clémenti, Miklós Jancsó, Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub (1970), Jean-Marie Straub

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John Martin Feeney (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973), known professionally as John Ford, was an American film director and naval officer. He is renowned both for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), as well as adaptations of classic 20th century American novels such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940). He was the recipient of six Academy Awards including a record four wins for Best Director.

In a career of more than 50 years, Ford directed more than 140 films (although most of his silent films are now lost) and he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of his generation. Ford's work was held in high regard by his colleagues, with Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman among those who named him one of the greatest directors of all time.

Ford made frequent use of location shooting and wide shots, in which his characters were framed against a vast, harsh, and rugged natural terrain.


Early in life, Ford's politics were conventionally progressive; his favorite presidents were Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and Republican Abraham Lincoln. he was a Republican because of his long association with actors John Wayne, James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, and Ward Bond.

Ford's attitude to McCarthyism in Hollywood is expressed by a story told by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A faction of the Directors Guild of America, led by Cecil B. DeMille, had tried to make it mandatory for every member to sign a loyalty oath. A whispering campaign was being conducted against Mankiewicz, then President of the Guild, alleging he had Communist sympathies. At a crucial meeting of the Guild, DeMille's faction spoke for four hours until Ford spoke against DeMille and proposed a vote of confidence in Mankiewicz, which was passed. His words were recorded by a stenographer:

My name's John Ford. I make Westerns. I don't think there's anyone in this room who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. DeMille—and he certainly knows how to give it to them ... [looking at DeMille] But I don't like you, C. B. I don't like what you stand for and I don't like what you've been saying here tonight.

Mankiewicz's version of events was contested in 2016, with the discovery of the court transcript, which was released as part of the Mankiewicz archives. Mankiewicz's account gives sole credit to Ford in sinking DeMille. The account has several embellishments. DeMille's move to fire Mankiewicz had caused a storm of protest. DeMille was basically on the receiving end of a torrent of attacks from many speakers throughout the meeting and at one point looked like being solely thrown off the guild board.

At this point, Ford rose to speak. His opening was that he rose in defense of the board. He claimed a personal role in a vote of confidence for Joseph Mankiewicz. He then called for an end to politics in the Guild and for it to refocus on working conditions. Ford told the meeting that the guild was formed to "protect ourselves against producers." Ford argued against "putting out derogatory information about a director, whether he is a Communist, beats his mother-in-law, or beats dogs." Ford wanted the debate and the meeting to end as his focus was the unity of the guild. He said that Mankiewicz had been vilified and deserved an apology. His final section was to support DeMille against further calls for his resignation. Ford's words about DeMille were, "And I think that some of the accusations made here tonight were pretty UnAmerican. I mean a group of men have picked on probably the dean of our profession. I don't agree with C. B. DeMille. I admire him. I don't like him, but I admire him. Everything he said tonight he had a right to say. I don't like to hear accusations against him." He concluded by "pleading" with the membership to retain DeMille.

Ford feared that DeMille's exit might have caused the body to disintegrate. His second move was to have the entire board resign, which saved face for DeMille and allowed the issue to be settled without forced resignations. The next day, Ford wrote a letter supporting DeMille and then telephoned, where Ford described DeMille as "a magnificent figure" so far above that "goddamn pack of rats."

At a heated and arduous meeting, Ford went to the defense of a colleague under sustained attack from his peers. He saw the dangers of expelling DeMille. Ford stared down the entire meeting to ensure that DeMille remained in the guild. He then later offered his own resignation – as part of the entire board – to ensure that the guild did not break and allowed DeMille to go without losing face.

As time went on, however, Ford became more publicly allied with the Republican Party, declaring himself a "Maine Republican" in 1947. He said he voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election and supported Richard Nixon in 1968 and became a supporter of the Vietnam War. In 1973, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Nixon, whose campaign he had publicly supported.

In 1952, Ford hoped for a Robert Taft/Douglas MacArthur Republican presidential ticket. When Dwight Eisenhower won the nomination, Ford wrote to Taft saying that like "a million other Americans, I am naturally bewildered and hurt by the outcome of the Republican Convention in Chicago."

In 1966, he supported Ronald Reagan in his governor's race and again for his reelection in 1970.

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