Tag Archives: John Ford


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has been dead for over forty years, but still managed to create a storm of Twitter controversy recently when an old “Playboy” interview resurfaced—one in which he acknowledged belief in white supremacy, knocked Native Americans as “selfishly wanting to keep all the land to themselves,” and stated that “we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks.”

For anyone who remembers Wayne as a living actor, or has read even a brief bio, the only surprise here was social media suddenly discovering Wayne’s bigorty after it has been well-known for fifty years.  As a political spokesperson, Wayne has long fell out of favor… until fellow draft-dodger Mango Mussolini made vilifying Native Americans fashionable again, along with broad bigotry against non-WASP males. January 6, 2021, Mussolini unlocked the trailer park gates and let loose his band of Jerry Springer-styled terrorist thugs who fancied themselves patriotic cowboys, chanting “1776!”  As we all know—and some are hoping that we will soon forget—the result was five cold-blooded murders, including one law enforcement officer, with Mussolini’s Senate accomplices letting the inciter-in-chief off the hook. These parodies envision themselves as Duke wannabes, wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. That cartoon redneck parody is an image that is all too often broadly assigned to the mythos of the American West.

I recall film and art students saying they were open to any genre,  as long as it wasn’t a Western. That perception is easy to understand, but it is as erroneously stereotyped as anything the self-styled “Nationalists” drum up. The genre is much more complex and egalitarian. Even Wayne himself, as ignorant and mean-spirited as he could be, wasn’t so black and white. That complexity can be found even more in John Ford, who, with all of his artistic and personal flaws, was and remains in the top tier of American filmmakers. Ford was a card-carrying Democrat, which reportedly lead to countless arguments with his favorite leading man, Wayne (although both were bona fide supporters of the Vietnam War).

Still from The Searchers (1956)With The Searchers (1956) we see Ford’s evolving perspective taking shape and influencing his art. The result is what a lot of cineastes believe to be the quintessential Western, if not the greatest of all American films (the BFI currently lists it as the seventh best film of all time). Film critics are more divided, with Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael well-known (partial) dissenters.  Occasional lapses into sentimentality, groan-inducing macho humor, racism and misogyny, a lumbering plot, overt characterizations (especially Hank Worden as Mose, the Shakespearean jester) Continue reading PROGRESSIVE WESTERNS: JOHN FORD’S THE SEARCHERS (1956)



FEATURING: Anne Bancroft, Margaret Leighton, Betty Field, Sue Lyon, Mildred Dunnock, Flora Robson, Anna Lee, Eddie Albert, Woody Strode, Mike Mazurki

PLOT: In 1935 China, a group of American female missionaries are startled by the arrival of straight-talking, atheistic Dr. Cartwright (Bancroft). Later, a fearsome Mongolian warlord (Mazurki) invades the mission, and, suddenly, everyone’s lives are in danger.

Still from 7 Women (1966)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it’s not obviously weird the way a  film is, this, the last project from one of the greatest movie directors of all time, has so many unintentionally (?) strange moments that it deserves to be known as more than just the obscure final picture on Ford’s filmography.

COMMENTS: Running just 87 minutes, 7 Women was dumped by MGM and dismissed by critics when it originally opened in 1966. As the last film of John Ford, who won more Oscars than any other director, it seemed an ignominious end to a glorious career. But, in hindsight, it’s a fascinatingly strange movie. Bancroft’s Dr. Cartwright wears jodhpurs, a leather jacket and short hair, smokes, drinks, curses and proclaims her atheism within a group of missionaries. Bancroft frankly appears to be playing a lesbian stereotype, until she makes a passing reference to having once had an affair with a married man. As Agatha Andrews, the supposed leader of the missionaries, Margaret Leighton sketches an over-the-top portrayal of a bully who completely falls apart after the mission is invaded by “Mongols.” She succumbs to religious hysteria and condemning Cartwright as “the Whore of Babylon,” and worse. But Leighton, who seems to be doing a Katharine Hepburn impression (Hepburn, in fact, turned the part down), appears to be playing a repressed lesbian, as in the scene where, practically trembling with anxiety, she watches the half-dressed Emma (Lyon, of Lolita fame) primping in the mirror, and tentatively helps brush her hair. Emma admires the forthright Cartwright, so one wonders, as the two older women clash repeatedly, whether Andrews is jealous. Later, hysterical British missionary Anna Lee (a Ford regular) watches out the window as a buff, shirtless, oiled-up Mongolian warrior (Woody Strode, from Spartacus) prepares to wrestle another gigantic soldier and, beckoning to her compatriot (Wuthering Heights’ Flora Robson), shrieks, “They’re all naked and greasy; it’s disgusting!”—although the look on her face suggests prurient interest. “Then why do you watch?” is Robson’s reply. Meanwhile, Betty Field (Of Mice and Men) and Eddie Albert (“Green Acres”) play a middle-aged couple as practically mentally disabled. Field’s Florrie, who outdoes Lee in the hysteria department, is supposed to be pregnant with her first child, although she looks about 55 years old. But as Florrie goes into labor, she seems to calm down, while Andrews grows increasingly unhinged as the women deal with the constant threat of rape and murder. Filmed in widescreen and color, although very obviously on soundstages, you get the feeling that the ferociously overacting cast and, maybe, Ford, were simply not the making the same film as the screenwriters. Some of the over-emoting here is worthy of . In Cahiers du Cinema, Ford said of this film,” I think it’s one of my best.” Probably not, but 7 Women may actually hold up better than some of Fords’ more celebrated pictures like The Informer and Mister Roberts.

Incidentally, 7 Women was never released on VHS or DVD (although it did turn up on Laserdisc), but a very faded, battered print occasionally shows up on cable television’s Turner Classic Movies. And, since TCM always shows the best possible prints of everything, 7 Women must be badly in need of restoration.


“A maudlin, mawkish, gooey dripping hunk of simpering slush.”–Arthur Knight, The Saturday Review (contemporaneous)

“…reflects Ford’s artistic and ideological maturation and sums up many of his career-long themes within a narrative that transcends its B-movie, role-reversal kookiness.”–Keith Ulrich, Slant (2005)