Chippings From A Monument… Indicator’s JOHN FORD AT COLUMBIA Box Set Reviewed.

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BD. Indicator. Region B. PG.
Limited edition box set of 6,000 numbered units.

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) UK BD premiere.
THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955) World BD premiere.
GIDEON’S DAY (1958) UK BD premiere.
THE LAST HURRAH (1958) UK BD premiere.

The pictures John Ford made on loan (from RKO, Fox, Argosy, wherever) at Columbia (over quite a period of time) are often considered minor, even aberrant fixtures in his monumental legacy but this Indicator box reveals consistent auteurist preoccupations alongside many incidental bits of fun.

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Given what he achieved in The Searchers just a year later, it’s intriguing to learn that Ford initially baulked at shooting The Long Gray Line in CinemaScope. Adding insult to injury, the picture was subsequently released States side in black and white… and cut! Such is the fate of “minor” films, even those of major directors. But this biopic of West Point stalwart Marty Maher (played by Tyrone Power), from “straight off the boat” eejit to pally audiences with President Eisenhower is thematically much of a piece with the recognised classics of the Ford canon… humour, humanity, sadness, stoicism, mortality, compassion… the passing parade of life and death.

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While not as outright anti as e.g. Jack Garfein’s The Strange One, The Long Gray Line evidences shadings of ambivalence towards the military and notions of patriotism, tradition and the like. A more personally felt battle, against the anti-Mick stuff, is only lightly touched upon here…

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… but more pointedly in The Last Hurrah, a story of old school paternalistic American politics (if, indeed, such a thing ever existed) being supplanted  by plastic personalities and PR spin (I was watching this one on the very day that the current occupant of the White House suggested shooting up disinfectant as a cure for Coronavirus).  The giants are leaving the stage here, and what screen presence could be more gigantic than that of Spencer Tracy as Frank Skeffington, standing for re-election as mayor of “a New England town”? Ranged against him are the vested interests of old money WASPs, represented by Basil Rathbone and John Carradine, the latter a J. Jonah Jameson type newspaper proprietor who harbours a historical grudge on account of an ancient run in with Skeffington’s mother. Ford himself wasn’t above pursuing such vendettas, as Donald Sinden has related in his memoirs concerning the making of Mogambo (1953).

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In our more cynical times, it’s easy to get snotty about sentiment verging on sentimentality but (just as with Spielberg, who learned so much from Ford) you see the big emotional punches coming, you know how much contrivance went into them and they still get you every time (even when, for instance,  Skeffington’s very last hurrah is signalled by some ripe old over acting from Jeffrey Hunter as his nephew…)

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The other two titles here are regarded as the real departures from “orthodoxy” but you don’t have to poke too far into them to find familiar Fordian concerns and anyway, the ways in which they do differ from more canonical material make for some of the most interesting and entertaining viewing on this set. Gideon’s Day (Gideon Of Scotland Yard in the States and released in the same year as The Last Hurrah) is a very English affair, adapted from the novel by John Creasey, written by T.E.B. Clarke (who also penned, among so many others, the Ealing classics Hue And Cry, Passport To Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Lavender Hill Mob), shot by David Lean’s favourite DP, Freddie Young and starring the redoubtable Jack Hawkins, whom Ford described as the best actor he ever worked with (what John Wayne thought of this is not recorded). For all its Englishness, that country’s upper classes don’t get away without the expected kicking. The story is pretty much “what it says on the tin” and beyond that I’m not going to say too much, as I’m meditating a separate posting devoted to this (and another) film.

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The Whole Town’s Talking is the earliest and probably most atypical of this bunch. Milquetoast office clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson) yearns hopelessly for sassy Wilhelmina (Jean Arthur) until he is mistaken for public enemy number one “Killer” Manion (Edward G. Robinson) with predictably riotous consequences. Robinson had of course established his crime kingpin credentials beyond debate in Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1931) but proves here, if such proof were needed, his dramatic range (Robinson had already essayed a dual role in Archie Mayo’s distinctly odd The Man With Two Faces, the previous year) … kudos to for DP Joe August for split screen process shots, some of which have you wondering: “Hang on, how did they do that?”

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Nobody ever stole the show or so much as  a scene from Edward G. Robinson (let alone two Edward G. Robinsons) but Jean Arthur holds her own against both in the kind of feisty female role that provided the model for Daria Nicolodi’s performance as Gianna Brezzi in Deep Red (1975). Ford, having given Arthur her screen debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), here established her in the persona that would see her through several subsequent screwball comedies for Frank Capra.

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Extras on this box set

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Cymbaline (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • Sheldon Hall on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2020): new appreciation by the film historian
  • Pamela Hutchinson on Jean Arthur (2020): a look at the life and career of the acclaimed actor
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Farran Smith Nehme, an extract from the W R Burnett’s Jail Breaker, Edward G Robinson on The Whole Town’s Talking, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE LONG GRAY LINE

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with film historians Diana Drumm, Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme
  • Living and Dead (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Long Gray Line’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • The Red, White and Blue Line (1955): rare promotional film, featuring the principal cast of The Long Gray Line
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton, archival interviews with John Ford, Maureen O’Hara on The Long Gray Line, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on The Red, White and Blue Line, and film credits
  • World premiere on Blu-ray

GIDEON’S DAY

  • 4K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • Alternative feature presentation with the US Gideon of Scotland Yard titles
  • Audio commentary with film historian Charles Barr (2020)
  • Milk and Sugar (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘Gideon’s Day’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • John Ford’s London (2020): new appreciation by Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London
  • Interview with Elaine Schreyeck (2020): the continuity supervisor recollects her work on the set
  • John Ford and Lindsay Anderson at the NFT (1957): rare silent footage of Ford visiting London’s National Film Theatre during the production of Gideon’s Day
  • Original UK theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, an interview with producer Michael Killanin, Jack Hawkins on Gideon’s Day, Lindsay Anderson on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE LAST HURRAH

  • 2K restoration
  • Original mono audio
  • True Blue (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
  • Leonard Maltin on ‘The Last Hurrah’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
  • Super 8 version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Imogen Sarah Smith, John Ford on Spencer Tracy and The Last Hurrah, screenwriter Frank S Nugent on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
  • UK premiere on Blu-ray.

Pity they couldn’t find room for the notoriously icky Sex Hygiene, the VD awareness film that Ford made for the US armed forces in 1942.

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The Long Gray Line’s Betsy Palmer is probably best remembered by our regular readers for her appearance in another film…

 

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