John Ford

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John Ford (1973)

John Ford (born February 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth , Maine as John Martin Feeney , † August 31, 1973 in Palm Desert , California ) was an American film director and film producer who was one of the most successful directors in Hollywood for decades and was of film historical importance attained. He won four Academy Awards in the Best Director category , making him the record-breaking director in Oscar history. Notably, he gained fame as the leading director of the American western and made landmark films in the genre such as Ringo , Right of the Prairie , The Black Hawk, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance . But he also shot classics outside of western films such as The Fruits of Anger , Schlagende Wetter and Der Sieger . In total, Ford's film career spanned over 140 films in almost 50 years.


Early life and first experiences as an actor

John Ford on the set of The Broken Coine (1915)

John Ford was born in Maine under the name John Martin Feeney, the tenth child of a Catholic-Irish immigrant family. His father was from Spiddal , the mother from the Aran Islands . In total, the couple had eleven children, six of whom reached adulthood. Feeney attended Portland High School in Maine , where he successfully demonstrated himself as an athlete. After finishing school, Feeney came to Hollywood, where his older brother had already become a successful actor and director under the pseudonym Francis Ford . Like his brother, Feeney first worked as an actor and also chose the pseudonym Ford . First, however, he chose the pseudonym Jack Ford, it was not until 1923 that the name was changed to John Ford.

As early as 1913, Ford is said to have had its first appearance in the film The Honor of the Regiment . The following year he played the role of Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet . In 1915 he had a small role as a member of the Ku Klux Klan in David Wark Griffith's seminal silent film epic The Birth of a Nation . He also appeared in at least 15 films by his brother Francis Ford, whom he also helped out as an assistant director. Francis would later - when his own directing career ended - often take on supporting roles in his little brother's films.

Directing work in silent films

Advertisement for Ford's first feature film Straight Shooting with Harry Carey

John Ford made his first directorial work for the 20-minute western The Tornado in 1917 for the film studio Universal Studios . He also played the leading role himself (he ended his short career as a film actor in late 1917). According to Ford, Universal boss Carl Laemmle gave the 23-year-old the job because he could scream so well. At this early stage in film history, it was also quite easy to simply try out various tasks in film. In the early years of his career, Ford turned down many smaller films: ten films in 1917, eight films in 1918, and fifteen films in 1919. However, he was rarely mentioned as a director in the opening credits. His first feature-length film was the Western Straight Shooting with Harry Carey in the lead role. A lifelong friendship developed between Ford and Western movie star Carey, who was also a role model for John Wayne . Together they made around 25 films, all westerns.

After Ford had built a good reputation at Universal, he moved to Fox Studios run by producer William Fox in 1920 . His first film here was Just Pals, with Buck Jones and Helen Ferguson in the lead roles. He also directed Fox for the first time outside the western genre, for example in the dramas Little Miss Smiles with Shirley Mason and Cameo Kirby with John Gilbert . In 1924, Ford then staged the western epic The Iron Horse , which was unusually long and complex with the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad and with a running time of 150 minutes. The film was shot with around 5000 extras and tens of thousands of animals in the Sierra Nevada desert . The difficult conditions delayed filming and made the film even more expensive than planned, but in the end there were good reviews and a clear profit at the box office. This film made Ford very popular. His gained reputation was also evident in the fact that he became president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a pre-organization of the Directors Guild of America, in the 1920s .

As a result, Ford directed other successful silent films, such as the western Drei Rauhe Gesellen (1926), in which three horse thieves convert and help a young couple. As in The Iron Horse, George O'Brien played the leading role in Drei Rauhe Gesellen , who later also took on Ford's supporting roles in several sound films. The western film in general, however, increasingly lost viewers, which is why Ford had to switch to other film genres on the instructions of the producers in the late 1920s. In 1928, for example, he directed the drama Four Sons about the tragedy of a Bavarian family whose family members fought on different sides in the First World War. The film was a box-office hit and won the Photoplay Award for Best Picture . For this film, Ford was also heavily influenced by the German director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau , who was also under contract with Fox Studios. In Four Sons , a young and still unknown John Wayne first had a small role in a Ford film, the beginning of a decades-long friendship and partnership. This was followed by Riley the Cop (1928) with J. Farrell McDonald and Strong Boy (1929) with Victor McLaglen in the lead role, the latter film being Ford's last silent film work.

Around 85% of John Ford's silent films are considered lost , including almost all of his early works.


In contrast to other silent film directors, John Ford was positive about the sound film. As early as 1928 he made his first sound film with the thirty-minute short film Napoleon's Barber . John Ford tried out all genres, from the adventure film The Black Watch (1929) to the submarine drama U 13 (1930) to the crime comedy Born Reckless (1930). In Ford's comedy Up the River , Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart each made their film debuts in 1930. In the following year Ford directed a total of three films, in particular the literary adaptation Arrowsmith, based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis , proved to be successful and earned four Oscar nominations. In 1932 Ford directed the aviator film Air Mail with Ralph Bellamy and the drama Flesh with Wallace Beery . He shot both films at other film studios, but in 1933 he returned to Fox Studios.

At Fox, Ford made the comedy Doctor Bull in 1933 , the first of three Ford films with comedian Will Rogers in the lead role. In 1934, Rogers also played the title character in Ford's Judge Priest , where Rogers, as a small town magistrate, grapples with a series of amusing cases. Judge Priest was named one of the box office hits of the year. The war film The Last Patrol with Victor McLaglen and Boris Karloff was also released in 1934 , where an American troop had to fight its way through the desert in World War I. Ford also shot the drama The World Moves On , which is about 100 years relaxed and about a family of cotton traders. In the following year, the mistaken comedy Town Talk with Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur , which also received good reviews. Ford also directed Steamboat Round the Bend, his third and final comedy starring Will Rogers. The comedian died shortly afterwards in a flight crash.

In the mid-1930s, Ford was one of the most famous directors in Hollywood. He reached the high point of his career so far in 1935 with the drama The Traitor , where Victor McLaglen played an Irish worker who betrayed his friend to the police so that he could get some money for a fresh start. This work was highly praised and honored with a total of four Oscars , including one for John Ford in the category Best Director . In the following year Ford published the prisoner drama The prisoner of the shark island with Warner Baxter as well as the lavish historical drama Mary of Scotland , the latter film, however, flopped. The South Seas adventure film followed in 1937 ... then came the hurricane and the recruit Willie Winkie, who played in India, with child star Shirley Temple in the lead role. Both works from 1937 were extremely successful at the box office. The following two films from 1938 were received rather mediocre.

John Ford Point in Monument Valley , popular film location for westerns

In 1939 John Ford shot one of his greatest hits with the Western Ringo . With this extremely influential cinema classic, he made both his longtime friend John Wayne a star and Monument Valley known as a backdrop. The work also featured breathtaking stunts by Yakima Canutt . The valley with its rock towers was also to serve as an impressive setting in numerous later Ford films. Ford revitalized the western genre with Ringo , because before that the film studios had mostly only produced insignificant and undemanding B-Westerns since the early 1930s. He showed the film studios that westerns could also be "intelligent, artful, great entertainment - and profitable". In the same year, the fictionalized film biography The Young Mr. Lincoln with Henry Fonda in the lead role was released, which was not quite as successful as Ringo , but is still considered a smaller classic.

In 1940 Ford shot the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's socially critical classic The Fruits of Anger . The film is considered to be one of the first road movies and one of the great literary adaptations . Fruits of Wrath earned him a second Oscar for Best Director, but the New York Film Critics Circle awarded him Best Director for his second film: The Long Road to Cardiff , based on plays by Eugene O'Neill , in which Wayne One Swedish sailor played. In his films Tabakstrasse and Schlagende Wetter , which appeared in 1941, he took up the theme of families in economic hardship and falling apart as a result of the fruits of anger . While the burlesque tragic comedy Tabakstrasse was unsuccessful, Schlagende Wetter brought Ford its third Oscar for Best Director.

Second World War

John Ford as himself in the 1943 OSS training film Undercover

Immediately afterwards, Ford signed up for service in World War II . During the war, Ford headed the Field Photo Unit, a unit that was subordinate to the OSS , the predecessor of the CIA. As part of the photo reconnaissance for the army, Ford was deployed on almost all fronts of the war: in the Pacific as well as on the landings of the Allies in Normandy. He made several documentaries and won two Academy Awards for best documentary . He received this for documentaries he shot during World War II: The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943).

Late career

After returning from the war, Ford increasingly focused on the shooting of westerns, using Monument Valley , which he discovered for himself for the first time during the shooting of Ringo , as a backdrop. The first of these films was Fist Right of the Prairie with Henry Fonda , filmed on 20th Century Fox , with which Ford filmed the legendary shooting at OK Corral . The film didn't win any major awards at the time, but it was a solid financial success and in retrospect was rated one of Ford's best westerns by many critics. 20th Century boss Darryl F. Zanuck was happy with Ford's work and offered him a $ 600,000-a-year contract, which Ford turned down to start his own production company, Argosy Films . With this he later worked with larger film studios such as RKO Pictures or Republic Pictures , but was able to afford greater freedom.

The famous cavalry trilogy followed in the late 1940s - in all three films, John Wayne played an officer in the American cavalry in the years after the American Civil War. In 1953 he received his fourth and final director's Oscar for his comedy The Sieger, shot in Ireland . The Black Hawk and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are often cited as highlights of his late career .


Ford in 1973, the year he died

It was a Ford habit to work with the same actors in many films. This partnership is probably most striking with John Wayne in 24 films and three television episodes , but with Jack Pennick (41 films), his brother Francis Ford (32 films), Harry Carey senior (27 films), Harry Tenbrook (26 films) and J. Farrell MacDonald (25 films) and Ward Bond (24 films) were even more or just as frequently used by Ford. After Wayne, Henry Fonda was a leading actor in Ford's talkies with nine films, Maureen O'Hara and James Stewart were also frequent stars with five films each. Other members of the so-called John Ford Stock Company include Victor McLaglen , George O'Brien , John Carradine , Ken Curtis , Harry Carey junior , Mae Marsh , Mary Gordon , Russell Simpson , Hank Worden , Anna Lee , John Qualen , Vester Pegg , Hoot Gibson , Willis Bouchey , Arthur Shields , Barry Fitzgerald , Ben Johnson and Patrick Wayne - each of the actors has starred in at least five Ford films.

Ford's films remained, at least until about 1939, relatively apolitical, romantic and based on the legend of the Wild West . With increasing age, however, Ford's films became more pessimistic, and the image of the morally unbroken pioneer who had to build a nation (the credo of the “ Manifest Destiny ” of the USA) became increasingly less important for him. With the protagonist "Ethan Edwards" in "The Searchers / The Black Falcon" he created a timeless archetype of American cinema, the morally ambiguous, harried, violent hero. The political views of John Ford are often widely believed to be conservative, also because he had friendships with well-known Republicans such as Wayne and Ward Bond. In fact, his favorite presidents, along with Republican Abraham Lincoln, included Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy . The McCarthy era he was rather critical of, he defended his colleague Joseph L. Mankiewicz against allegations that he was a communist. Ford referred to himself several times as a Social Democrat and for a long time supported predominantly the Democrats; in the last decade of his life he turned increasingly to the Republicans and supported Richard Nixon in the 1968 election campaign.

Influence and recognition

John Ford received much recognition from later directors, such as Martin Scorsese . Orson Welles reportedly watched Ringo dozens of times in preparation for Citizen Kane . When asked which directors influenced him, he replied: “The old masters. And by that I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford. "

Ford's influence goes far beyond directors in his home country. In a 1995 survey, German film directors voted the work The Black Falcon as the best film of all time. In Japan, Akira Kurosawa said she was inspired by Ford's westerns for his samurai films.

Private life

In 1956 he wanted to have the cataract removed. After the operation, he was too impatient and removed the bandages from his eyes too soon. The result was complete blindness in his left eye. Since then he has been wearing his famous eye patch , which, along with the frequently worn naval uniform and the pipe, was an outward trademark of Ford. In 1964 he fell ill with cancer, from which he finally died in August 1973. He was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City , California . From 1920 until his death he was married to Mary Frances McBride Smith and they had two children.

Filmography (selection)

Silent films

  • 1917: Straight shooting
  • 1917: The Secret Man (partially preserved)
  • 1917: A Marked Man (missing)
  • 1917: Bucking Broadway
  • 1918: The Phantom Riders (missing)
  • 1918: Wild Women (missing)
  • 1918: Thieves' gold (lost)
  • 1918: The Scarlet Drop (partially preserved)
  • 1918: Hell Bent
  • 1918: A Woman's Fool (lost)
  • 1918: The Craving (lost)
  • 1918: Three Mounted Men (missing)
  • 1919: Roped (missing)
  • 1919: A Fight for Love (lost)
  • 1919: Bare Fists (missing)
  • 1919: Riders of Vengeance (missing)
  • 1919: The Outcasts of Poker Flat (lost)
  • 1919: Ace of the Saddle (lost)
  • 1919: Rider of the Law (missing)
  • 1919: A Gun Fightin 'Gentleman (partially preserved)
  • 1919: Marked Men (missing)
  • 1920: The Prince of Avenue A (lost)
  • 1920: The Girl in Number 29 (lost)
  • 1920: Hitchin 'Posts (lost)
  • 1920: Just Pals
  • 1921: The Big Punch (lost)
  • 1921: The Freeze-Out (lost)
  • 1921: The Wallop (lost)
  • 1921: Desperate Trails (lost)
  • 1921: Action
  • 1921: Sure Fire (lost)
  • 1921: Jackie (missing)
  • 1922: Little Miss Smiles (missing)
  • 1922: Silver Wings (lost)
  • 1922: The Village Blacksmith (partially preserved)
  • 1923: The Face on the Bar-Room Floor (lost)
  • 1923: Bandit Revenge (Three Jumps Ahead) (lost)
  • 1923: Cameo Kirby
  • 1923: Among the Wolves of Alaska (North of Hudson Bay) (partially preserved)
  • 1923: Hoodman Blind (missing)
  • 1924: The iron horse (The Iron Horse)
  • 1924: Hearts of Oak (lost)
  • 1925: Lightnin '
  • 1925: Kentucky Pride
  • 1925: Thank You (lost)
  • 1925: The Fighting Heart (lost)
  • 1926: The Shamrock Handicap
  • 1926: Three rough journeymen (3 Bad Men)
  • 1926: Until the decision (The Blue Eagle) (partially preserved)
  • 1927: upstream
  • 1928: Mother Machree (partially preserved)
  • 1928: Four Sons
  • 1928: Hangman's House
  • 1928: Riley the Cop
  • 1929: Strong Boy (missing)

Sound films



American Film Institute

Argentinean Film Critics Association Award

Blue Ribbon Awards

Directors Guild of America

  • 1953: DGA Award for excellent directing work (film) ( The winner )
  • 1954: Lifetime Achievement Award

Golden Globe

  • 1955: Special "Pioneer" Award

Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani

Locarno International Film Festival

  • 1948: Prize for the best director of Until the Last Man
  • 1950: Grand Prix for When Willie Comes Marching Home

National Board of Review

  • 1958: NBR Award for Best Director of The Last Hurray

New York Film Critics Circle Award

  • 1936: NYFCC Award for Best Director of The Traitor
  • 1939: NYFCC Award for Best Director of Ringo
  • 1940: NYFCC Award for Best Director of The Fruits of Wrath
  • 1941: NYFCC Award for Best Director of Striking Weather

Venice Film Festival

  • 1934: Special Recommendation for The World Moves On
  • 1936: Special Recommendation for Mary of Scotland
  • 1952: International Award for Der Sieger
  • 1952: OCIC Award for Der Sieger
  • 1971: Career Golden Lion

Western Heritage Awards

together with Willis Goldbeck (producer); James Warner Bellah (book); Lee Marvin , Edmond O'Brien , James Stewart , Vera Miles , John Wayne (Actors)

  • 1964: Bronze Wrangler for a movie (That was the Wild West),

with Henry Hathaway , George Marshall (directors); James R. Webb (book)

  • 1965: Bronze Wrangler for a movie (Cheyenne),

with Bernard Smith (producer); James R. Webb (book)

Walk of Fame

  • Star on the Walk of Fame: 1642 Vine Street


  • Richard J. Anobile (Ed.): John Ford's "Stagecoach". Starring John Wayne (= The Film Classics Library ). Avon Books et al. a., New York NY 1975, ISBN 0-380-00291-4 .
  • Hartmut Bitomsky : Yellow Stripes Strict Blue - passage through films by John Ford (four parts). In: 1. Film review , No. 258 from June 1978, 2. Film review , No. 267 from March 1979, 3. Film review , No. 284 from August 1980, 4. John Ford retrospective of the Viennale 2014 (see below).
  • Wolf-Eckart Bühler : John Ford's Stock Company . In: Filmkritik , No. 181 from January 1972.
  • Ronald L. Davis: John Ford. Hollywood's Old Master (= Oklahoma Western Biographies. Vol. 10). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK et al. a. 1995, ISBN 0-8061-2708-2 .
  • Scott Eyman , Paul Duncan (Eds.): John Ford. Pioneer of Images. 1894-1973. Taschen, Cologne u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-8228-3090-9 .
  • Jörn Glasenapp : “Welcome home, darling!” John Ford's “Rio Grande” and the battle between the sexes on the frontier of the Cold War. In: Weimar Contributions. Vol. 51, H. 3, 2005, ISSN  0043-2199 , pp. 363-375.
  • Frieda Grafe : To the cinema with John Ford . First published in: Süddeutsche Zeitung from 8./9. April 1972. In: In close-up - authors' policy and beyond (= selected writings in individual volumes, 7th volume). Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin 2005. ISBN 3-922660-90-8 , pp. 11-17.
  • Dirk C. Loew: Attempt on John Ford. The Western Films 1939–1964. Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt 2005, ISBN 3-8334-2124-X .
  • Joseph McBride: Searching for John Ford. A Life. Faber and Faber, London a. a. 2004, ISBN 0-571-22500-4 .
  • Astrid Johanna Ofner and Hans Hurch (eds.): Retrospective John Ford (a publication on the occasion of a Ford retrospective at the Viennale and the Austrian Film Museum, October 16 to November 30, 2014). Viennale, Vienna 2014. ISBN 978-3-901770-38-8 . Distributed by Schüren Verlag: ISBN 978-3-89472-898-4 . In it u. a. the following posts:
    • Hartmut Bitomsky : passage through the films of John Ford - fourth part .
    • Susanne Röckel : The white cloth on the OK Corral .
    • Harry Tomicek: The Old Masters: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford .
  • Janey A. Place: The Westerns by John Ford (= Goldmann Magnum. 10221). Goldmann, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-442-10221-9 (Original edition: The Western Films of John Ford. Citadel Press, Secaucus NJ 1974, ISBN 0-8065-0445-5 ).
  • Andrew Sarris : The John Ford Movie Mystery (= Cinema One. Vol. 27). Secker & Warburg, London 1976, ISBN 0-436-09941-1 .
  • Hans Helmut Prinzler: [Article] John Ford. In: Thomas Koebner (Hrsg.): Film directors. Biographies, work description, filmographies. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Reclem, Stuttgart 2008 [1. Ed. 1999], ISBN 978-3-15-010662-4 , pp. 248-255.

Web links

Commons : John Ford  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Biography of John Ford at the Internet Movie Database
  2. Article at film reservation
  3. Tag Gallagher. John Ford: The Man and His Films. Berkeley: University of California Press , 1986. p. 145
  4. Tag Gallagher. John Ford: The Man and His Films . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. p. 499
  5. Tag Gallagher. John Ford: The Man and His Films . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. p. 454
  6. Kevin Brianton: Hollywood Divided: The 1950 Screen Directors Guild Meeting and the Impact of the Blacklist . University Press of Kentucky, 2016, ISBN 978-0-8131-6893-7 ( [accessed March 20, 2019]).
  7. ^ Joseph McBride: Searching for John Ford . Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2011, ISBN 978-1-60473-468-3 ( [accessed March 20, 2019]).
  8. John Ford | American director. Retrieved March 20, 2019 .
  9. Guest Reviewer: Martin Scorsese on 'The Searchers'. Retrieved March 20, 2019 .
  10. Hans C. Blumenberg: On the death of John Ford: Prophet of old dreams . In: The time . September 14, 1973, ISSN  0044-2070 ( [accessed March 20, 2019]).
  11. Favorite movies. Retrieved August 4, 2011
  12. MoMA | Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Retrieved March 20, 2019 .
  13. Film-Zeit Person: John Ford ( Memento of the original from May 18, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. ^ Announcement ,, June 2010
  15. until October 14th. No catalogs. In French or English