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,The World Moves On

The World Moves On

"I'd like to forget that," John Ford said to Peter Bogdanovich at one point during their interview sessions in 1966. Bogdanovich had just asked about The World Moves On (1934), a sprawling multigenerational family saga that is considered by some to be Ford's worst film. "I fought like hell against doing it," Ford said. "I pleaded and quit and everything else, but I was under contract and finally I had to do it, and I did the best I could, but I hated the damn thing. It was really a lousy picture -- it didn't have anything to say -- and there was no chance for any comedy. But what the hell, that was called 'being under contract.' You were getting paid big money and there was very little income tax, so you swallowed your pride and went out there and did it. There were a few awfully good things in it -- the battle scenes -- but I argued and fought, and that was how I got the reputation of being a tough guy -- which I'm not."

The movie's episodic story of a 19th-century New Orleans plantation family and its rise to international power over the course of 100 years is so derivative of the recent Best Picture winner Cavalcade (1933) that Fox, the same studio behind Cavalcade, even assigned the same screenwriter, Reginald Berkeley, to the new picture. Several actors -- including leading lady Madeleine Carroll, appearing here in an American film a full year before The 39 Steps (1935) allegedly brought her to Hollywood's attention -- play dual roles, appearing in the later sections as descendants of their original characters. (Ford biographer Andrew Sinclair later wrote that "Madeleine Carroll was after Ford as much as the leading role.") The film's most powerful sequences, depicting World War I, weren't even shot by Ford. Instead they are comprised of footage lifted from the 1932 French picture Wooden Crosses. Nonetheless, these scenes drew most of the critical praise. Variety, for one, exclaimed, "Holds six minutes of some of the most graphic war stuff ever publicly screened in this country... Certainly no staged matter on the big strife has so realistically photographed shrapnel bursts over the men as they fling themselves from shell hole to shell hole, or the house to house fighting through a village."

The review continued: "John Ford has had his hands full and hasn't entirely succeeded. The picture's takeoff is inactive, the war sequence is like a cold shower and then the film seems to wind its way back to its original groove. The fault appears to lay at Ford's door either because of his disregard of tempo or a disinclination to cut." The New York Times echoed this assessment, concluding simply: "It does seem as though the film would be all the better if it were shortened."

The reason The World Moves On feels too long or out of proper "tempo" can probably be found in a story Ford used to tell interviewers in his later years. While he never actually named the movie in question, Ford told of once having been ordered by a producer to shoot a script without changing a single word. Ford said he hated that particular script and didn't appreciate being told how to direct, so he complied with the instructions literally, filming every word of dialogue and stage direction despite knowing the picture would be overlong, and leaving the footage for the producer to edit. Historians generally agree that this must have been The World Moves On.

Esteemed film scholar William Everson made a case for the film, which he described as "a mating of Showboat (1936) with The House of Rothschild (1934)." Everson noted the influence of D.W. Griffith both in its overall epic approach and in some individual scenes, like a major off-screen reunion that echoes a similar scene in Birth of a Nation (1915). "Although disappointing as a Ford," Everson wrote, "it's a handsome and interesting film, quite undeserving of its shunted-aside, 'best-forgotten' reputation." Everson also observed "it has far more technique for its own sake than was usual with Ford," such as a constantly moving camera, evidence that Ford was sticking very closely to the script "instead of following his own (and normally simpler) inclinations."

The antiwar tone of the film is also not particularly indicative of Ford, and is rather more in keeping with the social consciousness that was coming out of the Fox studio at the time.

On July 11, 1934, The World Moves On became the first film to receive the Production Code seal of approval, marking the end of what is now known as the "pre-Code" era of Hollywood filmmaking.

In 1936, Howard Hawks would borrow the same Wooden Crosses battle footage for his WWI film The Road to Glory.

Producer: Winfield Sheehan
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Reginald Berkeley (story and screenplay); William M. Conselman, Joe Cunningham, James Gleason, Llewellyn Hughes, Edward T. Lowe, Jr., Henry Wales, Doris Anderson (all uncredited)
Cinematography: George Schneiderman
Film Editing: Paul Weatherwax (uncredited)
Cast: Madeleine Carroll (Mrs. Warburton, 1825/Mary Warburton Girard, 1914), Franchot Tone (Richard Girard), Reginald Denny (Erik von Gerhardt), Siegfried Rumann (Baron von Gerhardt), Louise Dresser (Baroness von Gerhardt), Raul Roulien (Carlos Girard, 1825/Henri Girard, 1914), Stepin Fetchit (Dixie), Lumsden Hare (Gabriel Warburton, 1825/Sir John Warburton, 1914), Dudley Digges (Mr. Manning), Frank Melton (John Girard, 1825).

by Jeremy Arnold

Peter Bogdanovich, John Ford
William K. Everson, New School program notes (1972 and 1989)
Andrew Sarris, The John Ford Movie Mystery
Andrew Sinclair, John Ford



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