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Remind Me

Robert Osborne on John Ford

Since it was director John Ford who helped popularize the theory "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" (a memorable line from his 1962 western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), it makes it even more complicated to draw a totally accurate picture of the real Mr. Ford. Cantankerous, grouchy, tough, unpredictable, tyrannical and sadistic are words often used to describe him; others who knew or worked for him insist he was really just an old softie at heart, a rascal who covered his sentimental nature with a gruff, curmudgeony exterior. Colorful, he certainly was; also a mystery, even to those who knew him best. John Wayne, who starred in 14 of Ford's films and was no shrinking violet, admits he often quaked in Ford's presence; so did Jimmy Stewart, despite the fact that by the time Stewart worked with Ford, the actor had 60 films under his belt.

Some things about Ford, however, can't be argued: he was, without question, a brilliant filmmaker and a master storyteller, an exceptional director with an uncanny eye for visual beauty, along with a striking ability to sock over his tales with words kept to a minimum. Ford is also the only person to date to have won as many as four Academy Awards® as Best Director. (Closest runners-up: William Wyler and Frank Capra, with three each.)

This month, we'll be spending every Tuesday evening with the amazing and complicated John Ford, bringing you 22 of his films, from 1931's Arrowsmith (on Nov. 28) to his final directorial effort, 1966's Seven Women (airing Nov. 22). We'll include many of his great westerns, among them 1939's Stagecoach, 1948's Fort Apache, 1949's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and 1950's Rio Grande. Despite Ford's great identification with the old West, shotguns, wagon wheels and Cavalry trumpets, we'll be offering considerable proof that he was equally effective directing non-sagebrush stories as well, such as the historical drama Mary of Scotland with Katharine Hepburn Katharine Hepburn (with whom J.F. had a strong romantic attachment at the time), the big-scale African adventure Mogambo with Clark Gable, the modern political tale The Last Hurrah with Spencer Tracy and so many others.

The capper of our Ford salute, and the best chance yet for all of us to get a direct, unvarnished look at the legendary Ford, is Peter Bogdanovich's documentary Directed by John Ford, which will be having its world television premiere on TCM on November 7, with a repeat on November 21. It's a re-edited, re-vamped and expanded version of a film Bogdanovich compiled in 1971 that was only briefly shown at the time and has not been seen for the past 30 years. Flash ahead to 2006: with the help of TCM and producer Frank Marshall (and the inclusion of 20 additional minutes of new footage), you can review Ford's entire career, see some magnificent film clips and watch as Wayne, Stewart, O'Hara, Henry Fonda, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and others give fascinating, personal insights into Ford, the filmmaker, and Ford, the man. There's also priceless footage of Ford himself being interviewed. Watching this gift from Peter Boganovich will make it even clearer why Orson Welles once said, "I learned filmmaking by studying the Old Masters-and by that I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford."

by Robert Osborne

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