Cast & Crew
After introductory comments by off-screen narrator Orson Welles, director Peter Bogdanovich asks actors James Stewart, John Wayne and Henry Fonda about the director's over 135 films and their work with him. Clips of many of Ford's most famous films are interspersed with clips and discussions of some of his lesser known works. Wayne recalls his first acting experience with Ford, for the 1928 silent film Mother Macree , when he knocked Ford down while displaying a football maneuver. Fonda recalls being verbally chastised by Ford for thinking that he was going to portray Abraham Lincoln as the "Great Emancipator" when, in fact the 1939 film Young Mr. Lincoln was intended to show Lincoln as "a young jack leg lawyer from Springfield." Stewart states that he wanted to please Ford and feels that others who worked with him felt the same way. He adds that Ford seemed to dare his actors "to do it right." In speaking of the filming of Ford's 1939 picture Stagecoach Wayne recounts an incident in which Ford called the entire company to attention to hear the then-young star be humiliated by the director. Wayne and Stewart describe Ford's habit of making someone in the company be at "the bottom of the list" each day. They also express the thought that Ford not only kept his cast and crew under control by such tactics, but often used verbal bruisings to make others feel sympathy for the person being humiliated. Welles's narration and Ford's own words describe how Ford, an Irish American who was born Sean Aloysius O'Faerna, came to Hollywood, where his older brother Francis was an established actor and director who had assumed the surname Ford. John Ford describes how he came to direct his first film, which came as a stroke of luck precipitated when a Universal executive asked Ford, who was then an assistant director, to "shoot something" for some visitors from the East. In 1917, Universal studio head Carl Laemmle assigned the then-twenty-two year old Ford to direct his first feature because, as Ford recounted, "That Jack Ford--he yells load. He'd make a good director." That film, which starred Ford's longtime friend and frequent star, Harry Carey, was the Western Straight Shooting . When asked about various aspects of his films, Ford gives terse, yes or no or evasive answers to many of Bogdanovich's questions, but at other times offers lengthy answers. Ford describes filmmaking as luck, sometimes good and sometimes bad, then offers the example of the thunder and lightning sequence in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon : Because the weather on the day for shooting the sequence had turned to rain, thunder and lightning, the picture's cinematographer shot it under protest. Ford contemptuously adds that the cinematographer won an Academy Award for it, "under protest." Fonda relates an incident on the set of My Darling Clementine in which, just prior to shooting a scene on a porch, Ford came to him and suggested movements for his feet which were "a little choreographed dance." The short scene, in which Fonda portrayed Wyatt Earp, became famous and represents the type of small touches that Ford would inject into his films, often as if completely spontaneous. Many clips are shown to illustrate Ford's visual style, which was reflective of his skill as an artist as well as a director. Clips from many of Ford's films illustrating American life are shown, appearing chronologically, beginning with the period films and ending with scenes from Ford's 1958 film The Last Hurrah , a film with a contemporary setting that starred Spencer Tracey as a long-time Boston mayor who is defeated in his last political campaign. Welles's narration then describes the quintessential Ford hero as a man alone, whether portrayed by Fonda, Carey, Tracey, Stewart or Wayne, someone who, victorious in defeat, was "silhouetted against the moving background of history."
Following title cards for the California Film Commission and the American Film Institute, the film begins with the opening through-the-doorway shot of John Ford's The Searchers (see below), followed by brief scenes from My Darling Clementine (see below) and other Ford films. The title card reading Directed by John Ford, is Ford's actual directing credit title card from Fort Apache (see below). Orson Welles's voice-over narration, which runs throughout the film, begins when he reads the title aloud. As Welles briefly discusses Ford's successful career, shots of his various awards and medals are shown. The sequence concludes with Welles asking "Directed by John Ford-What do those words really mean anyway?"
The film ends with the final closing-door shots from The Searchers, with the soundtrack playing the final line of the Sons of the Pioneers' rendering of Stan Jones's title song for that film, "Ride away. Ride away." All production credits appear after the door closes. Peter Bogdanovich's credit reads "Directed and written by." Although there is an onscreen 1971 copyright statement for California Arts Commission, the film was not registered for copyright. An onscreen statement in the end credits reads: "Directed by John Ford was produced at the AFI Center for Advanced Film Studies."
Other onscreen statements read: "With thanks for the help and generosity of: Henry Fonda, James Stewart, John Wayne and Orson Welles" and lists the names of the studios and production companies from which the John Ford film extracts were obtained. Other acknowledgements thanked Alex Gordon, Harry Goulding, Clarence Inman, British Broadcasting Corporation, Consolidated Film Industries, The Library of Congress, Motion Picture Association of America and John Ford.
Welles does not appear in the film and is only heard on the soundtrack, but Ford, Wayne, Stewart and Fonda appear at various points throughout the film. Bogdanovich, seen from the back or side, periodically appears in the frame with the interviewees, while at other times his presence is not indicated or only his off-screen questions are heard. Ford is seen primarily in interviews conducted in Monument Valley, the famous Utah location used in many of his Western films.
Film clips within the documentary came from twenty-six of Ford's over 135 films produced from 1917 through 1964, when he made his last Western, Cheyenne Autumn. The following motion picture clips, in the following order, are excerpted for the film: The Searchers (1956), Salute (1929), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Drums Along the Mowhawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Two Rode Together (1962), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Stagecoach (1939), Straight Shooting (1917), The Battle of Midway (1942), The Informer (1935), Fort Apache (1948), Rio Grande (1950), Wagon Master (1950), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Three Bad Men (1926), Steamboat Round the Bend (1935), Judge Priest (1934), The World Moves On (1934), Submarine Patrol (1938), They Were Expendable (1945) and The Last Hurrah (1958).
John Ford, born Sean Aloysius O'Faerna in 1885 Maine, was the youngest child of a large Irish-American family. In the early 1910s, after going to Hollywood to join his older brother Francis, who had assumed the surname Ford and was then a popular actor and director at Universal Studios, the younger Ford directed several short films before his first feature, Straight Shooting in 1917. Changing his screen credit from "Jack Ford" to "John Ford" in the early 1920s, the director went on to great critical and commercial success in silent and sound films, earning six Academy Awards, four for Best Director and two for documentaries, among countless other accolades both in the United States and abroad. Although Ford has been associated most often with Westerns, such as Fort Apache and The Searchers, he achieved considerable success with films in many genres. In 1973, Ford became the first recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.
In 1967, Bogdanovich, who had been a journalist and film critic prior to becoming a director himself, published a book entitled John Ford, (revised and expanded in 1978), which centered on interviews Bogdanovich conducted with Ford in 1964 and 1966. Some of the interviews took place while Ford was making Cheyenne Autumn and were part of an article Bogdanovich was assigned to write on the director for Esquire magazine. That article appeared in the April 1964 issue of Esquire under the title "The Autumn of John Ford." Some of the audio recordings of the interviews used for the Esquire article were used as voice-overs to sequences in Directed by John Ford. One such voice-over was used when Ford answered Bogdanovich's question about how he happened to direct his first scene for a movie.
Directed by John Ford was the first production of the American Film Institute and was co-produced by George Stevens, Jr., the first AFI Director, with additional funding produced by the California Arts Commission. Associate producer David Shepard was AFI's film archivist at the time of production. Although most of the film consisted of clips from Ford's body of work and interviews made at the homes of Wayne, Fonda, Stewart, as well as the Monument Valley interview with Ford, editing and post-production was conducted at AFI's Center for Advanced Film Studies, then located in Beverly Hills, CA. According to reviews, Directed by John Ford was to be the first of many AFI-produced documentaries about influential American filmmakers, but no additional films were made.
A November 1971 American Cinematographer article by film editor Richard Patterson describes in detail the worldwide search for good prints of the films used within the documentary. Patterson also described the many technological problems encountered during production, the result of blending in clips from films that ranged from the 16mm gauge to the various widescreen processes, as well as blending in black and white and color footage. The article additionally described legal issues encountered by the filmmakers when trying to obtain rights for the numerous films. An unsourced October 1971 article found in the AMPAS Library file on the film stated that AFI was in negotiations with Time-Life to distribute the film theatrically. According to a December 1972 AFI press release, Films, Inc. became the exclusive non-theatrical distributor of Directed by John Ford, which, according to various contemporary sources, had been cleared for 16mm and educational television rights only and was not distributed to theaters.
During the Monument Valley interview, Ford recounts filming the thunder and lightning storm sequence in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and mentions that the cinematographer shot the sequence "under protest," then went on to win an Academy Award. Although Ford did not name him in the interview seen in the documentary, the cinematographer to whom he was referring was Winton Hoch, who filed a formal protest with the American Society of Cinematographers over the incident. For additional information on the protest, please consult the entry below for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Despite his disagreements with Ford during that film, Hoch later shot other films for the director, among them The Quiet Man and The Searchers (see below).
Directed by John Ford had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 6, 1971, with Ford himself and his daughter Barbara in attendance. Ford was given a Golden Lion at the festival in recognition of his lifetime artistic achievements. The film had its American premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 6, 1971. According to a Daily Variety news item in November 1971, Ford reportedly said "It's too long-they should cut it" after seeing the documentary, but the film was not edited down after its initial showings. Critics generally praised the documentary, with New York Times critic Roger Greenspun writing "at times...I am moved literally to tears" by the film, and New York critic Judith Crist calling the picture "...a professional biography that is not only an important cinema study but also a character study and fine entertainment."
While some critics lamented the length of the film, they also praised Bogdanovich and AFI's attempt to bring new generations to Ford's career. In the years since its premiere, Directed by John Ford has played at various film festivals and retrospectives of Ford's career, but was not widely shown after the early 1970s. However, in 2006, Bogdanovich reworked the documentary with producer Frank Marshall for Turner Classic Movies.
The new version, which was shown at AFI Fest in Hollywood on November 7, 2006, had a running time of 108 minutes and included new interviews with Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Harry Carey, Jr., Walter Hill, Steven Spielberg and Bogdanovich himself, as well as portions of a 1992 BBC interview with Maureen O'Hara. The 2006 film also featured a brief audio clip of a conversation between Ford and Katharine Hepburn made shortly before Ford's death. The film clips included in the 2006 version were altered significantly from those in the 1971 version. For example, the 2006 film did not include the 1971 early-in-the picture montage of films clips from many of Ford's films. Some clips from the 1971 version were excluded and replaced by other clips.