Ford At Fox Part Two (b)

Note: this is the third tranche of a multi-tranche review. It deals with some of the films made by John Ford at the Fox Studios in the first half of the 1930s. One context for these films is provided in the Brief(er) Introduction to Part Two (a), which deals with the first two of Ford’s sound features included in the Ford At Fox box set.

Seas Beneath (1931)
[Pilgrimage (1933)]

– Addendum: Bad Mothers

The World Moves On (1934)


Seas Beneath (1931)

I wish I could like this film more. The print displayed by the DVD is very nice – very much the same quality as the other Ford At Fox DVDs from this period – and in this case the original material seems to be mostly intact apart from a few blips now and again. Again, the sound comes up very well. But there are no extras on the disc, which seems a pity because there is good reason to have included at least some scenes/sequences from the German print that Gallagher mentions, which has a different, more “Teutonic” music track. (More on that below).

Seas Beneath is an uneven film, like the other movies in this set between Four Sons and Doctor Bull. It tells the story of a US naval undercover mission against a German U-Boat during the First World War. During a short shore leave intended to allow Commander Bob Kingsley (George O’Brien) to gather intelligence, he falls for a “tourist” named Anna Marie (Marion Lessing) who is actually the sister of the commander of the U-Boat (Henry Victor) and the fiancée of the German officer who is the onshore liaison with that boat, Franz Schiller[1] (John Loder). In the ensuing action, resulting in a US victory, both Bob and Anna Marie prove more loyal to their respective countries than they are to each other – and in the end this common quality seems to furnish the basis for a possible future relationship.[2]

If John Ford was specialising in any genre from 1926 to l935, it was not the western but the military film. He made at least six movies that were predominantly about the military in that decade: The Blue Eagle (1926),The Black Watch (1929), Salute (l929), Men Without Women (1930), Seas Beneath (1931) and The Lost Patrol(1934)). However, here as with the western, Raoul Walsh provided Ford with his strongest competition at Fox, almost entirely because of the box office success of Walsh’s What Price Glory? (1926) and its two sequels The Cock-Eyed World (1929) and Women of All Nations (1931), which were released so as to appear within months of Ford’s military films. Both directors returned to the genre over and over during their careers, and Ford’s remake of What Price Glory was the last of his films to be released by 20th Century-Fox.

One pertinent question to ask about these early 30s Ford movies is, “why did John Ford have to learn and apply all over again what he had already learned and applied in the 20s?” Why isn’t Seas Beneath as coherent, as “complete”, as some of the earlier silents? It seems to me that Just Pals from 1921 is as fully-realised as, say, Doctor Bull from 1933, although doubtless not so complex in its interweaving of characters and social relations. In it – and in The Iron Horse3 Bad Men and Four Sons at least – Ford’s ability to transmit a vision is indisputable. Why then is that ability not consistently manifested in the Fox films from at least Hangman’s House up to Doctor Bull?

It may be possible to find biographical or industrial reasons for this rather lengthy lapse (about six years): Joseph McBride says Ford was not managing the drink as well as he had done and was to do[3] ; and doubtless the upsets at Fox occasioned by William Fox’s megalomania and the machinations induced by it and by the studio’s transition to full scale sound production had at least some effect on some of Ford’s films.

However, it seems to me that another obvious, if partial, explanation may be that Ford found it very difficult to work out just how to incorporate sound effectively into his kind of vision – in particular how to relate sound and image. If there were to be melodrama of light and shadow, for example, should there be audible melodrama as well: a distinctive way of delivering melodramatic dialogue, a kind of music deployed in a particular way, a melodramatic (“studio-bound”) sonority? Should a movie of more than an hour’s length contain quite different moods/modes in its many different scenes? How far is a movie director like the author of a book, the composer of a symphony, the painter of a picture, or the architect of a building? Should one even attempt consciously to impose a consistent tone or authorial voice on a film, given that some ideas current about the cinema and other arts at the time were stressing disjunction and conflict?

If Ford eventually took (or resumed) an approach that is reminiscent of “classic” British literature, especially that of the nineteenth century, as I think he did, that does not seem to have happened quickly or easily. Nor should it have. The works of those writers hardly offer a conspicuously oleaginous experience. Rather, they tend to present contrasts of tone through their respective and (seemingly) identifiable authorial voices – one style layered under, or over, several others. “Scott” or “Eliot”, say, transmuted into styles of tragedy and comedy, melodrama and realism, poetry and prose, closeness and distance.

But at the same time, Ford was by no means the only person to have attempted this kind of disjointed synthesis, and the movies by no means the only medium. It seems likely that the most direct and pervasive influence on film makers whose careers began before the end of the First World War would have been the conventions of the popular stage, notoriously a ragbag of styles and sensations. Initially practitioners of cinema dipped into the popular theatre bag and pulled out whatever seemed to suit the construction of a short, high-impact attraction – often preserving the unifying distance provided by a stage proscenium in the process, so that an evening’s attractions obtained from different producers all appeared within one frame, as it were.

The earliest multi-reel features, like Australia’s The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), continued to trade on theatrical conventions of frontality and the third wall, as well as a single narrative topic, to impart stylistic coherence to what amounted to anthologies of attractions. Ford’s Bucking Broadway (1917) shows some lingering effect of this form of more or less customary unification, but before the end of the First World War film makers like D. W. Griffith, Maurice Tourneur, Mauritz Stiller, and Evgeny Bauer, were self-consciously putting their stylistic imprints on their work. Ford seems to have shown an inclination to do that too, even in his earliest films.

By the early twenties the strongest outside influence on most serious fiction films (not on comedies, and not on the films of Cecil B. DeMille, among others) was no longer the theatre but the novel. And, not surprisingly, the novels that influenced most film makers at the time were the ones they understood as the greatest of their kind: the “classical” novels which were later employed selectively to provide the grounds for much structuralist narrative theory. In the dominant paradigm for film narration these days, the principles of “classic” fiction are also those of “classic” cinema (“Hollywood”): a means of telling stories intelligibly that emphasises conjunction and repetition.

Now, I would hazard that Ford understood the lessons of the “classics” somewhat differently. Tag Gallagher uses Seas Beneath as an instance of a certain stylistic tendency in Ford’s work that illustrates what I mean. Gallagher argues that Ford was developing a “poly-modal” approach to his subject matter, which he seems to believe was Ford’s alone and which had its origins in the director’s attempts to apply the diverse modes/styles of comedy and expressionism. That is, Ford’s films were not the unified and smooth story-telling machines imagined by theories of classical narration.

Not only would Ford contrast emotional moods, juxtaposing tragic and happy moments, but also style (slapstick with impressionism, expressionism with naturalness, theatricality with realism), and also cinematic elements (shapes, motions, light and dark, color, sound, music, cutting, camera movement) as autonomous lines of polyphonic formal inventiveness. This triple level of contrast is the route that all Ford’s best movies follow. Like his penchant for choreographing movement, it is a signal quality. (Gallagher 83)

I can’t resist the unhelpful observation that what Gallagher is describing here is also what Roland West does in The Bat (1926), originally a big hit on the stage, and that this type of style mixing – which is not at all like what Ford does – was routine for thriller directors at this time. It is one reason that it is not always easy to sense what one’s response to early horror films ought to be. At any rate, Gallagher goes on:

These poly-modal techniques were applied quite deliberately by Ford to his next picture, Seas Beneath(1931), and for the first time to a dramatic subject, rendering it, despite dreadful acting and splendid photography, an instructive failure for its three distinctly incompatible modes of “realism”:

1. Documentary Realism. The camera stares watchfully at immense varieties of natural lighting (Joseph August, again) and at water. The gaze from hundreds of yards’ distance is steady as sailors board a lifeboat, row away, and the trawler sinks — nearly a minute, but seeming much longer. Another long take accentuates bizarre humor, as a girl wistfully watches her lover’s departure on a funnily contrived  submarine.[4]  A half-hour battle sequence almost follows real time, with little “action” but with weighty concentration on waiting, communication, and events between gunshots.
2. Comedic Vignettes. Despite a fat, braggart, McLaglen-like bo’s’n, all the characters are low-keyed and humdrum, with George O’Brien average to the point of banality; thus both corn and naiveté have flavors of authenticity.
3. Operatic Mannerism. The Latin music accompanying siren Lolita’s every appearance is matched by the white lace draping her and the exotica other [of her?] gesture and language (like Myrna Loy in The Black Watch). Though overdone, such atmosphere aims at least for inner realism. (Gallagher 84)

Gallagher’s argument, it seems to me, is about narration: how to tell a story if you are John Ford. His “triple level of contrast” seems to directly challenge the dominant theoretical paradigm about narration that I mentioned just now. But the underlying thesis of this review is that Ford was more driven to realise a vision, to make a diegesis or a fictional universe, than to tell a story. That vision, to my mind at least, is very thoroughly grounded in what might be called the “poly-modal tendencies” of nineteenth century British literature.

As it happens, while I was working on the review of this DVD I was also reading Walter Scott’s 1816 novel Old Mortality. Adrian Martin, an exceptionally perspicacious film critic and writer, once pointed out that if one pulls a volume at random from one’s shelf in the midst of writing about a film, that volume is bound to be extremely pertinent to the film in question. Of course this was the case with Scott’s influential book and John Ford’s polyphonic vision. Just as stage melodrama presented a montage of “objective” (physical, social) realism and “psychological” realism (motivations, states of the soul), high drama and low comedy, speech and music, so does Old Mortality. A difficult historical conflict is played out in many of the same events as those to which the historical record attests[5] , characters wrestle with the inner demons and virtues supposedly brought forth in that conflict and supposedly engendered within them by birth and upbringing. High-minded men and women (both heroes and villains) are paralleled with self-centred comic characters from the lower strata of society. And this piece of writing is full of music: accounts of singing, of the lyrics of songs sung and unsung, of pipes played and dances danced, of poetry and the terrible incantations of fanaticism. Indeed, Old Mortality might have made a very good John Ford film.

The point is, then, that the polyphony one recognises in Ford’s movies is not so much a product of the director’s own invention, but rather his way of applying certain of the practices of nineteenth century British literature to the cinema.  One of the factors that makes Ford’s application of those practices more interesting than Hollywood bog standard narration is that Ford was more inspired by the contrasts and distractions in those literary classics than he was by their attempts at finely-wrought narrative. He was more interested in the teeming, cacophonous scene than in the inevitable logic and linearity of the story enacted within that scene. If we must find failure in this film, then it is not the director’s inability to juggle three modes of realism; it is, rather, a failure to integrate the two “large forms” of description and narrative.

In Seas Beneath Ford experiments with the sort of long-take “realism” that is often associated with the postwar work of Roberto Rossellini. One of the points that is commonly made about long-take realism is precisely that it disintegrates linear narratives by allowing viewers to experience events in real time rather than the time dictated by the logic of narrative and/or to focus on elements of the image other than those determined by story logic. Long takes are supposed to seem more “real” (or at least more “documentary”) than shorter ones. Within the context of an acknowledged fiction, such takes would tend to allow viewers to recognise “descriptive” (diegetic) aspects of the image rather than just the actions which construct a story. This would also be true of other ways of constructing scenes that tended to exhibit what the French have sometimes called le temps mort, “dead time” in which no narrative information is being imparted. Real time then, can be construed as being somewhat in conflict with story time.

Within the context provided by this kind of thinking, it is not surprising that Gallagher, for example, identifies the use of real time techniques as instances of “Documentary Realism”. Speaking to Peter Bogdanovich, Ford placed a positive value on some of the same episodes of the film: “we did the actual refueling at sea. That stuff was good and so was the battle stuff, but the story was bad[6] . To this reviewer, at least, the battle scene strongly evokes those in Battle of Midway, Ford’s well-known 1942 documentary, presumably because it is just as convincingly, descriptively, “real”[7] .

The first long take in Seas Beneath appears almost ten minutes into the film. For one and one half minutes, Lieutenant Bob Kingsley informally outlines what a “Panic Party” is to the crew members seated around him. O’Brien delivers his lines with pauses and hesitations as he might have in actual conversation, that is, he does not sound like a contemporary stage actor. This is not a documentary scene, but it is one with a “flavour of authenticity” based firmly within the real time it takes on screen. Significantly, the scene ends with a gag, inserted in a close shot – and the impact of the way the insert breaks the continuity of the long take contributes a great deal to the success of the gag.

As if to emphasise Gallagher’s observation about the incompatibility of naturalism and comedy in this film, real time weakens the impact of the following scene, which is also clearly intended to be funny. For four and a half minutes we “stare watchfully” as the “McLaglen-like” bosun, Costello (Walter C. Kelly), brags about his seamanship, falls overboard, and is rescued. One senses that the time of this scene is more or less “real”, just as one does in the climactic battle scene, although many location shots varying in length, distance and composition are used to construct it. But by the end, even though a studio shot followed by a black out “tops” the scene’s major gag, I felt that whatever impact it might have had was dissipated. Here, in the context of this fiction, the action had been extended too long. The “realism” bestowed by the effect of real time defeated the comic intent of the scene; and comedy was thereby inadvertently suggested to be somewhat at odds with – or perhaps an inadequate response to – the way things really are (cf. the notorious Dodge City sequence in Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn [1964] which makes the same general point about comedy quite deliberately).

Most of the melodrama in the movie, “operatic” and otherwise, arises out of the relation between Ensign Richard Cabot (Gaylord Pendleton) and the Spanish dancer, Lolita (Mona Maris). Lolita seduces and drugs the naive and boyish Cabot. She finds evidence that he is an officer in the US Navy (evidence which adds nothing to what the Germans discover independently moments later). Cabot misses returning to his ship and in an orgy of self-recrimination, including quite a long take in which he jumps into the harbour and swims over to a departing vessel, embarks upon a mission of sabotage which will cost him his life.

Very little of this melodrama is visualised “expressionistically” however: atmospheric patches of dark and light appear only with the fall of night after Cabot awakes, whereas Lolita and Cabot speak melodramatically all the time. Still, their most effective scene together – in which they do not speak – must qualify as “operatic melodramatics” if anything in the movie does. It is also one of the more carefully and craftily contrived sequences in Seas Beneath, a kind of textbook example of classical cinematic narration with nothing of “real time” about it.

In it not only is a (musical) seduction based on Lolita’s power over Cabot set up and accomplished, but insert shots of watching American sailors and German officers nudge the viewer towards a complicated understanding about the significance of what is going on. Moreover, the scene is first painstakingly cut to the form of Lolita’s song; but then finishes in a single long shot of Cabot, bewildered and fascinated, following her upstairs while the song is reprised at a slower, yearning tempo. During Lolita’s performance, a series of shots emphasising the interaction of performer and audience are capped when she tosses her hat toward the camera in a gesture that might have been taken from a von Sternberg-Deitrich film – and that abrupt gesture is rhymed in the longer take when she discards her shawl on the railing of the stairs to her room. Sound, editing and character movement are all deployed here in a particularly intelligent way that not only suggests the “inner reality” of all of the characters in the scene (what they are thinking) but also sheds light on the actions of the story through its diegesis (what is going on).

Things change at the top of the stairs. Two drawn-out medium distance two-shots slow the pace of the promised union further, as would be expected, but at the same time open up vast amounts of dead acoustical space, which has the effect of numbing the sexual/moral tension between Cabot and Lolita – since neither is an accomplished enough actor to use the silence to explore that tension. In effect this is the same thing that happened in the failed comedy of the bosun’s ducking (although the actors are clearly not at fault in that instance): the realist long-take style works against the artifice of a highly stylised mode of fiction.

But long-take, real-time realism does not work against all the fiction modes in Seas Beneath. As you might expect, it works rather well, even invisibly, as a way of construing naturalism, which is Ford’s preferred mode in any case. Their compatibility is apparent early in the long-take scene shot on the US Q-Boat mentioned above. O’Brien, always a rather self-conscious performer, relaxes noticeably in this location; you can hear it in his voice. The exchanges between him and the crew, and between crew members, have the same casual feel as the exteriors in Up the River. But Ford also uses the style for two key scenes much later between Bob and Anna Marie: one following her attempt to escape from the American “mystery ship” and the other (broken by a single close insert) at the very end of the story. These scenes are by no means instances of “documentary realism”, and the first one ends with hysterical melodramatics, yet the real-time long takes used in their realisation do not seem inappropriate: many viewers may not perceive the technique at all. Moreover neither O’Brien nor Lessing is relaxed – nor are their characters supposed to be – but their performances are good enough (pace Gallagher’s “dreadful acting”) to turn the dead air of real time into a naturalistic simulacrum of how people actually behave.

I hope it is clear from what I have been saying about the use of real time and long takes in Seas Beneath that sound, or what is done with it, is as significant or more significant throughout the film than the action displayed on the screen. That is, real-time sound is the principal stylistic element of the soundscape of this film. Indeed, a panoply of different sounds are being much more certainly used to create the diegesis of Seas Beneath than in Ford’s earlier sound films. Sound is being incorporated into the naturalism of that vision – and one signature of the naturalistic soundscape of Ford’s vision seems to be the pause, the ambient or background sound (un)heard between or instead of spoken dialogue or other narrating noise, a sound effect amplified in long takes.

Sound plays a key role in establishing each of Gallagher’s “polyphonic modes”. Location sound, for example, is not only important in getting O’Brien to relax on board the ship, it adds naturalistic verisimilitude to Costello’s windy Irish bragging in the same location and (via the echo off the waters in the harbour[8] ) to the melodramatic intensity of the moment in which Cabot realises how completely Lolita has betrayed him. There are also instances of the use of studio sound under location shots, as well as complex blends of dialogue from different sources with music and effects in the manner we have come to associate with mainstream production (for example, the musical seduction sequence referred to above). There are even variations in the sound of dialogue recorded in the studio: it changes during those scenes supposedly shot on submarines because of the effect of speech reflected from metallic surfaces.

The music in Seas Beneath, like that in Born Reckless, gives the impression of being mostly diegetic. However, visible sources for the music appear far less frequently. In Born Reckless, we saw male groups singing as well as military and jazz bands playing. Here a lone guitarist strolls among sailors arriving in port, and another sings and plays in a tavern – but there is plausible orchestral music almost from the moment the sailors land to the last scene in Hoffman’s tavern (for example as backing for Lolita’s performance number). That is, it is a common perception that touristy spots like the Canaries are always filled with music and singing. The “imaginary” and the “real” are fused in such settings where the real strives to represent the imaginary – and music is one mechanism by which this illusion is achieved. And take note, the dangerous, deceptive port is not the only place introduced by quasi-diegetic music: the first scene on board the submerged U-Boat begins with the sound of an unseen accordion accompanying a quiet song apparently being sung by the crew.

Gallagher points out that Lolita is accompanied by Spanish-tinged music whenever she appears – which is not quite the case, but comes close. But Anna Marie is also associated with music, and in her case the music is perhaps the least diegetically motivated music in the US version of the film.
It is worth going into a bit of detail about the way in which music is used in conjunction with the two principal female characters in the movie. Lolita, as has been noted, is given that Dietrich-like feature seduction number, whose tempo and treatment changes according to the requirements of the game she is playing with Cabot. No music is heard while they talk in her room. But when the scene shifts, a romantic non-diegetic theme (“Estrellita”) is introduced and continues throughout a soft-focus rendezvous between Bob and Anna Marie on the Prado. The film then cuts back to Lolita’s room above the tavern and what seems to be a mournful, string variant on that theme is heard faintly in the background while Lolita drugs Cabot, searches him with Hoffman’s help, discovers that he is an American Naval Ensign, and kisses him tenderly.[9] There is an abrupt cut to the main room of the tavern below, as Bob, buoyed by his flirtation with Anna Marie, enters the main room of the tavern. Louder music emphasises the contrast in mood and location, although it sounds to me very much like a continuation of what we have just been hearing in a livelier form. This music fades and finishes just as Franz and his companions spot Bob’s Naval Academy ring in medium close-up, which is all the proof they need to confirm the suspicion that he is hunting their U-Boat. Finally “Estrellita” re-enters full-blown, expressed (more or less) diegetically (a singing woman eventually crosses the frame in the background), while Bob first interacts with Franz, whom he does not know is Anna Marie’s fiancé, and the other German officers, then with Chief Cobb of his own crew (Walter McGrail), telling him that they must prepare to engage their prey the next morning.

Thus, in addition to its association with the deceptively welcoming port and the enemy submarine, music positions both women narratively. Not only are they the only characters associated with music, the specific deceptive attraction exercised by each of their characters is partly described by the particular music associated with each: Lolita as a sexual object and Anna Marie as an object of romantic love. It is interesting that the film finds it necessary, or at least expedient, to do this.

Gallagher says of the German print of Seas Beneath,

There is even more atmosphere in the German edition’s reedited music track: Wagner, Wagner, Wagner. Their sub sinks to the “Liebestod.” But it contains a scene, missing from the U.S. edition, in which the Germans bury Cabot at sea — to “Taps.” (fn 151, p. 554)

Apparently the German print, perhaps inadvertently, continues the film’s  association of music with enemy deceit – with the exception of the diegetic military sound of the bugle, only heard in the DVD print when the Americans reveal themselves and again when Bob commands, “Cease firing!”. I do not understand why the German versions of the pertinent scenes could not have been included among the extras on the DVD.

Accents and languages play diegetic roles in this film somewhat different from their use in Born Reckless. The sailors of the American crew can always be distinguished from their officers by accent – and the broadly accented sailors are intended to be funny while the “neutrally” accented officers are not. Mona Maris’s Lolita speaks English with what Jellyroll Morton used to call “a Spanish tinge” and is no better than she should be, whereas Marion Lessing’s Anna Marie is more or less “neutrally” accented and is a member of a Prussian officer family.

Both women speak good German, and both of them vamp and betray American officers who speak neither German nor Spanish. In addition, language itself plays an obvious role in the soundscape of the film and in creating the naturalism of its diegesis. Put simply, the characters on the German side usually speak German to each other. This would be one reason that Lessing, Mona Maris and John Loder are playing the roles they are playing, since all three speak German and English. The Americans speak (American) English; the Canary Islanders speak Spanish-accented English to the Americans; Lolita and Hoffman (Curt Furburg) also speak German to the Germans and to each other. There are several scenes in which nothing but German is spoken, only occasionally translated via “silent movie” intertitles.[10]

And in the process at least one line of significant German dialogue is left untranslated. Cabot is shot by a German sailor while burning the oil barrels in the trawler fuelling the U-Boat. An intertitle translates Anna Marie’s distraught question to her brother, “Was this necessary, Ernst?”. Ernst answers, “Krieg ist Kreig”, which is also translated. Then Ernst orders the body to be placed in a life jacket and set adrift while Anna Marie (and Franz) continue to watch. As this grim and deceptive manoeuvre is accomplished in the name of a burial at sea, Anna Marie says “Ernst, das nennt man Kreig”. This line is not translated, although it is set off from the rest of the dialogue by long pauses, and her grief and sense of betrayal are unmistakable. It seems to me that the effect of leaving the line untranslated is to minimise its significance beyond whatever personal emotions Anna Marie is feeling. Yet the words and their delivery encapsulate a significant narrative recognition for the character, a defining moment. “Ernst, that is what you call war?!”[11]  marks the first time she has questioned the cause to which she has joined herself; she seems now to realise that everyone engaged in war is corrupted by it.[12]

When you come right down to it, Anna Marie’s desire to show that women can be useful in war has already lead her to betray two men who love her before she utters those words. She has deceived Bob even as she was falling in love with him; she has deceived Franz about her changing feelings even while acting as his spy. Captured by the Americans, she attempts to maintain her cover (which is blown already), and tries to warn the U-Boat that the Americans are trying to lure it into a trap (which the Germans strongly suspect is the case anyway).

Deception is the order of the day in Seas Beneath. The Americans are on a top secret mission disguised as a merchant vessel, and they have a submarine in tow  that never ever comes to the surface. The first part of the movie documents some of the deceptive measures the Americans intend to use in their pursuit of the U-Boat. “Act like a merchant crew, not Navy men,” Bob tells the men selected for the Panic Party; later he demonstrates the quick release mechanism that collapses a phoney deck house and reveals a Really Big Gun hidden inside. When the crew arrives on shore in what is supposed to be a neutral port under strict orders not to reveal anything of their mission, Bob gets a photo of some of the ships previously damaged by the U-Boat by pretending he only wants a souvenir snap of himself and Anna Marie.

But the Germans started this deception business: U-Boats, after all, are known for sneaking about underwater and ambushing unarmed merchant ships. The Germans have already infiltrated the port inside and out. A German officer secretly takes photos of the American ship from inside a room in Hoffman’s tavern. And the Germans use spies like Hoffman and Lolita, not to mention naive, enthusiastic Anna Marie.

Thus deception, failed and successful, infuses the story and permeates the diegesis as well. Costello, the Irish bosun, lies about his seamanship, deceiving the mystery ship’s young and trusting crew, who are all too willing to deceive themselves about the significance of the sentiments expressed in tattoos (“Death Before Dishonor”). On the other side, it seems likely that Franz is deceiving Anna Marie about his relationship with Lolita – a relationship she apparently does not notice at all.

In the end, when you come right down to it, neither the Americans nor the Germans seem to benefit very much from all this deception. The Americans are actually not very good at it. Bob almost doesn’t get his picture (and the silly, unpredictable ship’s photographer gets an extra one by accident). Bob has also forgotten to take off his Naval Academy ring. Franz and his brother officers spot it in the tavern, and this is almost all the evidence they need to work out who and what he is. But then, they are themselves not in any disguise, and Bob easily recognises in their uptight courtesy a signal of their affiliation with the U-Boat he is seeking.

Having deceived Cabot, Lolita and Hoffman do find evidence that he is on active duty in the US Navy, but Cabot himself repeats what they have learned to the U-Boat crew just before he dies. The Germans attempt to conceal their involvement with Cabot’s death by dumping the body in the ocean, but the fires he has started eventually break out again on the fuelling vessel and lead to dumping burning oil barrels into the ocean not far from his body – enabling the Bob to link Cabot to the refuelling of the U-Boat. The damaged fuelling vessel sinks and Anna Marie escapes with its local crew, and when the Americans pick her up, she does not realise that a trail of flotsam has implicated her too in the refuelling of the U-Boat.

On one level, the implications of all this deception is that women are suited to it – and perhaps even that this is what women can and ought to do to help their countries in wartime. (And, of course, that the Enemy does that sort of thing better that We do.) But other parallels are drawn that complicate matters. If the two couples juxtapose spying female Enemies and oblivious male Friends, they also set two experienced and shrewd combatants (Lolita and Bob) against two inexperienced and naive ones (Cabot and Anna Marie). Lolita and Bob are both honourable and isolated characters whose understanding of the necessity of what they are doing does not preclude their having strong positive feelings about their antagonists. Cabot and Anna Marie are equally honourable and committed, but both are more concerned to preserve those closest to them than to destroy their opponents. Inevitably they are the ones who are out of place in war and most hurt by it.

Now, I think that a great deal of the film’s preoccupation with deception must be due to Dudley Nichols’ screenplay. But in this context the film’s long takes and the recurring illusion of real time seem to act as mechanisms of revelation, allowing viewers enough time to see through a character’s deliberate or unconscious pretence to what is Really Going On (this works particularly well with Costello and Anna Marie). What we have here is John Ford’s version of kino pravda – but the truth displayed by the cinema in this case is a set of conventional fictions, characters one has seen or heard or read about a thousand times before (the temptress, the good girl, the leader, the innocent). The unblinking, dispassionate eye that shows us shot after shot falling short of its target or a woman trying to get from one boat to another, is quite clear that in this world of the screen there are actually no human beings, just figures.

Honi soit qui mal y pense. This is a John Ford film.


[Pilgrimage (1933)]
[See Addendum: Bad Mothers]
Disjecta membra

Pilgrimage is certainly the first of the sound films in this set with as much impact as 3 Bad Men, and the disc, besides containing the fine print I have come to expect from this set, has an intelligent, informed commentary by Joseph McBride, which has helped me no end in writing these paragraphs.

Sometime the film’s use of sound is surprising. For example: an obtrusive music cue to underline the agitation of Hannah Jessop (Henrietta Crosman) at the dinner table; a train whistle over the close-up of the face of Mary (Marian Nixon) as Hannah’s son Jim (Norman Foster) is taken away into the army. This is expressionist, even formalist, sound. The film begins with a great deal more stylistic flourish than it ends – starting with some Murnau mists that no one can ignore – and this initial stylisation is being deliberately applied on the soundtrack as well. On the other hand, the sound starts to intrude and even thunder again near its more naturalistic end: when Hannah has a crucial revelatory vision (conveyed, it is true, via some more flashy visuals), and finally when Mary and Hannah are reconciled in an embrace, and Jimmy (Jay Ward) is discovered in a closet.

The whole film is powered by a single, fictional vision in spite of its apparent disjunction into expressionist prologue and naturalistic main story[13] . Perhaps because of the film’s alignment with its central character’s point of view, that vision coheres extremely persuasively through the rural/urban, US/French and common/genteel cultural contrasts that structure many of its incidents. However, it is not Hannah Jessop’s vision which informs the film, but the interaction between Hannah’s vision and Ford’s.

In fact, Hannah’s point of view is disconcertingly violated for good reason just at the point that it might be supposed to be taking us into her mind/heart. Hannah hears Susanne (Heather Angel) and Gary (Maurice Murphy) saying things that we overheard Mary and Jim saying, but she did not. The disjunction between authorial and character vision is as powerfully disturbing as the double-exposed visuals and the loud noises which accompany it, and there have been intimations that Hannah is prone to psychic connections with her son (she wakes in a storm just after he is killed at the front). But I think the film is being more sensible than that. Instead, this formal “mistake” is a way of arguing realisation: Hannah senses what Mary and Jim must have said only when she hears Susanne and Gary actually saying something like it.[14]

This brief scene finishes the very sequence in which the film’s dependence on its authorial vision becomes most apparent. This is a “Festival of Hay” celebration held by some exceptionally fictional French peasants to some exceptionally phoney quasi-diegetic music. Either viewers accept the underlying significance and narrative seriousness of what is going on or this long sequence lacks any reason for being there. The dance that climaxes the celebration reminds me strongly of the climactic dance in Abel Gance’s La Roue (1923), and I wonder whether it may be some conscious (or unconscious) hommage in the manner of the hommages in Four Sons [15] . Certainly the dance in La Roue bears a great deal of poetic, affective weight and justifies itself as redemptive release much as dancing does here.

, “Festival of Hay” dance.

La Roue
, “The Wheel” dance.

Not too long after the communal dance Hannah confesses to Gary’s mother (Hedda Hopper) what she has done, and what she believes she has become because of it – in a long-take, real time shot. In parallel with has happened onscreen, Ford has moved from the dreamlike, “subjective” virtuosity of the prelude to a naturalistic, “objective” tour-de-force which illustrates Hannah’s acceptance of the way things really are.[16]

I wonder whether Hannah might not have been conceived as someone whose son’s death turns her against war. Pilgrimage was made in a period in which “anti-war” films were in vogue and, although there is a powerful scene about the role of bad luck in war, no one could call it anti-war in its present form – nor, I think, would Ford ever have made an all-out anti-war film.

And note also that Mary’s home life is almost as troubled as Jim’s, with no mother and a father who is an alcoholic like Ford himself, although perhaps somewhat more charming and positive in his cups than Ford apparently was.


Doctor Bull (1933)
This film will be discussed in the next part of the review.


The World Moves On (1934)

Almost every critic agrees that this is a movie that takes a long time to watch when you might be doing something more interesting, so it is surprising that the Ford At Fox box makes something of a feature of it. The disc for the film has a picture printed on it, which is not true for Doctor Bull or even The Grapes of Wrath. It goes without saying that the print is just fine. On the other hand, there are no extras on the disc, probably because no one could stay awake long enough to do them. I think that the idea must have been to find a market among those who like big budget historical romances. Consider this title menu:

This is a John Ford film?

Even the box set’s profusely illustrated picture book dismisses the film: “a ponderous Louisiana family saga whose soporific pacing betrays the director’s indifference”[17] . Gallagher’s somewhat longer assessment also assumes the worst, perceptive and even generous though it is:

The World Moves On (1934). His next picture was even more incidental to Ford’s career: “really a lousy picture — I fought like hell against doing it.” Yet these scenes of a family’s hundred-year history are at least as entertaining and far more interesting than Winfield Sheehan’s creaky Cavalcade, the smash-hit it mimics expensively. Ford went beyond himself for every other scene, but the invention never coheres. Midst talky nothings, magic moments occur: the way Mary drops back her head faintly when Richard goes to war; the way water mounts over struggling men inside a submarine, filling the screen till all is black and still[[18] ; a vivaciously stylized dance, a glittering Prussian wedding, a romantic ship scene, the parade of life outside windows. The family’s avarice and pernicious irresponsibility contribute to all woes, but its members too are mindlessly determined. To contrast them and mock the war, Ford inserts Stepin Fetchit within a mad five-minute battle montage (far surpassing Cavalcade’s):slightly wounded midst trench cacophony, he squawks, “You mean…? I can go?!” (Gallagher 113-114)

There are a lot of good little moments in The World Moves On, and I suppose it is really not quite as wearying as people say. But this is a film which is explicitly based on a quasi-mystical idea of the human condition (I’m afraid I couldn’t help thinking of Maeterlinck) fused with explicit social criticism. That is, it is all about Big Ideas – the very reason Fox made such a Big Heavy Movie of it. More than half a century ago Jean Mitry recognised this quality in the film and tried to give it its due.[19] He saw The World Moves On as a meditation on historical time, which is pretty much what the source material (an original screenplay explicitly inspired by Noel Coward’s Cavalcade) intended. A lot of what he says initially applies to the screenplay rather than to the film as a whole. However, he seems to be the only writer to have bothered to discuss the whole film seriously at any length.

He says the film “entirely lacks human warmth. But it is a scrupulous reconstruction of historic events viewed from the sidelines”, and he claims that Friedrich Ermler’s The Turning Point, made at least ten years later in the USSR[20] , is the earliest film to show the influence of this particular point of view. One way of glossing Mitry’s historico-cultural observation is to infer that Ford’s absence – that is, the absence of his “human warmth” – is what makes the film influential in the context of postwar Soviet cinema.

Mitry is far from blind to the abyssal flaws of the movie. “However,” he writes,

even if rhythm is lacking, if movement is absent, the images are so many compositions in which the pictorial sense of the cineaste is given free rein. He expresses – by framing, by lighting, by decor, by the placement of the characters, by the play of line and volume – everything that the inaction of the drama otherwise blocks him from expressing.

This is precisely what Gallagher has picked up as well: Ford is in the details.

On the other hand – and here is its singularity – this fresco that stretches over a very long time gives no impression of duration, of evolution, but only of immobility, identity. It seems that John Ford is only manipulating time in order to deny it, to destroy it, to show it as an eternal return. Characters change, costumes change, but the same motivations abide and problems do not vary a bit, much less the methods for dealing with them. The same gestures, the same actions, the same phrases recur in different guises.

The World Moves On… it seems that the director has actually wanted to demonstrate the contrary, to affirm what is immutable in movement and only to grasp the eternal from the passing moment.

It seems to me that Mitry is overtly suggesting that what Ford does with the mise-en-scène implicitly criticises, even condemns, the premises upon which the screenplay is based.

Let me use an example that Mitry does not. The screenplay posits the ante-bellum American South as a kind of point of origin, an Eden in which family, faith, fate and intuition once reached a certain perfection. This is a noplace of peace, opposed to the violence and inhumanity inspired by greed and nationalism culminating in the terror of our current age of extremes. At the end of The World Moves On, a reincarnated and ruined romantic couple return to take up a new life in their ancestral New Orleans home, which looks pretty much like the archetypal (deserted) old Kentucky home. They are greeted by a black character named Dixie (get it?), along with his wife and a gang of cute, healthy-looking kids, who are all going to “take care” of the white couple. In the context of the screenplay this is pretty awful, but in the context of Ford’s cinema the encounter has a doubled ironic sense. First it tends to call into question the attitudes underlying the screenplay by equating this return “home” to a return to the period of slavery, an institution which I imagine Ford abhorred. Second, the health and happiness of Dixie’s family (presented as a positive good) suggests rather strongly, contra the film’s strident and explicit warning about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that African-Americans are better off than they used to be and set to be even better than that.

Since the introduction of Dixie’s family is one of those instances of Ford’s “going beyond himself” (Gallagher), in this instance “by placement of characters” (Mitry), it is worth a closer look:

One … two … three …

Four … five …

Six. (End of a pan to right). This kid is the most intelligent looking thing in the whole movie – and he isn’t acting, the way his Mom is.

How come he acts that way? (She has held this pose for quite awhile now, through the pan right and back again). Note the startled baby.

No place like home. Dixie looks at baby. Baby looks at the future.

Now, Ford didn’t have to go to all that trouble. The gag of showing us the big family gradually is a nice, gentle one – and the touch of the eldest kid in the background watching her father so thoughtfully, so suspiciously, followed by the baby’s turn to the ceiling … well, this is what good direction is about – even if it is only making telling use of an unplanned moment. If Ford was “indifferent” to this movie, as McBride suggests, he certainly wasn’t indifferent to his craft.

Of course, Mitry is also suggesting, intentionally or not, that Ford, in some way collaborating with the clear tendency of the screenplay itself, denies narrative – or rather, narrative as a line or direction – giving us instead at best looping, eternal return, infinity. In this case the loop apparently involves a change of racial identity. And what I must recognise is that “John Ford” is in this movie only in the diegesis. As with Seas Beneath then, the failure of this film lies in an imbalance – amounting to an “indifference” – between description and narrative. Everything that is “incidental” in The World Moves On is also everything that is worth watching in it.

Ford says that he didn’t understand the script (“‘What does this mean?’ I’d say”). This is Ford at his most disingenuous. The comment invites us to think that he knew damn well what it meant and he objected to the meaning like hell, as any right thinking person would. He also blames the film for his “reputation for being a tough guy – which I’m not” because he fought with the studio so hard about it. “I can fight like hell, but I always lost”, he says in a typically self-pitying prevarication.[21]

There is a cryptic reference in Gallagher’s book that I should like to tease out somewhat. “War footage from Les Croix de bois (France, 1931: Raymond Bernard),” Gallagher notes (558). Now as it happens Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses is the English title) was recently issued on DVD and I can tell you that Gallagher is right: the battle footage in The World Moves On pretty much all comes from that film, except for studio-shot inserts of the principals[22] . What is interesting about this circumstance is the way it bumps up against what Ford told Bogdanovich in the interview quoted above. “I hated the damn thing”, Ford claimed, but he allowed that “there were a few awfully good things in it – the battle scenes”. Note, Ford said, “Awfully good” rather than simply “good” (and he was right about that too). This sounds like a Fordian joke to me: “Look Peter, the best things in the movie were not directed by me”. All in all over 45 minutes of Ford’s film is devoted to World War I, and that 45+ minutes contains at least five sequences using Bernard’s footage, two of which are quite substantial.

The connection with Les Croix de bois is made more complicated by what happens to Dixie in the war. Dixie, who is the character played by Stepin Fetchit (in case you haven’t spotted that already), is wounded in the right hand, and shortly after he exclaims, “I can leave?” (not “I can go?” as Gallagher has it), he is told, “You’ll never be able to use that hand again”. “Oh that’s all right,” he says with a grin, “I ain’t no piano player.”

By the end of the movie, as you will have noted, his hand is just fine.

This is a nice gag in the context, but it becomes more interesting when it is compared with what is said shortly before the last, harrowing scenes of Les Croix de bois, when Sulphart, one of the film’s most sympathetic characters, is wounded in his right hand. He is groaning with pain, and the medic tells him, “We have to cut off two fingers”. “Go ahead,” says Sulphart, “I’m no pianist”. The difference between these two exchanges amounts to the difference between the two films, but the inclusion of the remark about not being a pianist in The World Moves On is further confirmation of Ford’s penchant for quoting from movies he presumably liked.

For my money, the battle scenes are very good, although they have been much re-edited. And they work well as a counter to the immobility Mitry writes about. Everything in them moves, swiftly, slowly, recklessly, deliberately. At the same time, within the context of the immobility Ford has filmed, Bernard’s frenetic scenes of destruction take on the paradoxical qualities of the heat-death of the universe: aimless chaotic motion in which the pointed trajectories of characters are summarily, arbitrarily deflected and obliterated – that is, another kind of eternal stillness. I guess I am saying that, whatever Mitry is saying about The World Moves On, Les Croix de bois does it better. But, then, Les Croix de bois is, like Ford himself, incidental to The World Moves On.

Lincoln Perry. More on him in the next instalment.

Bad Mothers

In the picture book that accompanies the big box of this set, Joseph McBride writes directly what a lot of other critics seem to believe about Pilgrimage – that it is “amazingly anomalous for a Ford film … fascinating both for its reversal of Ford’s usual sentimentalizing of mothers and for the depth of its insights into the destructive impulses within families”[23] . I really don’t think that this attitude is justified, and here are some sketchy reasons why.

Just Pals

The first mother in Just Pals, the doctor’s wife, is something of a nightmare figure whose motherly feelings are put on only for the benefit of others, that is, in order to keep young Bill so that she and the doctor can get the reward apparently promised for his return. Indeed, she is the instigator of their little plot. The doctor and his wife make a corrupt “family” for Bill in which there is no affection and all is appearance.

The second mother is a formidable woman, Mary’s “Auntie”, who sees through the town’s (masculine) hypocrisy and will brook no nonsense from anyone. She says that none of the members of the school building committee would put themselves in jeopardy to help a woman. She acts as Mary Bruce’s “mother”, taking care of her when she is recovering from her attempted suicide, and we admire her as much as we hate the doctor’s wife.

The third mother appears briefly in a prelude to Mary’s suicide attempt. As Mary is returning from having waited for the deceiving cashier to pay back the money she has loaned him in vain, she sees a woman and a child on a bridge. The woman is weeping and turned away from the child, who is holding a large bag. The child takes the opportunity of not being observed to empty the bag, revealing several kittens which run away; the bag is then tossed into the river, presumably by the child. The child then goes over to the woman, and together they move off the bridge, never looking back. It is clear that the woman intended for the child to drown the kittens, which the child has not done (just as Bill and Bim earlier set the black cook’s chickens free). The sequence finishes with a shot of Mary, who seems aghast or at least overcome with emotion. It is only shortly afterwards that we learn of her attempted suicide, without having seen her take even the first step towards the bridge.

The whole scene has been an exercise in articulating point of view; but what she, and we, have seen does not seem to warrant suicide, for it seems to have been a vision of drowning not done. Surely Mary has misapplied the lesson of what the film displays to us: childish innocence invisibly defying its own mother’s inhumanity by saving the kittens. If she attempts suicide after such a vision, then it must be because she saw something else – or, rather, the sense of what we both saw was different for her. Instead of seeing the child, as we did, she saw the mother, an agent enlisting innocence to do evil; and what she does, then, is to do what such a corrupter perhaps ought to have done – that is, to attempt to take her own life in atonement.

The question remains: why would Mary envision herself as a corrupter? She is, after all, a pure, virtuous – and unmarried – young school teacher who has been manipulated into giving the school memorial fund to her untrustworthy boyfriend. The school building committee is about to learn that she cannot produce those funds, which were collected by the children she taught, and her suicide is bound to be taken as proof that she, rather than anyone else, is guilty of their embezzlement. In a vain effort to get the funds back she entrusted the boyish no ’count Bim with an urgent note to the boyfriend asking him to return the funds immediately, but almost an hour has passed and Bim has not come back. In her note she had written, “I would rather be found dead than face them without [the fund]!”. I think the answer to the question about how she sees herself is that she imagines she, like the mother on the bridge, is unworthy of the trust children place in her and unwilling to do what needs to be done herself.

Four Sons / Pilgrimage

Four Sons is about a monster of goodness, a mother so unnaturally saintly that only a setting of extravagant Weimar kitsch can contain her virtue. Pilgrimage is about a monster of maternity who lives in a house surrounded by dead shrubbery. McBride’s commentary for the latter points out that Australian-born I(da) A(lexa) R(oss) Wylie wrote the original stories for both of these films (“Grandma Bernie Learns Her Letters” and “Pilgrimage”).

Pilgrimage puts Hannah’s maternal conflicts into play against conflicts about the same issues displayed by other characters. For example, in the first part of the film:

Hannah: loves Jim / wants him not to get married / wants him to go to war (to die)
+love -life +death

Jim: loves Hannah and Mary / wants to get married / wants to go to war (to die)

+love +life +death

Mary: loves Jim / wants to get married / does not want him to go to war (to die)

+love +life +life

In the latter part of the film, Hannah discovers that her peculiar conflict between love and death is not, after all, basically the same as that of all the Gold Star mothers, which they think it is. They all loved their sons but willingly sent them to their deaths, and all are troubled by what they have done. However, none of them seem to have also denied life in the way that Hannah realises she has.

Really what both these mothers want is to keep their boys with them forever – the first time as tragedy, and the second time as melodrama followed by farce (as McBride remarks in his commentary).

Born Reckless / Doctor Bull

In Born Reckless, Louis’ mother is more of a mouse than a monster, a sweet idiot whom everyone loves – and deceives. She doesn’t have to do anything to keep her boy around. The war – or one of its side effects, Louis’ hopeless infatuation with the unattainable Joan – has done that for her. Her wounded boy will not leave her again.

Technically, Doctor Bull has no mother. However, his aunt Myra lives with him, looks after him a little, and is taken care of in return. She appears to have mild senile dementia (she acts a bit pixilated, and Bull tends to patronise her), but by at least halfway through the film it is pretty clear to us that she knows quite well what is what. That is, she has all these years been deceiving Bull about her mental condition and, presumably, her capacity for looking after herself. She is, it seems, a more successful version of Hannah Jessop in that she, like Ma Beretti, has actually kept her “son” unmarried and by her side for more than 50 years, in spite of his yearning for another woman and another life. Bull and the narrative leave her behind without a second thought when he and Janet depart New Winton forever.


[1] “Schiller” is what George O’Brien calls the character in the last sequence of the film. “Schilling” is what Gallagher calls him. “Shiller” is what the IMDb calls him. Isn’t that tiresome?
[2] There is no reason to suppose, as Gallagher does in his plot summary for the film (553), that Anna Marie is going off to prison at the end. She seems to expect to be repatriated.
[3] Joseph McBride, “Ford at Fox: A Great Director’s Professional Home” in Ford At Fox (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007), p. 14. Gallagher, who does describe some of Ford’s personal conflicts during this period, explicitly eschews linking the autobiography to the work.
[4] There is a lot that is questionable about the way this statement is phrased. The “girl” in question is Anna Marie. She is on board a refuelling vessel which was sabotaged only a little while before, and she has been deeply upset by seeing one of the German U-Boat crew kill the American who committed the sabotage. She also knows that the U-Boat, with her brother and her fiancé inside, is going to be hunting for the American “mystery ship” commanded by Bob, whom she rather likes but upon whom she has been spying. She really does have something to think seriously about while we watch her watching the gaudily-painted-but-presumably-historically-accurate U-Boat submerge. And, of course, we are watching the U-Boat submerge in real time – an experience which will be shortly ironically and dramatically paralleled when the refuelling vessel itself sinks in real time and the occupants of the U-Boat are unaware of what is happening.
[5] Besides an introduction which partly sets the scene for Old Mortality there are some forty “Notes” keyed to passages in the main text which offer an account of the historical circumstances surrounding the events of the novel. The narrator is at pains to point out where and how those circumstances have been modified to produce his fiction.
[6] Quoted in Peter Bogdanovich, John Ford (University of California Press 1968), pp. 53-54 – emphasis mine.
[7]This film, additional footage for it, and two other wartime documentaries, are included on the Becoming John Ford disc lodged in the back cover of the Ford At Fox box set.
[8] It looks to me as though exteriors for the shore leave scenes were shot in Venice, California.
[9]Presumably this melody is the awkwardly-titled “Here’s My Hand – You’re in My Heart” by Fox staffer James Hanley, which the Internet Movie Database lists as part of the soundtrack. (See
[10]  I do not mean to imply here or in my remarks about Born Reckless that long passages in untranslated “foreign” languages are unusual in early sound films. They are, in fact, quite common in both European and American movies until at least the mid-thirties.
[11]  I have to thank someone I have never met in person, Fabian Kuechler, for the German of this line and its translation. Fabian continues, “Also very interesting is the tonality of the line. You think ‘Das nennt man Krieg’ is a question and it starts to sound like one but then it becomes a bitter statement or realisation right in the middle. It adds a lot of drama to the line” (Fabian Kuechler to author, 4-5/07/09). This is the reason I have punctuated the English in the way I have.
[12]  If I am to believe the Internet Movie Database, Marion Lessing never got another leading role (in fact it looks as though she never even got a decent supporting role), and that is strange too, since she is no better, no worse, and a lot braver than, say, Marguerite Churchill in Born Reckless.
[13] McBride’s commentary claims the I. A. R. Wylie short story from which the film was taken interspersed Hannah’s Gold Star pilgrimage with her memories of how she had sent her son to war. It is just possible that the expressionism of the film’s prelude was initially intended to mark those scenes as Hannah’s memories and reconstructions of events – which would imply that someone may have had the idea of retaining the story’s structure for the film.
[14] To continue the wild and unfounded speculation of the previous note: Hannah’s series of flashback recollections would have culminated with this recognition, signalling in pop-Freudian terms a reintegration of herself and the beginning of recovery.
[15] To say nothing of the dog.
[16] I must confess that I only noticed this shot because McBride’s commentary called my attention to it. Indeed, I don’t think viewers are supposed to notice it: we are only supposed to recognise that everything is going to be all right now.
[17]  Joseph McBride, “Ford at Fox: A Great Director’s Professional Home” in Ford At Fox (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007), p. 14.
[18]  The shots of the U-Boat interior flooding have been abducted from Seas Beneath, although not the effect of the black screen.
[19] Jean Mitry, John Ford, tome 1 (Édtions Universitaires 1954), pp. 114-116. All the subsequent quotes from Mitry are taken from these pages, and all are my own translation.
[20]  This film, sometimes called in English The Great Turning Point, is variously dated 1944 (in Mitry’s book), 1945 (in Leyda’s Kino) and 1946 (in Schnitzer & Schnitzer, Vingt ans de cinéma soviétique). I don’t know exactly why.
[21]  Quoted in Peter Bogdanavich, John Ford (University of California Press, 1968), p. 59
[22] One of the great benefits of writing criticism is that one sometimes gets to see a fine film that one has never seen before. Les Croix de bois is one such film, currently available in “Raymond Bernard”, Criterion’s Eclipse Series 4 set, along with Bernard’s better-known 1934 Les Misérables. Les Croix de bois does almost everything right, and it was made in 1931-32, when Ford seemed to be struggling.
[23] Joseph McBride, “Ford at Fox: A Great Director’s Professional Home” in Ford At Fox (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007), p. 14 (I don’t believe in ibids). One good reason for using Gallagher as my main critical text is that he generally doesn’t say stuff like that.

Created on: Tuesday, 1 September 2009

About the Author

Bill Routt

About the Author

Bill Routt

After more than 35 years teaching film, media and cultural studies, William D. Routt retired from academia in 1998. Since then he has published work on Australian film (including The Picture That Will Live Forever with Ina Bertrand), early cinema (including “Innuendo 1.5” in LOLA) and anime (including “De Anime” in The Illusion of Life 2).View all posts by Bill Routt →