YMMV: John Ford

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Recently, Quentin Tarantino has raised the issue of Ford's role as an extra in Birth of a Nation, where he played one of the Klansmen. Ford scholars have always seen it as a throwaway gig (he had not started his career as a director and was working odd jobs at the time) but Tarantino sees it as indicative of Ford's racism. Ford's portrayals of minority characters did indeed become more nuanced and Fair for Its Day as time went on (compare Stagecoach to Cheyenne Autumn for example, as well as Sergeant Rutledge—one of the first films at the time with an African-American male lead). Still, Ford himself was typically the one to bring up his role in Griffith's film—and not in the context of apologizing or providing context for it. So was Ford honestly unaware of the racism of Birth of a Nation (unlikely); did he simply feel that Money, Dear Boy, or just a chance gig to appear in a film by the most respected director of his age, was an acceptable reason for appearing in it; or did he actually agree with the film's support of "separate but equal" as Quentin contends? note .
  • Fair for Its Day: His portrayal of Native American characters is usually much better than most other Westerns from his time, which often treat them as barbarous, murderous savages. And despite some unfortunate instances of Modern Minstrelsy (such as the "squaw" in The Searchers), Ford at least treated them with a level of respect many other Western directors lacked, and Native American characters were often given more character traits than just "the Indian" or "the bad guy".
  • Moment of Awesome: Ford worked with documentary crews in the Pacific theater during World War II. He won an Oscar for the documentary The Battle Of Midway parts of which he actually filmed during the battle (he was on the island waiting for transit elsewhere when the attack came). Combat scenes he filmed would be edited into the big epic Midway.
    • Orson Welles watched Stagecoach repeatedly for inspiration before coming to Hollywood to direct his first feature film: Citizen Kane. You might have heard of it.
    • Perhaps Ford's greatest moment came during the Red Scare. During a meeting at the Directors Guild of America, Cecil B. DeMille was attacking other directors whom he considered to be Communist sympathizers. Ford held his tongue til DeMille started calling William Wyler "Villiam Vyler" and attacked Joseph Mankiewicz. He stood up, and declared, "My name is John Ford. I make Westerns. I don't think there is anyone who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. DeMille - and he certainly knows how to give it to them. In that respect I admire him. But I don't like you, C.B. I don't like what you stand for and I don't like what you've been saying here tonight. Joe has been villified and I think he needs an apology." When DeMille remained silent for thirty seconds, Ford added, "Then I believe there is only one alternative, and I hereby so move: that Mr. DeMille and the entire board of directors resign, and that we give Joe a vote of confidence - and then let's all go home and get some sleep. We've got some pictures to make in the morning." And that's exactly what happened: DeMille and the board of directors resigned, Mankiewicz received a vote of confidence, and everyone got some sleep so they could make pictures in the morning.