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Monday, October 10, 2016


Supreme contrarian that he was, it’s somehow appropriate that director John Ford’s biggest commercial success should be largely disparaged by many of his most doctrinaire academic defenders. Long a dream project for Ford, the film was just too popular, too Irish (make that ‘stage’ Irish), too pleasing (or corny) to stand with his more ornery classics; a misreading that still holds in auteur-ville. And while not exactly incorrect - it is very Irish, very likable - the objections (never a problem for regular film-goers) miss the main point of this story about an Irish-born/American-bred boy who returns to find the old homeland just as he imagined . . . and entirely different & foreign; told thru a series of encounters that test out Ford’s great post-WWII theme about the clash between legend and fact. It's famously articulated in the ubiquitous quote from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62: ‘When the legend becomes fact; print the legend.’ But it pays to remember that Ford consistently did the exact opposite; only to lie about 'the facts' he had just shown us. (Or if not bald-face lie, skirt the truth; seen most clearly at the end of FORT APACHE/’48 with John Wayne nimbly feeding the legend about his disastrous commanding officer, a Colonel Custer stand-in.) Here, Wayne spends most of the film falling into the divide between his blinkered romantic vision of Ireland, and the reality of entering what turns out to be a real, culturally mystifying place. Decked out with fabulist characters & visual design, the film triumphs as fable even when its TAMING OF THE SHREW elements jar.* Wayne & Maureen O’Hara are wonderful together, decidedly sexy; and the closing curtain call Ford arranges enchanting.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Thank goodness O’Hara is such a big strong gal and ‘gives as good as she gets.’ Elsewise, we couldn’t enjoy the delicious non-PC moment when an elderly local offers Wayne ‘a fine stick to beat the lovely lady.’

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Ford abruptly jolts us out of the film’s pastorale pace in a short & brutal flashback, done in silent German Expressionist style, to help explain Wayne’s character. Seeing Ford pull this visual tour de force out of a hat, and watching him effortlessly get-in/get-out in under a minute is awesome (and unexpected) stuff.

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