BOOK REVIEW FROM Sean Gill http://juntajuleil.blogspot.com/2013/05/book-review-three-bad-men-john-ford.html
Monday, May 27, 2013
Book Review: THREE BAD MEN: JOHN FORD, JOHN WAYNE, WARD BOND (2013, Scott Allen Nollen)
I’m a longtime fan of John Ford (who isn’t, really?), the patron-saint of Monument Valley, born-again Irishman, and director of some of the best-constructed, most thoughtful films to come out of Hollywood, from THE INFORMER to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE to THE QUIET MAN to THE GRAPES OF WRATH.
John Wayne is, so to speak, John Wayne, though his work frequently transcends the “movie star” mold with a dancer’s grace and a touch of madness like in Ford’s THE SEARCHERS, Hawks’ RED RIVER, and Siegel’s THE SHOOTIST.
Then, there’s Ward Bond: a character actor extraordinaire who played brutes and cowpokes and priests and boxers across more than two hundred films. Though his supporting work with Ford and Wayne is why he’s included in this trio, my soft spot for him will always be his one and only shot at top-billing in 1942’s HITLER: DEAD OR ALIVE, a film that clearly inspired INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and contains the fabulous spectacle of Ward slapping the shit out of Hitler himself …before proceeding to force-shave off his mustache!
Anyway, I just finished reading Scott Allen Nollen’s in-depth examination of the lives and work of these three cinematic giants, and I highly recommend it as a fascinating study for burgeoning old-Hollywood aficionados and serious fans of cinema alike. Chronologically tracing the intertwining lives of these three “good-bad men” who were not unlike the characters in their films (Ford directed Bond and Wayne in nearly thirty pictures each), Nollen is at once objective and affectionate in his analysis, and there’s a wealth of source material including documents, letters, telegrams, and plenty of rare photographs. There are riveting anecdotes (I may now actually be inspired to read Harry Carey, Jr.’s autobiography), some great yarn-spinning (including tales of Ward Bond’s brutish, high-flying, indecent-exposing, Wile E. Coyote-style antics and his ruining of a key scene in THE SEARCHERS when he unplugged the camera to plug in his electric razor!), and the work definitely touches on their peccadillos and absurdities, though never salaciously.
It’s deftly written and never dry; while many books of this kind become bogged down by academic posturing, Nollen remains true to the spirit of his subjects and opts for a two-fisted, no bullshit approach. I really appreciate how deeply he throws himself into the work, freely admitting “a meaningful (though a bit one-sided) conversation with a tombstone or two.” He’s as a film writer should be– intense, obsessive, and highly-focused; reverent without succumbing to hollow adulation.
The main drive of the work is the examination of the complex personal and working relationship between the three (though large swaths of the book are dedicated to advancing the underrated Ward Bond to his rightful place in the pantheon). None of these men could really be pinned down or branded with a particular stereotype– each had a volatile mix of id and ego (often sprinkled heavily with alcohol) that fused together to create a kind of perfect storm of filmic art.
The complex psychology of Ford’s relationships with the two men is indeed worthy of an entire volume– you see a strange kind of ownership emerge, resulting from Ford’s “discovering” of the two actors. This ownership was generally expressed in verbal (and often physical) sadism as Ford became master of his “whipping boys,” something which may have even tied into his potential bisexuality:
“Ford loved John Wayne and Ward Bond, but his true sexual orientation wasn’t something he would have discussed with them, or anyone else. When it came to his own life and psyche, Pappy [Ford] avoided the truth, exaggerated, lied, or just didn’t ‘have any goddamn idea.’ The positive emotions he felt for his two favorite actors and whipping boys may have been the underlying cause of his negative, sadistic treatment of them (and himself); but even a lifetime of psychoanalysis may not have ‘proved’ anything.”
Vindictive and controlling, Ford “froze out” Wayne for eight years when he appeared in a rival director’s Western (Raoul Walsh’s THE BIG TRAIL) and later, when Bond made serious forays into television (WAGON TRAIN) and Wayne tried to direct a picture of his own (THE ALAMO), Ford would sometimes install himself as a presence on set and attempt to undermine/co-opt the work therein. These behaviors even extended beyond the trio– he punched out Henry Fonda (!) on MISTER ROBERTS and made cruel, deliberate use of alcohol to wring earth-shattering, hungover performances out of the likes of Victor McLaglen in THE INFORMER and Woody Strode in SERGEANT RUTLEDGE.
Though he reveals these men “warts and all,” Nollen also paints a portrait of devoted friends and masterful artists whose lives and creative outlets meshed almost completely. (For instance, despite the abuse, Ford chose Bond to play his own alter-ego in the deeply personal THE WINGS OF EAGLES.)
Nollen takes on the accusations of racism in Ford’s films, and reveals his struggle to show all sides despite the constraints of the system– especially evident in films like THE SEARCHERS, SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, and CHEYENNE AUTUMN. He tackles the strange political spectrum of the men, too, with John Ford’s patriotic progressivism, Wayne’s conservatism, and Ward Bond’s ultraconservatism (and yet it was Ford who took his camera overseas into the crucible of World War II while Wayne and Bond remained in Hollywood). He doesn’t shy away from Ward Bond’s shameful behavior in the McCarthy era as a supporter of the blacklist:
“The social climbing Bond’s ultimate political affront to Ford involved an invitation to a party he was throwing for Senator Joseph McCarthy. His great mentor [Ford] simply answered, ‘You can take your party and shove it. I wouldn’t meet that guy in a whorehouse. He’s a disgrace and a danger to our country.'”
Bond’s involvement with the blacklist feels like a moral counterpoint to Ford’s extensive work with the U.S. armed forces in World War II and beyond, and much attention here is paid to his military career (I learned that in North Africa a Nazi actually surrendered himself to John Ford!)
Along the way, Nollen delves into a vast spectrum of material including Ford’s relationship with his older brother Francis (mentor, actor, and silent film director), Ford’s gleeful propensity for Chaucer/Shakespearean-style low comedy and his hilariously bizarre obsession with highlighting Ward Bond’s “horse’s ass” in shot compositions (“Although FORT APACHE is a serious examination of the mythology of the American West, it humorously can be branded Ford’s ‘ass-travaganza'”). Of particular interest to me were Ford’s work with Victor McLaglen (whose performance in THE INFORMER is one of the greatest in filmdom), his direction of genius child actor and later genre-movie legend Roddy McDowall in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, Bond’s artistic process as unofficial show-runner on WAGON TRAIN, and the compelling, touching latter-day friendship between Ford and Woody Strode– and the book certainly has some genuinely emotional, poignant moments as the three “good-bad” men’s lives dwindle to a close.
In the end, it definitely gets you amped up to watch some John Ford films– I’ve probably seen at least two dozen or so at this point, but there’s still scores more I need to get my hands on, and there’s obviously some big gaps in my knowledge. For instance, since I’ve read THREE BAD MEN, MISTER ROBERTS, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, 3 GODFATHERS, and WAGON MASTER have now leapt to the forefront of my queue.
THREE BAD MEN is published by McFarland (Order line: 800-253-2187), ISBN 978-0-7864-5854-7
Posted by Sean Gill at 10:47 AM 2 comments:
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Labels: 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, Book Review, John Ford, John Wayne, Roddy McDowall, War, Ward Bond, Western
Friday, May 24, 2013
WAGON MASTER 1950 by Keith Payne 34 Comments
In honor of the anniversary of the death of Ward Bond 11/5/1960
Ward Bond, although probably the most underrated actor of all time, will be remembered longer than most of the stars who won multiple academy awards. Why? A big part of it is a little film made in 1950 by legendary director John “Pappy” Ford called Wagon Master. This film was named many times by Pappy as being one of his favorites. He was one of the most visual of directors, at this time working near the peak of his career, and he called Wagon Master not only his favorite Western but described it as, “along with The Fugitive (1947) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953), the closest to being what I had wanted to achieve.”
In a rare starring role, Ward Bond plays the leader of a group of Mormons who, shunned by society, struggle to cross the American West to reach their “promised land,” where they can settle and form a community. They ask two horse traders (Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr.) who know the territory to lead their wagon train. It takes some convincing, but they finally agree to do it, and the rest of the story follows their journey and the obstacles they must overcome, including Indians, gunmen, and Mother Nature. Yet the story often pauses to revel in the characters dancing, whittling or singing (the soundtrack is packed with old Western songs), and to show pastoral sequences of the wagons simply moving through the landscape or crossing a river. These scenes become the emotional core of the film, and they undoubtedly are what Ford was so satisfied to have achieved.*
Although Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru and Harry Carey, Jr. received top billing on the film, Ward was paid the top money, $20,000 for a film with a 1 million dollar budget. Dobe Carey said many times that Ward actually was the star and was the glue for the entire movie. One quote from his book, “A Company of Heroes” was that he had great regard for Ward Bond and said that he brought stability in every scene he was in.
One scene required Ward to break up a fight between Sandy and one of the Mormons. Pappy had wanted two of the dogs who had been fighting each other most of the filming days to be fighting in the background. Instead, when the take began, both dogs froze, then one took off and the other ran in and tore Ward’s pants as he was separating the boys. Being the consummate actor he was, Ward continued on with the scene. At the end, Mrs. Ledyarde blew her horn, (which, by the way really sounds like that unless you have enough wind to blow it…I know, I have one), to help separate the two, and then saw the tear in Ward’s trousers. It happened to be large and right at the spot where he had been subjected to years of operations, grafts, and physical therapy for a leg that was almost completely severed in the 40s. In fact, Ward had only in the last few years just been able to walk without aid of a cane, and in some scenes did not have to wear the large heavy brace. I suppose the actress just couldn’t suppress the chance to see what that famous injury looked like, because she reached down and parted the trousers right in front of the camera. Ward and her reaction cannot be seen in the film, but here it is below. You can see her open the pants and see the large dent in his leg just above the knee.
Next shows Ward covering his leg and his shock that she would do such a thing, especially on camera.
This shows that she has realized what she has done to a man who was her friend. Luckily, Ward was not the type to hold a grudge. She guest starred on Wagon Train a few times.
Pappy Ford sent Duke Wayne a telegram telling him about the incident and said he hoped the dog had had his rabies shot! Of course, the dog had only torn the pants, not bitten Ward.
Another scene involving Ward occurred when Ben Johnson and Ward were riding along the river looking for a crossing. In the commentary with Peter Bogdanovich, Dobe Carey had been saying that Pappy Ford had given Ward a horse that was too small for him, (obviously trying to make Ben look taller than he was since he was the Wagon Master). Well, all of a sudden, down the horse went. Ward was able to spring free as the horse fell on his left side and could have severely damaged his never completely healed leg. Ward jumped up, strode to catch the horse, all the time adlibbing about the horse’s clumsiness. However, you can easily see in frame by frame that Ben’s horse was mired up to his fetlocks…..apparently they were in deep mud or quicksand.
Down goes Ward’s horse with him on it.
Next picture shows Ben’s horse Steele’s back legs mired up, with him trying to get him out.
Ben comes over and tells Ward about the quicksand, and it wasn’t the horse’s fault. Ward remounts and says, “Sorry horse”!
So, that night Pappy Ford sent Duke Wayne another telegram this time saying that Ward took a bad horse fall on his injured leg side but that he and horse were OK.
This movie was almost a musical with all the songs by the Sons of the Pioneers, even Ward, Ben, and Dobe sang a bit. Then they had two celebration dances. You could see the exuberance on Ward’s face as once, he never thought he would walk again, and there he was whooping it up on the dance floor!
So, now you know why one of the most underrated actors of all time will be remembered longer than the legendary, Oscar winners will be. Because, that fun little movie brought Ward Bond the role of Major Seth Adams in Wagon Train which is still a household show all over the world even 52 years to THIS DAY after Ward’s Death.
WE, YOUR FANS, WILL ALWAYS MISS YOU, WARD, BUT ARE THANKFUL KNOWING YOU ARE WITH YOUR BUDDIES, DUKE, PAPPY, HANK FONDA, AND ALL THE REST! WARD BOND LEFT US NOVEMBER 5, 1960
all pictures provided by Keith, except for the 1st pic (source)
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