Tag Archives: Henry Fonda

Top 100 Films #36 – 12 Angry Men (1957)

 

12-angry-men-snapshot-7#36. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Reginald Rose (story by Reginald Rose)
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden

12 Angry Men is one of the greatest directorial debuts in history, launching the career of industry legend Sidney Lumet.  The film is considered to be one of the all-time great courtroom dramas, and set the stage for single location dramas to follow.  12 Angry Men sees twelve jurors – most prominently #8 (Henry Fonda) and #3 (Lee J. Cobb) battling to decide the fate of a young Hispanic man accused of murdering his father.  The only holdout of the bunch is Juror #8, who slowly tries to convince the other eleven jurors to consider the evidence presented and vote with their minds instead of with their gut.  Over the course of the afternoon, the jurors resort to shouting matches, bigotry, and general pettiness, all in the name of getting out of the courtroom and going back to their normal lives.  12 Angry Men is incredibly powerful in its intelligence and progressiveness, with Henry Fonda serving as the film’s upstanding moral compass, trying to hand his wisdom over to eleven other grown men who have already made up their minds about the case.  Reginald Rose’s script is brilliant in its pacing, and elegant in its balancing drama with staying true to reality. While Juror #8 is slowly trying to convert others into at least recalling evidence and testimony from the trial, the much more aggressive Juror #3 is attempting to do the opposite.  When Fonda’s Juror #8 finally makes some of men turn around and reconsider, it’s done in a grounded, realistic fashion rather than becoming romantic and idealized about changing people’s nature.  Things slowly become more and more urgent as the afternoon wears on, and the race against the clock to avoid declaring a hung jury is always apparent.  This is where Rose’s script does the heavy lifting, and where Sidney Lumet’s direction also comes into play.  Lumet gives the film a darker, heavier feel as 12 Angry Men wears on, all the characters are disheveled and sweaty, making them even more frustrated and eager to leave the courtroom. Lumet directs the entire cast to terrific performances, especially that of Lee J. Cobb’s aggressive, ignorant Juror #3, whose performance is frustrating to any sensible and logical viewer.  Cobb’s performance is contrasted by the legendary Henry Fonda, whose sensitive – but brave and moral – Juror #8 is working to undo the damage done by Juror #3.  Other performances worth noting are John Fiedler, whose meek Juror #2 eventually rises up and shows a great deal of courage in his decision making, and George Voskovec’s Juror #11, whose polite nature allows him to deal with the bigotry and ignorance dealt by other jurors.  12 Angry Men is an absolute masterpiece, making what could be very mundane subject matter into one of the best, most tense multi-character studies ever made in Hollywood.  The fact that it served as Sidney Lumet’s debut film says a great deal about his talent behind the camera, and introduced viewers to Lumet with a knockout straight out of the gate.  If you’re apprehensive about classic films in the slightest, I can’t possibly think of a better starting point than 12 Angry Men.

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Top 100 Films #70 – My Darling Clementine (1946)

 

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE#70. My Darling Clementine (1946)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller, Sam Hellman (story) (based on Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake)
Starring: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan

During last December’s John Ford marathon here at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Film Club, I saw a handful of incredible films that had somehow alluded me up to that point.  Ford’s 1946 film My Darling Clementine was the first in the marathon that stopped me in my tracks – I instantly knew that I had a new addition to my endless list of favorite films.  My Darling Clementine tells the well-known story of Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) becoming marshal of the town of Tombstone, his relationship with dentist Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), their rivalry with the Clanton gang, and the subsequent Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  Though the story of these events has been told countless times through the years, My Darling Clementine manages to stand out from the crowd of mostly good films.  It’s surprisingly grounded for essentially being a film about one of America’s most famous shootouts, and that’s one of the things that make it such a memorable experience.  Ford adds poetic touches to the film throughout, featuring some small, memorable moments that help us understand Wyatt Earp and his motivations.  These moments are aided by the film’s beautiful cinematography that communicate the hot, dry weather of Tombstone, and some gorgeous use of shadows.  While My Darling Clementine may not be the thrill ride that films like Tombstone are, it features John Ford’s subtle sense of humor and some great pacing to negate the need for constant action.  When things finally do ramp up, they feel that much more satisfying and deserved.  Henry Fonda’s performance as Wyatt Earp is terrific, as he brings a certain sense of levity and passion to the performance.  His chemistry with actors like Victor Mature and Ward Bond also can’t be understated, as it makes his various relationships far more believable and meaningful.  My Darling Clementine is one of John Ford’s many masterful westerns – his passion for the time period and settings is unmatched by most American directors, and this comes through in every minute of his films.  If you’d like to read my full review of My Darling Clementine, you can check it out here.

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John Ford Feature #5 – Fort Apache (1948)

MV5BMjExMzk5MDI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjAwODc0MQ@@._V1._CR43,88,254,363_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_Fort Apache (1948)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Frank S. Nugent (based on Massacre by James Warner Bellah)
Starring: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Shirley Temple, John Agar

Just two years after the release of his widely successful western My Darling Clementine, John Ford decided to embark on the production of a loose trilogy of films.  Fort Apache is the first film in Ford’s “cavalry trilogy”, which includes She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), all three of which star frequent collaborator John Wayne.  The three films form a trilogy in name and in spirit only, not having any recurring characters or situations (except for John Wayne’s Captain Kirby York in Fort Apache and Rio Grande), with the exception of all films dealing with the United States cavalry battling Native American armies on some level.  Fort Apache, much like its successor My Darling Clementine, did not fare well on the awards circuit, but was still widely critically acclaimed upon its release.  Looking at the list of winners and nominees at that year’s major awards shows, it seems as if there was something of a stigma against traditional western films, with critics and audiences instead gravitating towards literary adaptations like Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, which won Best Picture in 1948, groundbreaking visual dramas like The Red Shoes, and film noirs like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo.  Luckily for Ford’s legacy, the film was a hit with audiences and the cavalry trilogy as a whole is now considered one of the many high points of his prolific career.  Fort Apache stars longtime Ford collaborator John Wayne in his first of two appearances as Kirby York, My Darling Clementine star and future Oscar winner Henry Fonda, as well as child star Shirley Temple in one of her final film roles before retirement.  Other frequent John Ford supporting players Ward Bond and star of The Informer Victor McLaglen also make notable appearances.

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Fort Apache takes place after the end of the American Civil War in or around the state of Arizona, circa the late 1800’s.  We meet Captain Kirby York (John Wayne), a decorated Civil War veteran who looks to replace the current commander at an isolated United States cavalry outpost, Fort Apache. Unfortunately for York, the position was unknowingly given to Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda), who has traveled to the outpost with his daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple).  York and other cavalry soldiers are understandably upset when they learn the news, mostly due to Thursday’s lack of experience with the Native American population settled in the area near Fort Apache.  Not only does Thursday lack the experience with the Native population, but he is also quickly outed as a class-conscious bigot with no remorse at all for the Native American’s, who are led by the great Cochise (Miguel Inclan).  Thursday’s daughter, Philadelphia, quickly falls in love with the young and handsome Second Lieutenant Michael O’Rourke (John Agar).  The budding romance is quickly squashed by Philadelphia’s father, who forbids any man he doesn’t consider a gentleman from seeing his daughter.  After learning of Owen Thursday’s disapproval, O’Rourke’s father Sergeant Major O’Rourke (Ward Bond), also a veteran of the Civil War, comes to blows with the bigoted commander of Fort Apache.  After learning of unrest by the Apache Natives, Commander Thursday ignores the advice of Kirby York, and decides to battle the forces of Cochise in the hills.  York, aware and sympathetic of the skilled Apache warriors, stands aside to watch an almost certain disaster take place in the hills near Fort Apache.  Will the bigoted Owen Thursday and his cavalry forces defeat the far more experienced Apache warriors, or will Thursday’s prideful ignorance lead to his and hundreds of his soldier’s untimely demise?  Find out in John Ford’s classic Fort Apache.

Though it may come off as extremely old-fashioned in its politics and archaic views of race relations, Fort Apache was actually quite a progressive film at the time of its release.  John Wayne’s Captain York is very sympathetic towards the struggles of the Native American population in the area, and suggests to his commander that the cavalry treat Cochise and his men with the utmost respect and civility, but Fonda’s Lt. Colonel Thursday is having none of it.  Henry Fonda, one of the seemingly nicest men in Hollywood, is playing extremely out of type in Fort Apache as the prejudiced and incredibly strict Owen Thursday.  This makes Fonda’s performance all the more impressive, because I found myself outright hating Thursday in several moments of the film, especially when leading his men into a battle they know they will lose in the name of ignorance.  I’ve never actively rooted against a character played by Fonda, and to see him pull off such an impressive transformation made me fall in love with the film even more than I already had.  John Wayne’s Kirby York is the perfect counterbalance, bringing logic and a strong-willpower to the table.  It’s clear that York is the superior and more worthy leader of the titular Fort Apache, and for him to be as restrained as he is was both frustrating and admirable at the same time.  Although Wayne was mostly playing himself as York, the performance is still very good and offers a character to really get behind.  On top of two incredible lead performances, Ford’s filming of action and battle sequences is incredible, giving weight to every fallen cavalry soldier and Native American warrior, and making every shot fired worthwhile.  For a film shot thirty years before the era of action blockbusters even began, the action set pieces are incredibly well-paced and have a perfect mixture of wonder and gravity to them.  Fort Apache also brings with it a surprising amount of comedy, especially in its early cavalry training sequences.  John Ford has a knack for subtle humour in films that don’t appear to be comedic in any way at first glance, and it never fails to add a little something to his films for me.  Lastly, while not being something I usually praise or comment on in great detail, the sets and costume design in Fort Apache are absolutely something to behold.  The sets are furthered by the incredible black and white cinematography that captures the beauty and bleakness of the plains featured prominently in the film.  The uniforms worn by the cavalry look very accurate as far as I can tell, and it absolutely helps immerse you deeper into the film.

fort_apache_battle

As a whole, Fort Apache is easily one of my favorite films of the marathon thus far.  Its progressive attitude towards race relations between the Americans and Native Americans is something to be admired for the time period, the performances by both Henry Fonda and John Wayne are terrific and career-defining, and the direction of massive action set pieces by John Ford rivals some of the great action sequences in films made today.  It is clear that John Ford was most comfortable in the western genre, and I can’t wait to dive even further into his catalog of great westerns.  Fort Apache is highly recommended.

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John Ford Feature #4 – My Darling Clementine (1946)

ClementineMy Darling Clementine (1946)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller, Sam Hellman, Stuart Anthony, William M. Conselman (based on Wyatt Earp: The Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake)
Starring: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Cathy Downs, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, Ward Bond

Finally, the genre that John Ford made himself an icon with.  With World War II behind him, director John Ford could once again set his sights on the genre that made him a legend, the western.  Ford’s romantic account of the goings on in the town of Tombstone and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral is widely considered to be one of the greatest westerns of all-time.  My Darling Clementine is the great filmmaker’s first western since 1939, after briefly delving into the world of documentary filmmaking, as well as making award winning dramas such as Best Picture winning How Green Was My Valley.  The film is loosely based on a biography of the great Wyatt Earp, entitled Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake.  The book popularized the legend of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Ford’s My Darling Clementine took the ball and ran with it, making the tale as popular as we know it today.  John Ford, who during his silent filmmaking days had met the legendary Wyatt Earp, had been told firsthand about the events during the gunfight.  Ford remembered Earp’s words well, and adapted the story exactly the way that the former marshal of Tombstone had told him.  Even John Wayne, frequent collaborator with John Ford, had been on record saying the he shaped his entire persona on the legendary Earp.  My Darling Clementine stars the great Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, who had previously starred in Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, and The Grapes of Wrath, as well as Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, Cathy Downs as the titular Clementine Carter, Ward Bond as Morgan Earp, and Tim Holt as Virgil Earp.  While My Darling Clementine was somehow ignored by the awards circuit after its release, the film became an immediate hit.  It is now widely known to be one of the greatest westerns of all-time, and one of Ford’s best films – something hard to achieve in such a prolific career full of terrific films.

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My Darling Clementine tells the story of the Earp Brothers, Wyatt (Henry Fonda), Virgil (Tim Holt), Morgan (Ward Bond), and James (Don Garner) as they and their cattle head to California.  After learning of nearby town Tombstone, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan head for the so-called “lawless” town and leave James alone to tend the cattle.  The brothers learn that Tombstone is without a marshal, and as a result has fallen into chaos because of outlaws and hooligans.  After a drunk man begins opening fire at innocent townspeople, Wyatt confronts him and boots him out of the town.  The town is quick to offer the position of marshall to the brave Earp brother, who has no interest in the position and has his sights set on Calfornia.  When the brothers return to where they left James, they find their younger brother murdered and their cattle stolen.  The Earps return to Tombstone, where Wyatt takes the position of marshal in order to avenge the death of James and track down his killers.  Along the way, Wyatt and his brothers meet the infamous Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), who would go on to become a good friend to the Earp brothers, as well as eventual deputy marshal.  Eventually, a young woman named Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) arrives in Tombstone from Boston.  Clementine has traveled to Tombstone for Doc Holliday, who is gravely ill and trying to push the young woman out of his life.  Eventually, Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and Doc Holliday meet the Clanton gang (Walter Brennan, Grant Withers, and John Ireland), who soon become the primary suspects in the murder of young James.  Will marshall Wyatt Earp and his deputies get justice for young James Earp’s death, or will the lawless town of Tombstone get the better of them?  Find out in John Ford’s spectacular My Darling Clementine.

I’m incredibly happy to report that My Darling Clementine marks the first masterpiece of December’s John Ford marathon feature.  I had previously seen Ford’s Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and How Green is My Valley, and I would absolutely rank this film with the best of them.  My Darling Clementine is an incredibly fun and well-paced adventure into the lawless town of Tombstone, which is a terrific setting that has been revisited time and time again in film and television.  In its strongest moments, the film is heartbreaking and riddled with tension, and yet somehow manages to still be a funny film with a terrific sense of adventure.  Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp is easily one of my favorite western protagonists, seamlessly transforming from the handsome blue-eyed Fonda into the vengeful, law-abiding Earp.  From the moment Wyatt Earp learns of the murder of his brother, he’s dead set on justice for those responsible, no matter what it takes.  Fonda’s chemistry with both Victor Mature and Cathy Downs is terrific, and helps further the sense of camaraderie between the cast of characters.  Victor Mature’s Doc Holliday is terrific as well, coming off a great deal more subtle than Val Kilmer’s notorious performance in 1993’s Tombstone.  The sickly Holliday doesn’t quite know what he wants at any moment during the film, nor does he seem to believe in himself, and Mature’s performance perfectly captures his divisive personality and attitude.  The photography and direction perfectly catch the beauty of the Old West, using Ford’s trademark shadowy imagery, coupled with daytime scenes that perfectly capture the hot, dry temperature of Tombstone and the surrounding locations.  One of my favorite scenes came when Wyatt Earp and his deputies encounter a Shakespearean actor at the town saloon, perfectly capturing the film’s unique sense of absurd humor.  It’s a damn shame that My Darling Clementine didn’t pick up any major awards at the time, because I truly believe Ford and his film could have given William Wyler and his Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives a run for their money.

My-Darling-Clementine-Jaime-September-2013

John Ford’s post-war effort My Darling Clementine is an understated, incredibly well-acted and well-paced masterpiece.  The film clocks in at 103 minutes or so, and yet still feels too brief.  It’s definitely something that I could have watched unfold over more than two hours.  Ford’s movie is both devastating and triumphant in its greatest moments, and I truly believe it to be one of the great westerns of all-time.  If you’re at all interested in the films of John Ford of those of the western genre, I can guarantee you won’t be let down by this film.  My Darling Clementine gets my highest recommendation.

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December Theme – John Ford (An Introduction)

John_Ford,_1946
If you aren’t somebody who is interested in film history and the significant players in its development, you may be wondering who exactly John Ford is, and what makes him so worthy of an entire month-long feature.  You may often hear him described as being a difficult, if unpretentious, and old-fashioned director.  Ford was an incredibly intense and idiosyncratic man who even managed to occasionally alienate even those closest to him.  John Ford smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish when he was permitted to, but was an extremely humble and sensitive man.  John Ford was and remains to this very day a mystery to many people, but the one thing that critics and historians alike are sure of it’s that he’s a legendary figure in the business, and one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live.  

Ford most famously made his name known through the direction of dozens of western and dramatic films, spanning from the early silent era to the mid-1960’s.  The great director is the only filmmaker in history to win four Academy Awards for Best Director (The Informer in 1935, The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, How Green Was My Valley in 1941, and The Quiet Man in 1952).  His frequent collaborators included famous western stars John Wayne and both Harry Carey Sr. and Harry Carey Jr., Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Maureen O’Hara.

The films of John Ford often had themes that romanticized the old west, and were incredibly patriotic and passionate about America.  As far as direction, he greatly preferred the use of long, static shots as opposed to complex camera movements, which he felt were too laborious and time consuming.  Ford was never afraid to sacrifice parts of his work for the greater good, and was known to make last-minute changes to many of his scripts, proving he was never “married” to any one idea.  He preferred his actors known the ins and outs of their characters, and was not particularly fond of rehearsals.  Though Ford favoured a more deliberate pacing and classic approach to direction, his films are far from boring or standard in any way.  The man absolutely knew his way around a camera, and had both the critical praise and financial success to prove it.

John Ford’s most famous films include the incredible and highly influential Stagecoach, the Oscar-winning adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the beautiful and controversial The Searchers, and my personal favorite film of his, the “film that beat Citizen Kane” How Green Was My Valley.  His influence has been felt for years, and his films continue to amaze and inspire generations.  Some of the directors who admired the man and were influenced by his films and style include my favorite director Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Welles.

The schedule for my John Ford retrospective month looks as follows:

#1 – The Informer (1935) – December 1

#2 – The Long Voyage Home (1940) – December 4

#3 – They Were Expendable (1945) – December 7

#4 – My Darling Clementine (1946) – December 10

#5 – Fort Apache (1948) – December 13

#6 – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – December 16

#7 – Rio Grande (1950) – December 19

#8 – The Quiet Man (1952) – December 22

#9 – The Searchers (1956) – December 25

#10 – The Wings of Eagles (1957) – December 28

*The schedule is subject to change, with Christmas break looming.  If I have to eliminate any films from the marathon, I’ll be sure to post about it.  

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