Book Excerpt: Scout Tafoya’s But God Made Him a Poet: Looking at John Ford in the 21st Century |  Features

Book Excerpt: Scout Tafoya’s But God Made Him a Poet: Looking at John Ford in the 21st Century | Features

Master Roddy McDowell, as he is credited, plays the youngest viewer of the valley, witnessing births and deaths, love, marriage and betrayal. The film is one of Ford’s favorite semi-musicals. Singing was one of the few languages ​​that could communicate like a moving image, and he knew he could say things that a spoken sentence could not. Two people who meet at a wedding party mark them as kin when class seems to separate them. This gathering of parties, enhanced by funerals, is what Michael Cimino asked for when he made “The Deer Hunter” (with a little “Valance of Freedom” for good measure). She has the conscience of Virginia Woolf, even if the songs (especially of the mine where the men of this small town work) are pure Eisenstein. Sara Algood gives a rousing speech in defense of her husband Donald Crisp in a fake blizzard and it’s like we’re in ‘Potemkin’, watching the workers mock the death of the light. Clarity and dreams go hand in hand, as do the best movies. Terence Davies prefers Technicolor music and steel-jawed melodramas, but he was born here, with washed-up editing and floggers at the head of every table. The narration, voiced by Ford’s former RKO partner, Irving Pichel, keeps the film from sounding out. The miners’ union is the main battle at the heart of the story. Socialism is a four-letter word for some elders. You can still hear Zanuck sweating over the content of the forward-looking work in The Grapes of Wrath.

“Union is the work of the devil! shouts the local fanatic. Zanuck wanted his next Gone with the Wind, hiring William Wyler to direct it and all (which we can’t seem to avoid as a point of comparison; he was a few years away from ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, which would have done for Goldwyn what Ford did for Zanuck here – give him so much gold he could waste days polishing everything). Wyler slipped at the last second, leaving Ford with a cast that included his new love interest Maureen O’Hara. Ford was more suited to the material – he also called Philip Dunne’s screenplay “perfect”. Dunne hated the book it was based on, which may explain why this came off as a forgotten fantasy and not a story of a child’s sexual awakening. Roddy McDowell’s lack of sexuality here would haunt him forever; he could never be a credible threat to the goodness of anyone on screen, an English Anthony Perkins type. He would later direct ‘Tam-Lin’, one of the great British folk horror films, which could be called ‘How Gray Was My Valley’. Ian McShane is McDowell’s replacement in this scene, and instead of the beautiful Welsh countryside he has Ava Gardner to admire. A side point, at least. The film talks about the difference between the theoretical positions and the real situation between us and them. Gwilym’s four grown-up boys leave home when their father won’t support the miners’ strike, but return home when the situation calms down. O’Hara is not so lucky. She loves the preacher Walter Pidgeon but has to settle for the mine owner’s son, Marten Lamont. The whole town knows there’s no love there and they won’t sing for their wedding until rich dad (Lionel Pape) demands it. Everyone is talking loud and clear about leaving town, but the only way to do that is in a pine box. The sound of the whistle always promises more and more losses, more heartbreaking adventures for every future widow in town. The Gwylim lose more than their fair share in the mine. One of Ford’s most impressive sequences is a silent newscast for Anna Lee. A sea of ​​distraught workers, with coal drifting as if on the right side of the frame is a sad vision of loss. Lee stumbles into the clean house and falls in the doorway. The world doesn’t care.

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