Thursday, February 17, 2011

An excuse to pull out my favorite John Ford quote

It's not often you have to correct Roger Ebert on film history, but his recent retrospective on the Grapes of Wrath opens with a statement that definitely needs correcting:

John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath" is a left-wing parable, directed by a right-wing American director, about how a sharecropper's son, a barroom brawler, is converted into a union organizer.

It's true that Ford became more identified with the GOP in the late Forties (calling himself a 'Maine Republican') and turned sharply to the right in the mid-Sixties (around the time he turned seventy), but up until that sharp turn he had been a progressive (even afterwards his favorite presidents were FDR and JFK) and he was an ardent FDR man when he made Grapes of Wrath in 1940. He held to these basic principles even when they entailed significant professional risk in the Fifties.

From Wikipedia:

Ford's attitude to McCarthyism in Hollywood is expressed by a story told by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A faction of the Directors Guild of America led by Cecil B. DeMille had tried to make it mandatory for every member to sign a loyalty oath. A whispering campaign was being conducted against Mankiewicz, then President of the Guild, alleging he had communist sympathies. At a crucial meeting of the Guild, DeMille's faction spoke for four hours until Ford spoke against DeMille and proposed a vote of confidence in Mankiewicz, which was passed. His words were recorded by a court stenographer:

"My name's John Ford. I make Westerns. I don't think there's anyone in this room who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. DeMille — and he certainly knows how to give it to them.... [looking at DeMille] 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."[77]

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