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    Fantastic Ford

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    The enduring star saluted in Turner Classic Movies’ day-long Summer Under the Stars tribute tomorrow is the great Glenn Ford, whose filmography could certainly and entertainingly extend well beyond the 24 hours allotted to each honoree throughout the month of August. The usual suspects will be shown, including the iconic Blackboard Jungle (1955, at 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT), Gilda (1946, at midnight EDT/9 PM PDT), the sold-out former Twilight Time thriller extraordinaire Experiment in Terror (1962, 8 PM EDT/5 PM PDT) and three solid, star-packed Westerns. But for those who crave more Ford, TT offers three choice Ford appearances absent from TCM’s lineup that can fuel an additive mini-festival of its own, all in crisp, clear 1080p. Revisiting this column’s May 1 birthday tribute to this fondly recalled actor:

    On September 1, 2006, long-time Hollywood columnist Bob Thomas wrote of a beloved Canadian-born but dyed-in-the-wool American actor who died just two days prior: “He never won an Academy Award® – in fact, he was never nominated. He never earned the big bucks that stars of his stature enjoyed. Yet for 52 years, Glenn Ford [1916-2006] remained an in-demand actor whose name above the title could attract movie ticket buyers. Ford might be called the anti-star. He didn't hang out with the gang in Hollywood watering holes. He never quarreled with directors or studio bosses. His name was never sullied by scandal. He did his acting job and went on to the next one.” That same day, long-time Baltimore Sun film critic ruminated on his The Passionate Moviegoer website: “There was nothing timid about Ford, and yet he's the only major actor of his generation one doesn't immediately link with a certain role or with certain films – the way one does with such Ford peers as, say, William Holden (Stalag 17 and Sunset Blvd.), Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath and Mister Roberts) and Jimmy Stewart (It's a Wonderful Life and The Philadelphia Story). This is odd, because Ford's screen persona had always been a compelling one – at once easygoing, tough and introspective. He was an adjustable wrench among actors: He turned in highly credible, lifelike performances in a wide variety of roles and movies, moving from film to film, churning them out but never looking over his shoulder for the recognition that he so richly deserved. Ford was much more of a character actor who happened to play leading roles than an out-and-out lead player, and much more of an actor and less a personality than the other superstars of his generation.” David Thomson sizes Ford up thusly in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: “Ford was generally likable on-screen and he managed to make genial, relaxed sincerity interesting. Such ease often directed him toward Westerns, to comedies, and to romantic dramas. To all these genres he brought care, authenticity and intelligence.” As today marks what would have been Ford’s 101st birthday, we consider the three TT hi-def Blu-ray titles in which his bedrock decency took interesting, and in one special case, unnerving twists. For director Delmer Daves’s Cowboy (1958), a seriocomic adaptation of a fancifully autobiographical Frank Harris book, Ford is comfortably mounted in a familiar Old West setting as a veteran cowman – “a hard-bitten, profoundly realistic, and unsentimental leader of men who also favors long hot baths (when he can get them) and rapturous attendance at the opera (when he can find it)” as TT’s Julie Kirgo encapsulates – who navigates the alternately supportive and edgy mentorship of a greenhorn (Jack Lemmon) on his latest cross-country cattle drive; he superbly plays a warts-and-all role model of whom his team players must also be wary. As the determined airline crash investigator in the riveting disaster-aftermath thriller Fate Is the Hunter (1964, directed by Ralph Nelson from aviation tale-spinner Ernest K. Gann’s book), his iconic persona of professionalism is key to his characterization of a company man driven to somehow reconcile the presumed infallibility of machinery with the suspected fallibility of his tragedy-bound ace pilot comrade (Rod Taylor), culminating in a white-knuckle climax that could endanger his and others’ lives. For “what is almost certainly his best film, Fritz Lang’s masterly The Big Heat (1953)” (David Shipman, The Story of Cinema), Ford turned in what was profoundly for him not just another acting job. His Detective Dave Bannion, whose overpowering obsession with eliminating the corrupt mob stranglehold in his small Midwestern metropolis causes the lives of some to be permanently scarred and others to be tragically forfeited, is a superb study in the knife-edge balance of righteous justice and vendetta-style vengeance that has grown over time to be Ford’s crowning screen jewel. It still sparks debate whenever this memorable classic is discussed, as when Thomson pondered in his invaluable film resource Have You Seen…?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films: “I think we know Ford is going to pursue evil to its lair; we know that his determination will not be cheated or bought off. But that only makes his resolve more ugly or warping. And so, in a movie that seldom fails to show cause and effect, we have to ask ourselves what is happening to our Dave Bannion. Is he growing braver, or more desperate? Is he out to build a new city, or destroy himself? Isn’t his menace to the Laguna gang a matter of his not caring?” 

    Ford, a reliable presence across five filmmaking decades, proved he could both ride and careen off the rails with Hollywood’s best actors. Terrific TT discs demonstrating that in spades are The Big Heat, Cowboy (exclusively here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/30902/COWBOY-1958-SPECIAL-PROMOTION/) and Fate Is the Hunter (exclusively here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/27061/FATE-IS-THE-HUNTER-1964-TO-WHOM-IT-MAY-CONCERN-KA-SHENS-JOURNEY-2010/). Ford fans should also note that our label’s current limited-time Sony Library Promotion through August 30 only offers The Big Heat and Cowboy at, respectfully, 50% and 66% off original list. We like enabling you to put a Ford in your future.

    Gran Dame Shelley

    Born in St. Louis 97 years ago today, the unmistakable Shelley Winters (1920-2006) made her mark in the early part of her screen career as an untimely slain victim. She was strangled by Ronald Colman in A Double Life (1947), run over by driver Betty Field’s car in The Great Gatsby (1947), drowned by Montgomery Clift (and got an Oscar® [...]

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    Maureen's Men

    One of the Emerald Isle’s most beloved gifts to Hollywood movies, Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015), who would have marked her 97th birthday today, was rather undervalued through the decades among assessors of “the top-tier of the greatest screen actors.” But, setting aside the “critical” perspective, the strikingly lovely redheaded colleen of generous and feisty spirit impressed The Great Movie Stars: The [...]

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    A One-Eyed Director's Three-Dimensionality

    Amassing well over 100 feature film credits as a director across a 50-year span, Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) with astonishing regularity, and through sheer volume of activity would eventually steer movies regarded as indelible classics (The Thief of Baghdad, What Price Glory, High Sierra, White Heat) as well as lower-profile “program pictures” not particularly innovative in content but still marked by [...]

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    A November to Remember

    Twilight Time’s tremendous five-film November 1080p hi-def Blu-ray lineup is one for this small but sturdy label’s record books in diversity and geography: two fabled dramas set in Japan, two sweetly shaggy comedy gemstones, and a long-awaited 50th-anniversary-marking movie musical in a sparkling new 4K restoration transfer. It’s also distinguished: two of the titles claimed a combined six Academy Awards® [...]

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    A Reliably Forceful Brand

    One of the signature tough guys in movie history, Neville Brand (1920-1992), would have turned 97 yesterday. A much-decorated 10-year Army veteran who survived World War II combat, Brand talked to Don Siegel: Director author Stuart M. Kaminsky in the early 1970s about the filmmaker who powerfully showcased him as the brutal leader of a jail revolt in the electric Riot [...]

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    Dr. Nolan's Healing Art

    Great acting can be a healing thing, perhaps even more so when it draws from a well of personal heartache. Considering the enduring stage and screen career of Lloyd Nolan (1902-1985), who would have marked his 115th birthday today, there are a couple of doctor roles that loom large on a colossal five-decade-long resume that includes determined noir cops [...]

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    Inferno's Heat

    After her femme-fatale cred was clearly established via her duplicitous dames in Out of the Past (1947) and Cry Danger (1951) and her striking redheaded beauty marked her as a Technicolor natural in resplendent period pieces (1949’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) and steamy, brawny adventures (1953’s Tropic Zone and Pony Express), Rhonda Fleming, who celebrates her 94th [...]

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    Not So Hushed

    Schools are still on their summer break, Congress and the President are each taking time off and at this time in 1964, a movie involving major Hollywood stars and top behind-the-camera talent was stopped dead in its tracks by a filming suspension that might have led to its costly cancellation. Already, producer-director Robert Aldrich’s Southern Gothic thriller Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte [...]

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    Dustin Time

    One passage-of-time notion perhaps even more sobering than the prospect of the counter-culture classic The Graduate (1967) celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year is that its highly unlikely leading man, the always surprising two-time Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman, turns 80 today. Across a half-century of acclaimed performances and occasional misfires, he has become one of the most treasured chameleon/mensch [...]

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