From Sight and Sound (Spring 1987). –- J.R.
JOHN FORD: The Man and His Films
by Tag Gallagher
University of California Press/$35
‘I shall almost always be wrong, when I conceive of a man’s character as being all of one piece.’ Appearing at the outset of Tag Gallagher’s massive critical biography of Ford, this quotation from Stendhal serves both as apologia and as fair warning to readers hoping to find a unified portrait of its subject. Written over the past two decades, Gallagher’s exasperating yet invaluable compendium of diverse thoughts and data may lack the coherence of previous Ford studies by Anderson, McBride/Wilmington, Place and Sinclair (among others). Yet in its outsized efforts to do justice to the contradictions and complexities of the man and his work, it still offers a range of information and insight that dwarfs all competitors.
For one thing, Gallagher certainly goes beyond his predecessors in contriving to grapple with all the surviving films, most of which he arranges in four periods: The Age of Introspection (1927 35), Age of Idealism (1935-47), Age of Myth (1948-61) and Age of Mortality (1962-65). Believing Ford’s best films (Pilgrimage, Judge Priest, Stagecoach, Young Mr Lincoln, How Green Was My Valley, Wagon Master, The Quiet Man, The Sun Shines Bright, Mogambo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Civil War, Donovan’s Reef and 7 Women) to lie in all four periods, Gallagher is able to tease out a surprising number of threads that recur throughout the oeuvre.… Read more »