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Opening credits prologue: The spring of 1916 found a divided Ireland, torn by conflicting Loyalties. Thousands of her sons were at the front fighting the cause of England in the World War. Other thousands remained home planning another fight---a fight, under the flag of the Plough and the Stars, to free their country so that Ireland could take its place among the nations of the world.
THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS is one of the darker chapters in John Ford's sound film career. A "dream" project for the director, it instead became a debacle very early on in its tumultuous production history.
Among other things: RKO wouldn't import the full cast of the stage version, leading Ford to cast Preston Foster and Barbara Stanwyck in roles which arguably needed to go to Irish nationals more familiar with everything from the complex subject matter to the accents they would use. The producers misunderstood the story completely, and not only insisted on re-shooting sequences explaining the marriage of Stanwyck and Foster's characters (with a different director), but inserted newsreel footage and atrocious documentary-style narration. Contrary to another comment here, Ford had _nothing_ to do with the insertion of the archival footage... which is actually from the _wrong_ battle: it's from 1921, not the Easter Rebellion of 1916 described in the play/film.
Ford's generally deft handling of comic and dramatic elements collapses here into a confusing mess, in large part because Ford's depression over the project led him into an alcoholic bender during production.
Possibly Ford's worst sound film, which can be filed next to his other unfortunate duds such as THE WORLD MOVES ON and WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME.
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