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John Ford Goes to War (2002)

When World War II broke out, John Ford, in his forties, commissioned in the Naval Reserve, was put in charge of the Field Photographic Unit by Bill Donavan, director of the soon-to-be-OSS. ... See full summary »





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Credited cast:
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
(voice) (archive footage)
(archive footage)
F.X. Feeney ...
Dan Ford ...
Himself (archive footage)
George Hjorth ...
Narrator (voice)
Arthur Meehan ...
Kathleen Parrish ...
Robert Parrish ...
Himself (archive footage)


When World War II broke out, John Ford, in his forties, commissioned in the Naval Reserve, was put in charge of the Field Photographic Unit by Bill Donavan, director of the soon-to-be-OSS. During the war, Field Photo made at least 87 documentaries, many with Ford's signature attention to heroism and loss, and many from the point of view of the fighting soldier and sailor. Talking heads discuss Ford's life and personality, the ways that the war gave him fulfillment, and the ways that his war films embodied the same values and conflicts that his Hollywood films did. Among the films profiled are "Battle of Midway," "Torpedo Squadron," "Sexual Hygiene," and "December 7." Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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And I went to sleep
19 October 2008 | by (Clearwater Fl) – See all my reviews

This is almost a textbook example on how to take a fascinating subject and make a boring poorly made documentary out of it.

John Ford Goes to War highlights Ford’s extraordinary service during World War 2 when he and his various crews filmed the war from Midway to India to Burma to Normandy, and the war trials afterwards. It’s like a real life Winds of War. Ford himself carried the hand held camera on Midway as bombs landed just feet away from Japanese planes. He had a telephone in one hand calling in enemy positions to headquarters while he filmed with the other.

A fascinating story like this should make for a fascinating documentary... it doesn’t.

For one thing the movie seems to be under the mistaken impression that World War 2 took place in the 1840’s not the 1940’s. Now I know Ford was best known for his westerns but this film isn’t about his westerns it is about his work during WW2. In addition Ford’s personal life at this time was more Jimmy Buffet than Eddie Dean. So who do they get narrating the film? Kris Kristofferson.

Kristofferson’s slow around the campfire drawl hits the viewer like a fistful of barbiturates and the along the trail Civil War era musical score doesn’t help either. And then we have the talking heads. The endless talking heads.

You would think that a film that can use dramatic footage from “The Battle of Midway or “December 7th” or moving footage such as the smiling faces of the doomed crew of “Torpedo Squadron” wouldn’t cut away every minute, from the hours of available footage, to show some guy talking... and you would be wrong.

Peter Bogdanovich and Leonard Maltin come across the best (though would it have killed Maltin to shave? I have I High Definition Television I really appreciate some personal hygiene before you get on camera.) Most of the others are people who wrote books and honestly should continue to write books.

They do interview an actually cameraman who shot footage for Ford during the war. His experience is insightful, touching and moving so of course he is only on once for less than a minute.

Anytime the documentary does show footage of Ford’s work, it seems to realize you may be getting interested and quickly swerves into another talking head. This teasing us into a complacency of enjoyment and engagement before another talking head breaks the mood is a strange form of torture. It’s as if the movie has a strange puritan streak that wishes you not to actually enjoy yourself.

Speaking of a strange puritan streak... I have left the best for last. Apparently John Ford ran over Oliver Stone’s kitten while backing out of his driveway in 1971. There is almost no other explication for Stone’s bizarre vitriol against the man. Apparently if Stone was a filmmaker in 1940 he would have been doing documentaries on how the Japanese are victims of American Expansionism and how the D-Day invasion at Normandy was yet another example of American Colonialism.

I would normally say hearing Stone rail against Ford for being historically inaccurate would be worth the price for admission. But alas no. The viewer is better off... much better off finding Ford’s original documentaries uncut. (And if you want to see Stones version of historical accuracy I believe Alexander has a new 240 minute cut available on DVD)

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