Just Pals (1920) Poster


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John Ford at Fox
boblipton7 December 2007
John Ford -- still credited as 'Jack' Ford -- moved from Universal to Fox and directed this Buck Jones comedy-drama as his first effort. He directed it competently for the era, without much in the way of flair, but it is interesting in that he would return to this theme of the ne'er-do-well who turns out to be a pretty nice guy throughout his career -- his best handling of the theme would probably be with the series of comedies he directed Will Rogers in a decade and a half later.

In the meantime, though, Ford was still finding his way, constrained by the fact that he was working with Buck Jones, a competent but not extraordinary actor, instead of Harry Carey; his mise-en-scene is constricted by the town setting of most of the show, although there are some nice shots about two-thirds of the way through when the robbery is being planned out of town by the bandits; and the lack of the extraordinary stock company of actors he would accumulate over the next forty years, The result is pleasant enough, although if it weren't for the fact this were a John Ford picture we wouldn't think it worthy of much commentary. Nonetheless, given that Ford is arguably the greatest director in the history of cinema, this movie is worth seeing, and our thanks are due to the people at Fox for making a beautiful DVD edition available in their amazing FORD AT FOX set.
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Michael_Elliott28 February 2008
Just Pals (1920)

*** (out of 4)

Early John Ford feature has Buck Jones playing a hobo named Bim who is hated by all the adults in his town because they see him as a disgrace and nothing else. One day Bim comes across a young boy (George Stone) who has ran away from home and the two quickly become friends, which will be tested when a doctor tries to take advantage of them. This is the earliest film I've seen from Ford and it really caught me off guard because it's really a lot different than the later day Ford films, which most people know by heart. A lot of the later day Ford films are rather cold hearted or feature lead characters who we hate yet we go along for a ride with them. That's not the case here as Ford paints a perfect picture and builds up the world and spirit of the time that the film takes place. The picture comes off very authentic and contains a loving heart of friendship. Jones is terrific in his role and really makes the character very memorable and likable. Stone is just as good as is the rest of the supporting cast. The film runs a short 50-minutes and really flies by quickly as there aren't any worthless scenes dragging down the action. This film plays much like many of D.W. Griffith's melodramas, which isn't too shocking since Ford got his start with Griffith.
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"For a no 'count bum like me"
Steffi_P28 December 2008
Just Pals is a fairly effective little comedy drama, very typical of its time, which would probably have been all but forgotten were it not for its having been directed by a young John (or rather "Jack") Ford.

Ford may be better known now, but the star of the show is Buck Jones – one of the legion of cowboy actors (who got into the business because they could ride a horse) around at this time, but a talented and very popular performer nonetheless. He rarely did comedy, but he seems to have taken to it well, and yet he also displays a dramatic depth that is important here. Crucial to the mix though is the rapport he obviously struck up with his co-star, young George Stone, who gives the sort of naturalistic performance you can get from inexperienced child actors. The female lead is Helen Ferguson, who remains restrained and convincing in a part that is essentially a melodramatic stock role.

The actors need to be talented and versatile, because the plot lurches and genre-hops all over the place, visiting a few clichés of silent melodrama (embezzled funds, a suicide attempt), and even diverging into a Western for five minutes or so. The tenuously interwoven subplots feel more like an "adventures of…" although eventually the whole thing is allowed to tie up satisfactorily. And it is of course, supposed to be a comedy at heart. Most of the jokes are in the intertitles, and a few of them are even funny. There are also a few visual gags involving a reverend's collection box which look to me like on-the-spot contributions from Ford.

Speaking of Ford, his mark is all over Just Pals, more obviously so than in his later pictures because he had not yet learnt subtlety. We are treated to many aesthetically framed shots, with tree branches and hedgerows defining the space for the action, and yet these devices are often intrusive, completely enclosing the subject. He even uses heavy framing in the location shots, whereas the later Ford would often show off the openness of the outdoors. Having said that, there is an absolutely wonderful piece of visual character definition near the beginning, with a snoozing Buck Jones in the foreground framing some busy farmhands. Even then Ford could be brief yet effective in setting the scene.

Just Pals is one of so many silent picture that has been preserved, restored and brought to DVD on account of a future "big name" associated with it, and yet has indirectly provided modern audiences with a rare glimpse at forgotten stars who, ironically, were major players at the time. Yes, it is of some interest to anyone studying Ford's career, but the presence of Jones, Ferguson and others who were to eventually become casualties of the sound era, make it watchable in its own right.
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Quite watchable
MartinHafer13 March 2010
This early John Ford film earns a 7, but that is relative to other films of the day. If you were comparing it to any film--such as a drama of the 30s or 40s, a score of 5 is probably more appropriate.

The film is about a town bum played by Buck Jones. He's a decent man, but also a guy with absolutely no drive in life. He's content to avoid work and sleep as much as possible. Only when a cute kid blows into town (George Stone) does he begin to show signs that he can be a responsible and productive citizen. That's because, for the sake of the kid, he's willing to settle down a bit and mend his ways.

The film is charming and watchable since the print quality is so good (a rarity in older silents) and the direction is so amiable. But, it also bogs down a bit with the simplistic story and dumb ending--it's very, very contrived. Satisfying to audiences of the time, perhaps. But also completely tough to take today--it all just seems ridiculously too perfect when the film is complete.

By the way, the George Stone who plays the kid is NOT the George E. Stone who played a supporting actor in tons of films in the 30s and 40s (particularly for Columbia Pictures).
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