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Cliff Robertson gives one of his best performances in Ford: The Man And The Machine. In Henry Ford's case the machine he invented truly dominated the man, causing son Edsel to seriously question whether his father truly loved his family more than that automobile that made him a hero in his early years. I think you'll figure out the answer as you watch the film.
Henry Ford the farm kid with a genius for mechanical invention proved to be a shrewder businessman than his original partners thought. He ended up with 100% of the stock of the Ford Motor Company and for years would not trade on the stock market as did his rivals General Motors and Chrysler and a smattering of smaller fry did. But that left him in a dominant position. It was only in the Fifties that grandson Henry Ford II opened up the company for trading. In Henry Ford's time the Ford Motor Corporation was the largest Mom and Pop operation ever conceived in the mind of man.
Robertson as Ford is no different than a lot of millionaires who think that making money in their field makes them omnicompetent. Ford never held with higher education and in his life intellectually was still a Michigan farm kid with some really strange ideas. Those ideas like anti-Semitism embarrass the family to this day.
As a father and husband he leaves a lot to be desired. He cheats on Hope Lange who is an unaffected rural girl as his wife with stenographer Heather Thomas. Like Charles II did and other monarchs he married off his mistress to one of the plant workers. He was Lord and Master in his factory as well as his house.
Son Edsel played here by R.H. Thomson never got out from under his domination. The scenes with Robertson and Thomson are quite poignant as Ford just can't let go and give the young man his head.
A man to this day reviled by organized labor as well he should is Michael Ironside as Harry Bennett. A former boxer and Navy seaman, Bennett became Ford's own private Iago as head of security in the corporation where he ran a private goon squad to enforce company will. The Ford Motor Company in that famous incident at the River Rouge Plant where striking workers were shot down by Bennett's thugs left a forever blot on the company and Henry Ford.
One thing that was not included is Ford's unsuccessful run for the US Senate from Michigan in 1918 as a Democrat. I wish it had been it's quite a fascinating story.
A controversial figure to this day, Robertson captures all the best and worst of Henry Ford who personified the notion of the omnicompetent millionaire. One of the best made for TV films ever done, don't miss it if it is ever broadcast.
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