John Ford (director)
115min total (length)
19 April 2021 (released)
18 April 2021
Whilst multi-award winning director John Ford made his name primarily in the Wild West genre with films such as Rio Grande and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or dramas like The Grapes Of Wrath (for which he won a ‘Best Director’ Oscar) few are aware that his career kicked off as early as 1917. Eureka’s acclaimed Masters Of Cinema-series is proud to present two of those early silent features fully 4K restored for the first time on Blu-ray.
First up is the 1917 Western STRAIGHT SHOOTING, starring silent movie ‘superstar’ Harry Carey (among his best known performances is as the president of the USA in the 1939 talkie ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’). Here Carey plays Cheyenne Harry, a hired gun who finds himself in the crossfire when he turns on his employers who try to scare away an innocent family of farmers. The family in question are the Sims, more specifically widowed patriarch Sweet Water Sims (George Berrell), son Ted (Ted Brooks) and daughter Joan (Molly Malone – who was not born in Dublin’s fair city but in Wisconsin). The only ‘crime’ the Sims have committed is buying some land with their little farm but Thunder Flint (Duke Lee) and his men are not happy as they don’t like farmers fencing off their land as it means Flint’s cattle can no longer freely graze and roam… and back in those days cattle meant money. Not known for his generosity when it comes to dishing out compromises Flint expects Cheyenne Harry to lead a posse which is supposed to scare the Sims family off their property… however, when a sudden romance between Harry and Joan blossoms things soon get out of hand and the escalating feud claims its first victim: young Ted Sims. Realising that his boss Thunder Flint will stop at nothing to get rid of the unwanted farmers, Harry comes to realise that the only way to protect them is by joining forces with notorious outlaw Black-Eye Pete (Milt Brown) and his merry men of bandits.
By nowadays standards Straight Shooting looks relatively harmless and as was usual at the time, all actors (even the male of the species) wore heavy-eye make up while Molly Malone’s dresses are in fact too short for the period the story take place in (mid 19th century). Those minor details aside, the film is undeniably important from a historical point of view and is a landmark in the history of Westerns.
In the 1918 Western HELL BENT Harry Carey reprises his role as ‘Cheyenne Harry’ who flees the law after a poker game shoot out in a saloon. This witty scene is cleverly done as first we see a painting be famous Wild West artist Frederic Remington (depicting a bar brawl) which then comes to live and we’re in the movie. After the altercation Harry arrives in the town of Rawhide and strikes up a friendship with Cimarron Bill (Duke Lee). Meanwhile, young Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber) is despairing over the fact that her wastrel brother Jack (Vester Pegg) is head over heels in debt – forcing her to take on work as a singer in the local dance hall. Such frivolous act shatters the candy-coloured dreams of our Harry who is smitten upon first sight but when Bess resists the advances of smarmy ‘playboy’ Beau Ross (Joe Harris) despite his promises of wealth and security, Harry sees hope rising once again… While matters of the heart might be important to Harry the same can’t be said for Jack Thurston. In order to get out of his debts he and Ross plan a robbery – despite the fact that Harry knows full well what’s going to happen he allows the two men to escape with the money, if only to get rid of his love rival Beau Ross! What he doesn’t know is that Ross has kidnapped Bess and has taken her with him. Now Harry is hell bent to follow Jack and Ross in order to free his beloved but that’s easier said than done: the canyons are steep and the desert is deadly. It looks like he needs a little help from some of his outlaw friends but just as things begin to look promising a fierce sandstorm scuppers their plans of rescuing Bess…
Hell Bent is considerably more fleshed out in terms of storyline and has some exciting action to boot though it’s perhaps a trifle difficult to imagine Harry Carey (an actor who looked more like a bank manager than a hired gun) in such ‘tough guy’ roles.
Both films (director John Ford is credited under his previous name Jack Ford) come with interesting Bonus Features including audio commentaries, video essays, archival audio interview with director John Ford from 1970, a fragment of his lost 1920 film ‘Hitchin Posts’ and collectors booklet.