Often we ponder the puzzle: “What is an American writer? What defines an American voice?”

About moviemakers, on the other hand, the question is not asked. And so when a Spanish friend requested I write an article about ‘native-born’ American moviemakers, 1930-55, I was bewildered thoroughly. I knew that many Hollywood directors had emigrated from Europe, but it had not occurred to me that native-born directors might share an identifiable sensibility. Obviously the Spanish knew something I did not!

I thought and thought and the days passed. In fact, the moviemakers in question had been born mostly in the 1890s. Cultural hegemony belonged to WASPS then, to people who were white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. And what is most striking about this generation is something rarely mentioned: the religious intensity of one group (King Vidor, John Ford, Frank Borzage, Cecil DeMille, Leo McCarey, Henry King, George Stevens, Sam Wood); the nonchalant – but no less defiant – secularism of a second group (Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Orson Welles, Joseph Losey, Anthony Mann, Preston Sturges, George Cukor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz); and the perplexity of a third group.

The relative perplexity of a third group, composed mostly of European-born Americans (Charles Chaplin, Josef Von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger) and a few native-born Americans of the “second generation” (Nicholas Ray, Sam Fuller, Vincente Minnelli) puts into relief the comparative clarity of American culture in these years. Between the religious and secular, there was more polarization than dialectic.

The religious current was epitomized in King Vidor, who consecrated his fifty-four movies between 1914 and 1959 to proclaiming a Christian Science world view that, at least in Vidor’s case, evokes a gamut of American Protestant tradition – from forest mysticism, through Southern Baptist carnality, to Emersonian transcendentalism – mixed with an insatiable appetite for sexual pleasure and romantic adventure. (To this American-Protestant culture John Ford, an outsider, opposed Irish Catholicism.) The secular current was represented in Howard Hawks, whose nonchalantly unmystical films contain no God, virtually no families or cultural fetters, and no transcendent higher than biology.

It is Vidor who best embodies America’s hegemonic culture in this period. America’s first English settlers, awestruck at unsullied nature, had defined the new world as a New Eden for a New Adam. (1) Two centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), a seminal figure of 19th-century American sensibility, also stressed nature as the visible manifestation of invisible spiritual truth. It was through contemplation of nature, together with self-knowledge and self-reliance, said Emerson, that each individual must find his own separate way toward recognizing his participation in the “organic” union of all life. Life was adventure!

That such “transcendentalism” was nothing at all like the dull abstract thing the tern suggests, the poet Walt Whitman presently demonstrated – scandalously – by celebrating untrammelled communion with nature as sensual intoxication.

Life was melodrama! The human soul was pursued midst space and time, biochemistry and culture. A tremendous dialectic was born. Despite evidence suggesting the contrary, the American mind felt history as personal engagement.

* * *

King Vidor (Galveston, Texas. 1894-1982). Despite or because of his Texan origins, his Hungarian grandfather and the long American roots of his Scotch-English mother, Vidor’s movies share the “organic” intuition of Emerson and Whitman – a tactile, existential, sexual attitude toward life, an insistence on individual exploration.

In no other filmmaker (not even in Aleksandr Dovzhenko) is there such emphasis on the land – on spiritual truth as inherent in nature. In An American Romance (1944), a mother and her child watch a butterfly emerge from a cocoon, and the mother says:

God is being born, and living, and kindness, and being happy, and helping others. […] He makes our tree blossom every spring – fruit and flowers and fields of wheat, everything that lives and grows.

And Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes) in Hallelujah! (1929), as Vidor put it, “throws off his feeling of guilt” at killing his brother and “proclaims: ‘The earth, the heaven, and everything we see belongs to God.’” (2)

Vidor said, “My favorite theme is the search for truth. … I believe in intuition.” (3) Thus in The Fountainhead (1949), for example, a minute or even a single shot is enough for two people who’ve practically never spoken to decide to marry. (4) Vidor insisted that to depict romance otherwise, as films typically do, is to falsify reality.

The theme is false – the man who meets a woman and all the problems that get in their way. In life, these difficulties don’t exist. … When a boy meets a girl there’s always something magic about it. He sees her one moment, and that’s enough. (5) Barriers are quickly broken between two human beings. Tête-à-tête there’s a kind of alchemy that quickly solves everything. (6)

Vidor equates impulse, search-for-truth and intuition; like Rossellini, he makes little distinction between religion and sex.

Vidor’s force lies precisely in his ability to unleash the poetry in basic sexual-religious events, like boy meets girl, or butterflies emerging.

My belief has always been that simplicity is beauty. I have always felt that in a motion picture one must appeal to the heart rather than to the head. […] I have always attempted to adhere to the ‘earthier’ themes in the pictures I have directed. (7)

His model was Chaplin. In a provocative 1935 article for The New York Times, he argues that:

Charlie Chaplin, of course, holds the greatest secret of this true simplicity in portraying human emotions. … From Timbuctoo to Compton, Calif., men and women whose skin is white, black and yellow understand that kick in the pants, that mournful look in his eyes, his eloquently lifting heel that means disdain to the world and discipline. He is purely emotional. Dialogue is superfluous; it would only hamper. (8)

But is Chaplin “simple”? True, we instantly know Chaplin’s kick means “Fuck you.” But is it simple that Charlie is the victim fighting back, that he takes unguilty joy in his sadism, or that his tramp costume identifies him less with the sub-proletariat than with the middle classes who have sunk into unemployment and poverty? The threat of “losing class” was the great fear of the 1910s and ’20s; it spawned Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Charlie, moreover, kicks with “sophistication”: self-consciously, theatrically, eloquently, with pride.

Nor is the emotion “simple” in Vidor’s second example, an image from The Big Parade (1925) that he sums up as “woman’s eternal fight to hold her man, even though she knew her fight was futile”.

Yet if the emotions are not simple, the images are. These are the proverbial images “worth a thousand words”. Roberto Rossellini, who also adored Chaplin, called them “essential images” and meant, as did Chaplin and Vidor, that anything vague or distracting had been stripped away. “Man is as old as God when it comes to understanding human emotions”, Vidor observes. (9)

At the end of Hallelujah!, Zeke is “Goin’ home” and singing that song through a montage of locations until, lastly, his voice-off is superimposed on his wife and mother in the fields, and they shake off the sound of his voice, thinking they’re imagining it. Which tells us how often before they have heard his voice in their mind, thus how much love binds these people. How many movies make us think this way, and thus to discover things for ourselves?

The force of Vidor’s simplicity is strengthened by the absence of dead time in Vidor at his best. Like Von Sternberg, another Chaplin imitator, Vidor loathed dialogue that redundantly drags points across time that have been eloquently made in space – with the result that his dialogue often sounds like a silent-film caption or a philosophic aphorism rather than natural expression. For example, after Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrer) dies in War and Peace (1956), the sole line of Natasha Rostove (Audrey Hepburn) is: “Where is he now?”

Like Chaplin’s characters, Vidor’s have so much “essence” – are so instantly recognizable as “types” unlike anyone but themselves – that their emotions can take form energized into movements and gestures, like Chaplin’s kick.

The gestures may be the small gestures of the mother watching the butterfly, which mythify the moment far more than her extravagant words. Or the movement can be Melisande (Renée Adorée) chasing the truck taking James Apperson (John Gilbert) away in The Big Parade, or Natasha thrusting herself down a staircase

and across a room

toward Andrei,

an emotion Vidor has already energized in War and Peace with a fox hunt and a ball, and now down the stairs, and will counterpoint with more thrusting motions as lust stalks Natasha, and Napoleon (Herbert Lom) stabs his legions into Russia. Like Chaplin, Vidor makes impulse a ballet. When people told Andrew Wyeth they could not understand why Wyeth continued to watch The Big Parade after seeing it one-hundred-eighty times (literally), he replied, “You don’t understand my paintings, either.” (10)

Vidor observes each moment, intuits the passage of each emotion, and creates most of them as well. When Pierre (Henry Fonda) tells Natasha he is getting married, Vidor embroiders her piqued reaction by a change of angle; a dubbed-in ninny from her suddenly restless horse; a bit of soft music that breaks into the silence; some tricks with Natasha’s eyes; and the remarkable dialogue, “Gently, gently.” All this in three seconds that could scarcely be more concocted, but with each “trick” so deft, so economically timed, so “Chaplinesque”, each putting us inside Natasha’s feelings (her adventure), that we accept such “choreography” as a natural event in this movie’s extraordinary world, which is our own world, concentrated.

Hallelujah! must have inspired the ballets of bodies in F. W. Murnau’s Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931). And, not surprisingly, Vidor’s films were the models for Italian neo-realism, which descends directly from The Crowd (1928), Hallelujah! and Our Daily Bread (1934) without any need of John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway or Giovanni Verga, or Marcel Carné, Jean Renoir or Francesco De Robertis. Like Murnau and the neo-realists, Vidor combined documentary and melodrama into painterly, musical movies that ultimately centre on trying to get inside individual consciousness. Vittorio De Sica cited The Crowd

as his inspiration for Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948).

Rossellini, the only major director besides Vidor to make a film on the history of iron, shared Vidor’s preference for intuition over reason, his absorption in the immediate moment and the immediate individual, his zest for idealism and vitalism. He cited the “unforgettable impression” of The Crowd that “really struck me and put me on the road toward truth, toward reality” (11).

It is probably because Vidor is so true to his American roots that he has had so profound an influence on the best European cinema, continuously, from 1925 through today, an influence comparable to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner or John Steinbeck on European literature. Between The Big Parade in 1925 and Hallelujah! in 1929, Vidor was internationally celebrated, even in America, as a titanic film artist who was both socially committed and commercial. Had a poll been taken, Vidor might well have been voted the greatest filmmaker in history, the one who had finally realized cinema’s poetic potential. His stature was acknowledged even by the trade magazines, to the extent that Variety suddenly realized it could not render a just estimate of Hallelujah! without three separate reviews to reflect white, black and female perspectives. In Paris, La Revue du Cinéma mobilized dozens of Paris’ intellectuals for a pre-release screening of Hallelujah! and published 42 pages of awe-struck reactions. Remarkably, reviews of Vidor during the 1930s read almost word-for-word the way reviews of Italian neo-realist films would read in the forties; and Paris’ technique for promoting the Italian filmmakers during the postwar period would be the same as employed for Vidor in 1930.

“Style in King Vidor is an absence of style, a surplus of the concrete”, wrote Roger Blin in La Revue du Cinéma (June 1930), anticipating André Bazin’s (equally erroneous) 1949 description of Ladri di biciclette as “No more actors, no more story, no more sets, in other words, ultimately in the perfect aesthetic illusion of reality: no more cinema.” (12)

The Crowd, Gilbert Seldes declared in 1928,

breaks completely with the stereotype of the feature film. There is virtually no plot; there is no exploitation of sex in the love interest; there is no physical climax, no fight, no scheduled thrill. The characters, all commonplace people, act singularly unlike moving picture characters and singularly like human beings; there is no villain, no villainy, no success. (13)

The movie viewer, of course, well knows that Vidor, Rossellini and De Sica are loaded with melodrama and sex, plot and climax, and every sort of cinematic concoction. What is curious is that critics so removed in time should insist, in such similar terms, that their movies were more than mere movies. In fact Vidor’s “realism”, like Rossellini’s and De Sica’s, is rooted more in a sense of an author (a seer, an investigator, a searcher) than in the sense of the things shown. Vidor, walking around Greenwich village one day, was struck by the paintings displayed. Vidor:

Why was not one of them any good? The reason is [that the painters] are not painting from themselves. They’re painting from some other painting they saw. They’re not painting what they are as individuals. It’s hard to put that on canvas. It’s easy in a book, but it’s tough in a movie because you have a hundred people around. Today we’re getting at the immortal self, and to my way of thinking, that’s God. He’s not in an altar, not in a sunset, not in a sermon, he’s inside. It all comes from inside, and that is the place of art. (14)

Vidor, Rossellini and De Sica all have what Vidor called “first person techniques”: they centre on the impressions and experiences of one individual, and, although they go to great pains to document a “realistic” world around the individual, their interest is less in the world than in the inner consciousness of their hero or, in the case of Vidor and Rossellini, their heroine. As Eric Sherman puts it, in Vidor “the world exists ‘for me’, and I can know it only through being here and living through it” (15) – a process as much sensual and emotional as intellectual. The moral and the physical are inseparable. Life is exploration, action, impulse.

Already in Vidor’s first feature, aptly named The Turn in the Road (1918) and inspired by Christian Science, a hero wanders the world in search of truth. But here and throughout Vidor’s career, his hero is only apparently heroic, or even active; his hero is one, Vidor said, “in whose hands does not lie the power to create the situations in which he finds himself but who nevertheless feels them emotionally” (16). The point is explicit in his Tolstoyan War and Peace: “Now go, and leave us to our fate”, Natasha tells her brother as she débuts at her first ball, for she will surrender to the dance and the question is how she will find her balance. People are not heroes or villains in Vidor, and the truth we find is always the truth we always had. Heroic pretensions are chimeras, born in alienation, desperation and sexual will-to-power: only by realizing our common lot within society and family can our lives hold any reason. (17) The sufferings that lead to wisdom – rise and fall, rise and fall – are the moral equivalent of nature’s cycles of regeneration.

The family or community, however, is less an ideal, a bed of nourishment, than a battleground, a point of resistance; an amazing number of Vidor films affirm marriage by contemplating adultery. For sin, in Christian Science, is viewed not in puritan terms but as a turn in the road to enlightenment – God’s road. “All inspiration”, Vidor believed, “and all life come to us directly from God without the intervention of orthodox situations or intermediary channels of any kind.” (18) And we must walk God’s road alone. Not amid their families but only by faring solitarily through life do Vidor’s characters find the virtue to coalesce into a family. In Hallelujah!, Zeke blows his family’s fortune on a whore and accidentally kills his brother while shooting at her pimp. In grief, he becomes a preacher, converts the whore, but, betrayed again, kills her and goes to prison before “Goin’ Home” (he sings) to his family, having at last come to terms with his sublimated passions and his place in God’s creation. So many turns in the road to wisdom! In War and Peace, Natasha, Pierre and Andrei each encounter similarly arduous – but separate – turns in the road before finding peace and fulfilment, and again their individual families become first the victims and then the beneficiaries of their pilgrimages. In his early films, Vidor’s schema initially pitted a single wandering member against the stability of his or her family, but families in later films splinter in as many directions as there are members. Natasha’s family archetypes have equivalents in So Red the Rose (1935), An American Romance, Duel in the Sun (1947), Stella Dallas (1937), The Champ (1931), Japanese War Bride (1952) and so on: a mother incarnating the home, a rascally father, children eager for adventure in love and war, their hopes “somewhere over the rainbow”, as Dorothy (Judy Garland) sings in a scene directed by Vidor in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Yet with disillusion comes illumination, and it will be surplus rather than need that will bring the family back together again. Vidor’s alternation of family fission with family fusion echoes the cycles of nature and our rises and falls. There is something distinctly Protestant and American about this insistence on celebration of truth in family but discovery of it only in strictest solitude. Maybe no other moment in film captures Americans’ self image as truly as Dorothy, her song, her Chaplinesque energy and Vidor’s cinema.

But the results of that solitude, more often than not, are aberrant and violent; providence too shows itself malefic; even the mother incarnating the home is frequently grotesque. The solitude that Vidor emphasizes is a context for terror. What Rossellini was to do in “Una voce umana” (episode of L’Amore, 1947), with long takes and a mercilessly pursuing camera to convey the “no exit” of a soul being tortured, Vidor did at the end of The Champ, mercilessly pursuing Dink Purcell (Jackie Cooper) around a room. In War and Peace, there is a terrible moment when Natasha, after fleeing the dark man through a series of rooms to an empty room, and closing the door behind her,

finds herself suddenly confronted with herself in a mirror.

The unescapable reality. Some of us are saved. But many of us fall. Some of us just give in to lives of privation – Louise Starr (Miriam Hopkins) in The Stranger’s Return (1933), Harry Pulham (Robert Young) and Marvin Ransome (Hedy Lamarr) in H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) – or just lay down and let ourselves be killed: Doris Emily Lea (Phyllis Barry) in Cynara (1932), Platon Karatsev (John Mills) in War and Peace. Or else we go the sado-masochistic way exemplified by Vidor’s Napoleon – one of the most intense Faust-figures in cinema (19) – and thrust ourselves red-lit and spastic into orgiastic destruction and release, dragging others down with us, as Faust-Napoleon drags the Grande Armée into the Vidorian humus of mud, slime, snow, frozen rivers and mists – universal solvents. It’s not far from this to Vidor’s Stella Dallas (Barbara Stanwyck), whose auto-erotic appetite for self-debasement finds its ultimate climax in motherhood; or to the masochism of John Sims (James Murray) in The Crowd or Andy ‘Champ’ Purcell (Wallace Beery) in The Champ; or to Sam McGee (Lloyd Nolan) in The Texas Rangers (1936), whose homo-eroticism twists into a violence toward the world, a narcissism toward himself, a sadism toward his love rival, ‘Wahoo’ Jones (Jack Oakie), and a masochism toward his beloved, Jim Hawkins (Fred MacMurray), that find climax only in a rocky shoot-out and death (a scene reprised heterosexually in Duel in the Sun); or to the rangers butchering and even eating Indians in Northwest Passage (1939). There is scant consolation for Sam McGee that the passage from homo- to hetero-sexual orientation mirrors (in the film’s terms) the passage from wilderness to civilization, because Nolan is unable to make that passage, any more than James Murray, Andy Purcell, Louise Starr, Marvin Ransome or Platon Karatsev can make their passages. Quite the contrary, it appears to be God’s plan that they fall, and what happiness they have will come from their consenting to it. None of them, even Napoleon, is surprised. Nor is the butterfly.

The truth finds us; we don’t find the truth. Thus, in Vidor (as in Rossellini), there is the paradoxical union of documentary realism and iconic passion, of newsreel and melodrama, of real life and stars.

The star is the locus of our empathy; through the star we experience the passions of life. We stare in wonder, at the world with the star and at the star, and a magical interplay breaks out – best achieved with Natasha.


Natasha permeated [War and Peace’s] entire structure as the archetype of womankind which she so thoroughly represents. If I were forced to reduce the whole story of War and Peace to some basically simple statement, I would say that it is a story of the maturing of Natasha. She represents, to me, the anima of the story and she hovers over it all like immortality itself. (20) My main memory of that picture is of Audrey Hepburn giving a wonderful performance. I used to see it over and over again in the dubbing and music cutting, and I never tired of it. I always found something new that she did. (21)

If film is a search, or “research”, for Vidor, the neo-realists and other modern romantics, what area of research is more fertile with wonder than women? The topic enshrines all the themes of spirit and flesh in their most complex forms. Vidor would fall in love with the heroines of his movies while writing their parts, and then with the actresses incorporating them. Vidor’s sense of sexuality appealed to Italians and Frenchmen; its thrust is cosmological and sacramental, uniting everything that lives within the breath of God. Eric Rohmer’s movies, in particular, have a similar sense of sex, adventure and sacrament, and are similarly posed in images that manage to be both documentary realism and painting. But when we watch Vidor’s devouringly-sustained meditation on Audrey Hepburn’s face, it is perhaps Jean-Luc Godard we think of, with his long takes, imitating Vidor’s paradigm, of women self-consciously submitting to his inquisition; and Vidor, for all his polite, Southern gentility, is no less voracious. Never has an actress been so kissed as Audrey Hepburn here, through one adventure after another. Always in Vidor, as in Godard through La Chinoise (1967), there is a palpable feeling of desire, sexual desire, which, because it is sexual and thus linked with all life on earth and heaven, is fully human, and gives to all the biosphere a soul, an individual personality. God too is born of desire.

There is a magic moment in Catherine Berge’s film-portrait of Vidor, Voyage à Galveston (Journey to Galveston, 1980), when Vidor says, “I have three daughters.” How could such a thing be possible? his tone seems to say, in wonder.

Nothing could better define Vidor’s cinema. Wonder: toward nature, women, life, consciousness.

War and Peace is a meditation on the wonders of happiness, sadness, love and war, freedom, destiny, mind and matter, and much else. We cycle through emotions; through summer, winter, spring and fall; and, not least, through sensibilities: young persons, old persons, a demonic Napoleon, equally demonic lovers, each alternately subject and object, actor and toy, as their emotions take control of them and they search for solutions. One scene we are Natasha looking at Andrei; the next scene we are Andrei gazing at Natasha. (Solely in terms of the technical skill with which Vidor constantly insinuates us into one mind and out of another, War and Peace is fascinating.) We meditate on a face, on colours, on geometries of movement. Not only does each of the characters endure one painful or ecstatic peregrination after the next, but all the while they rhapsodise over what is happening to them (“Who am I now?”). Always there is the duality: the distance of a novelesque character, the immediacy of the actress; the exalted spirituality of experience, the incredible carnality of its expression. To watch Natasha run from the stairs to the parlour (to Andrei who declares his love) is to recall the similar way Jean Renoir’s adolescent girls dance toward life in The River (1950), but is also to glimpse a fashion of deportment as exotic as Japanese No theatre. The moments, at the ball, of Natasha’s transition from inner monologue wishing Andrei were there (“Prince Andrei”, she always says) to her realization that he is standing in front of her, and the strange poise with which she then extends her hand, capture a mode of being rare in the world of today.

Vidor was one of the best things that could happen to a Hollywood actress, even though at MGM, where he spent most of his career, he never got near Greta Garbo or Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer, and even though his actresses felt he did not understand their needs as actors; if his women are never so contemporary as Cukor’s or Michael Curtiz’ or Hawks’, they are more refined, complex and physically expressive. No other director gave Judy Garland comparable moments. And, a bit like Rossellini, Vidor got his results from an actress’s own behaviour rather than from actors’ methods: we may feel that Vidor’s people are performing, but never that they are actors; and in fact his characters are usually role-playing and, like Zeke in Hallelujah! or Dink Purcell in The Champ, passing schizophrenically from one personage to another. As Natasha gives herself up to the patterns of the waltz,

simultaneously we reflect that Vidor is probably the most painterly of all filmmakers – landscapes, portraits, rooms and this ball, which summons up a whole civilization – and that Natasha and her friends sit atop a pyramid of slaves; we throb with the music; we share this girl’s rapture as she says yes so fully with all her heart and soul; we realise that “just to be conscious is a miracle in itself” (22); and we understand the (Emerson-like) words from Lev Tolstoy that, written on the screen, will end Vidor’s movie and sum up his life’s work:

The most difficult thing – but an essential one – is to love Life, to love it even while one suffers, because Life is all. Life is God and to love Life means to love God.

* * *

In contrast, you will search in vain for a transcendental in Howard Hawks (Goshen, Indiana. 1896-1977). Even an abstract idea will be hard to find. Hawks’ deracinated characters (his films have virtually no families!) roam free morally and ideologically. This is another face of the American myth: no constraints! No rules bind; no institutions guide. “Society” does not exist, “social problems” do not exist. The heroes, as in Hemingway, are committed to their work, but, rather than being craftsmen for whom work has value in itself, the heroes are adolescents using skills to test their courage. They enjoy a frontier wilderness of unlimited freedom (even while riding the train “Twentieth Century”, 1934) and know only a single commandment: Keep your contract (or give back the money). Nor does friendship bind. You mind your own business.

When Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) intervenes to save John T. Chance (John Wayne) in Rio Bravo (1959),both men regard his intervention as irrational (even though Chance is a sheriff upholding public order). Appropriately, the typical landscape in a Hawks Western is an empty plain,

for – in contrast to Ford’s Monument Valley where rock formations, like Greek temples or Roman ruins, signal eternal verities

– in Hawks there is nothing to influence people. Dramas are interiorised, challenges derive from private hang-ups (e.g., drunkenness), not from the world or society; the vacant landscapes delete, in symbol’s favour (Carl Jung?), the moral culturation that in Vidor and Ford is part and parcel of being human. As Robin Wood says,

In the Hawks universe there is no past (except as an unfortunate experience to be got over and forgotten) and no future (everyone may be dead by tomorrow); life is lived, spontaneously and exhilaratingly, in the present. (23)

The entire gargantuan structure of transcendental idealism that powers the worlds of Vidor and Ford is reduced in Hawks to the immediate structures of personal loyalty, desire and biology. Does not Hawks, then, typify modern awareness of being totally alone, dependent on nothing or no one but our own skill and determination? Does he not typify a mythic American independence from society that few Europeans would desire?

“Because they are willing to compromise and adapt their morality to the world around them”, writes Sumaya Khauli,

Hawks’s characters are able to achieve happiness. Their realistic outlook on life is in contrast with Kenji Mizoguchi’s idealistic heroes. Consequently it is harder for Mizoguchi’s characters to attain any success because their goal is to change the whole world to fit their moral values. Mizoguchi’s characters are braver than Hawks’s because they are not afraid to bare their emotions and sacrifice their lives for the fulfillment of dreams, but it is the less brave and more practical morality of Hawks’s characters that survives in a chaotic universe of greed and corruption. (24)

Molly Haskell, for one, compares Hawks to Homer – only the man’s deeds claim immortality – except that hubris leads not to tragedy but to comedy. Yet Haskell exalts Hawks’

vision of man as ramrod of courage and tenacity, a squiggle in the margin of the universe […], poised, comically or heroically, against an antagonist nature, a nothingness as devoid of meaning as Samuel Beckett’s, but determined none the less to act out his destiny, to assert mind against mindlessness. (25)

It is often said that Hawks excelled in every genre – gangster (Scarface, 1932), film noir (The Big Sleep, 1946), screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby, 1938), musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953), ancient epic (Land of the Pharaohs, 1955), Western (Red River, 1948), war film (Sergeant York, 1941) and so on. But one can argue equally that his genres are inconsequential. “Like Monet for ever painting lilies”, writes David Thomson, “Hawks has made only one art-work.” (26) Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep could exchange sets and costumes with little adjustment in scripting. Atmosphere is mostly backdrop, with little of the documentary detail beloved by Vidor and Ford, and action typically involves the prolonged development of two or three characters within a few situations and extremely long sequences. There is no world in a Hawks film, except what goes on between the characters.

But what goes on between the characters is a great deal. “Hawks is at his best in moments when nothing happens beyond people arguing about what might happen or has happened”, writes Thomson. The scripts are mere impetus for performance. Eric Rohmer (whose own characters converse like Hawks’, in pageants of body-language), concurs:

I know no filmmaker more indifferent to plastic values, more banal in his cutting, but, in compensation, more sensitive to the exact detail of gesture, to its exact duration. (27)

It is only when one begins to take a second look at the rich subtleties of innuendo, inflection and body language in, for example, the scene when Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) meets Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) in The Big Sleep, that one begins to understand why Hawks, lacking so much, has so much.

His principle, says Thomson, is that

men are more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world. The point should be made that Hawks attends to such small things because he is the greatest optimist the cinema has produced. […] The optimism comes out of a knowledge of failure and is based on the virtues and warmth in people that go hand-in-hand with their shortcomings. Death, rupture and loss abound in Hawks’s world, even if they are observed calmly. (28)

Again, one can argue the opposite without disagreeing. Nothing is taken calmly by Hawks’ characters that affects their equilibrium, and almost everything does, particularly death, as Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) learns from Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), when she complains of everyone’s apparent indifference while Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) lies dying. The supreme test in Hawks is to keep one’s balance, with the result that Hawks’ men lead lives of unending macho bluster – and are always a step away from tragedy or (unlike Homer’s heroes) a pratfall.

Almost they would prefer the tragedy to social disgrace. The movement in Hawks is always toward integration, toward those moments of fellowship (like the song sequence in Rio Bravo) that Hawks observes with an eye-level camera in order the better to include us the audience in fellowship as well. But such peace occurs only in the self-sufficient world of males; women, who leer with bemused jealousy, destroy it utterly, and it is this phallocidal aspect of Hawks that perhaps has made him a perennially favourite moviemaker among women and gays. Molly Haskell, for example, finds it “delightful” that the men “fear” women. And she adds that they fear as well the feminine side in themselves. (29)

Why she finds fear delightful she does not say, but it is clear enough that Haskell rejoices in the “thriving zanies” that frustrate male “narcissism”, in “bipolar impulses” between men and women, in constant body language to get attention, in

the force of unleashed energy – call it woman, man or modern society, call it a love potion, sexual confusion or hallucinogenic drugs – that confounds, overwhelms, exasperates, humiliates, exalts Hawks’s characters in their advance/retreat

through the encounters of their lives. (30)

Certainly Hawks and Vidor have it in common that sex wreaks havoc, and both moviemakers populate their movies with the most outrageously rutting exhibitionists. The hyperbolic sexuality of Hawks’ characters goes beyond anything in normal reality and into the realms of fanciful poetry. Sex overwhelms, becomes the sole motive force; animals, herds and engines become the ruling metaphors (cattle, horses, leopards, minions who build pyramids, race cars, airplanes, trains). No wonder men fear it. The only question is why Hawks’ woman do not. Why in a Hawks movie does no woman ever fear a man?

But Haskell is wrong when she says men fear the feminine in themselves. They cross-dress without embarrassment. They give themselves to each other without self-consciousness. They mutually encourage each other’s narcissism. The Big Sky is a series of male love affairs set on a boat with the damnedest collection of male popinjays and gay-icon types one could imagine; and the river they sail on and the forests they trek through are far more satisfying than their equivalents in the female body.

Homosexuality is the preferred condition in Hawks. For some critics, it is a kind of “maturity” that Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas) and Boone Caudill (Dewey Martin) agree on Boone’s abandoning their partnership for a woman; but there is something perverse about Hawks setting it up so that Boone not only has to forsake men but has to stay with forest Indians who dwell beyond – way beyond, the picture insists – the farthest frontier of civilization.

In contrast, male ejaculation – Haskell’s “force of unleashed energy,” etc., etc. – seems ridiculous or, in Haskell’s view, “delightful”. The apparition of a woman takes away all peace, dignity, science, sport and human progress. Hawks is a veritable Cathar in his conviction that the very biological mechanism that enables progress is itself anti-progress. Integration with a woman, it is true, is always the force and goal of Hawks’ plots – and even undermines expected structures, as in the demolition of Tess Millay (Joanne Dru) in Red River of the confrontation between Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and Matthew ‘Matt’ Garth (Montgomery Clift) that the entire picture had seemed to have been building toward – but integration with a female never occurs on-screen: Hawks always ends the film first. It is not the union but the antagonism of the sexes that obsesses him. And if sweet love scenes do not interest him, neither do his love affairs, homo or hetero, descend (or rise) to the sado-masochistic extremes of Vidor.

Instead, there is an almost nihilistic despair. Robbed of the possibility of tragedy, particularly in the lighter genres, man’s world crumbles irretrievably with the first scenes. Thus Andrew Sarris justly observes: “The internal consistency of Hawks’s musicals and comedies is impressive, but the works themselves are unpleasant.” (31)

In other genres, at least for a while, Hawks cherishes the illusion that a Homeric death may be possible. But it is only an illusion. For Hawks, the most perilous moment, the most magical moment, inevitably comes during the seconds of inattention, when a man’s guard drops, antagonism no longer protects him, and his principles are abandoned. At such a moment a chimera of happiness beckons off-screen; he is caught by the female, and eternally doomed.

* * *

To go from Vidor and Hawks to John Ford (Cape Elizabeth, Maine. 1894-1973) is to go from America’s hegemonic Protestant culture to embattled Irish Catholicism. Ford should be understood as the product of a ghettoised racial minority that, during his lifetime, went from being the exploited sub-proletariat to being the new hegemonic power: a process of interracial class warfare reflected in The Last Hurrah (1958), Fort Apache (1948) and Donovan’s Reef (1963) – and, if Ford seems nasty toward the Yankee factions in Southern pictures like The Sun Shines Bright (1952) and Horse Soldiers (1959), it is probably because these carpetbagger-types are the same sorts Ford’s generation had to contest with.

The Ireland Ford’s parents had come from was a “cruel hard place” where starvation was routine and home for many was a hole in the ground. In America they wrote new songs and tried to forget the rest. For culture they looked not to Ireland but to Rome.

To go from Vidor and Hawks to Ford is to go from an Emersonian new Eden to an Augustinian City of God. For all Vidor’s and Hawks’ emphasis on solitary revelation, truth for both of them ultimately resides in society, at best we may testify to truth; neither of them believes in “heroes” – in moral innovators whose higher knowledge and higher mission will transform the world. But for Ford truth resides in God; Ford’s world is a world of miracles and heroes, Christ-centred, sacrament-laden, passion-obsessed; his heroes do more than bear witness, they are priests who become Christ and re-enact the divine sacrifice in their own lives.

And at the same time Ford’s world is Irish, a playful and sardonically sentimental way of contending with life; an Irishman of Ford’s generation was capable of appreciating the jive of American blacks as a way of fighting back against whites (e.g., Stepin Fetchit in many of Ford’s movies – although by the ’60s Fetchit’s jive was no longer comprehensible to many blacks, either), because the Irish had had their own brand of blarney as a way of fighting back against the WASPs.

Ford’s world is an outsider’s world, in which the possibility of conformity poses more danger than sex or desire; it is a world in which personal fulfilment is not merely a desire, it is a duty, a pilgrimage.

When a Hawks character goes out on a limb, his drinking buddies are always there to encourage (Garth defies Dunson in Red River – but only after unanimous support). And a Vidor character always has a home to go back to. But the Ford hero is an outsider by definition, a defier of tradition, set upon pilgrimage not by whimsy but by divine appointment, often a Christ figure. Almost never does his long voyage lead him home, nor is there any frontier or wilderness of freedom from human culturation (any more than the sea is an escape in Murnau’s Tabu). Ford’s dramas result from what Hawks ignores and Vidor accepts: the oppressive constraints that ideals, concretised in social structures and philosophic beliefs, impose when imperfectly realised. We’re the wrong colour: U. S. Woodford (Elzie Emanuel), The Sun Shines Bright (1953); the wrong sex: Dr. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft), 7 Women (1965); not sociable enough: Judge Priest (1934); not smooth enough: Doctor Bull (1933); not gentle enough: Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962); not macho enough: Sean Thornton (Wayne), The Quiet Man (1952); or not virtuous or innocent enough. Ford knows that being idealistic means being screwed up; his heroes are haunted and sad. Few, very few, Ford movies have happy endings.

In Hawks and Vidor there is purity. But often it is the purity of a Neolithic sensibility: unfettered instinct (despite Monkey Business’ contrary evidence in 1952) is Hawks’ purest value, even in violence, where the oppositeness of Hawks from Ford is clearest. In Hawks’ Westerns and war films, it’s right to hate and good to kill your enemies; the expurgating joy of vengeance is as healthy and natural as breathing. But in Ford, even in wartime, violence entails moral anguish; only the insane – Wagon Master’s Clantons, 1952; Ethan Edwards (Wayne) and Scar (Henry Brandon) in The Searchers, 1956 – indulge their hate, only fools – creatures of instinctual purity often played by Francis Ford or Hank Worden – kill with impunity. Indeed, Ford films exemplify Adorno’s notions of negative truth:

rather than sanctifying a status quo (as Hawks does and Vidor would like to), they reveal dissonance.

They reveal virtue breeding evil (as in Nathaniel Hawthorne, who rejected Emerson’s optimism). The traditions that sustain society go astray, ripen into intolerance, persecute individuals, rip apart families, exclude entire classes, destroy the community (e.g., the destructive effects of patriarchy in How Green Was My Valley, 1941; ossified myths in Steamboat Round the Bend, 1935; duty in Fort Apache, 1948; faith in 7 Women; law in The Hurricane, 1937). Unhappy the land that needs a hero. To think of Ford is to think of a family, a community. But his main characters are usually outside the community, if not geographically (although they are often just passing through), then either as victims (because they are different) or heroes (because they are selected) – in which case their celibacy and mission place them, like Augustine’s Christ, outside of history, in order to mediate intolerance, reunite the family, establish a new testament and still be alone at the end.

Variations of this “mastermyth” structure almost all Ford’s pictures. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) is close to the archetype. As Lincoln (Henry Fonda) ponders Law surrounded by Nature, it is given him to understand that “Law” is simply “right and wrong”, whereupon almost miraculously Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) appears:

her breasts sharply outlined, a basket of flowers, a river perspective, a proscenium frame of tree and fence. “Hello, Mr. Lincoln”, she says; “Abe.” Is there anything more erotic than the woman of our dreams and destiny suddenly appearing in front of us? But she is Truth’s angel: she puts Abe on his road, then dies, leaving him haunted, grasping hungrily for his destiny (Ann) but dreading the immolation of self it entails. He saves a woman’s sons from hanging by the help of heaven – an almanac’s chart of the moon that he plucks from his top hat – then puts the hat on, turns into his legend, and walks alone into a thunderstorm.

Among other heroes are those in Doctor Bull, Judge Priest, Steamboat Round the Bend, My Darling Clementine (1946), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Sun Shines Bright, The Searchers. Some heroes are false, unequal to their calling (the minister in How Green Was My Valley); others are arrogant and destructive (The Fugitive, 1947; The Hurricane; Fort Apache). The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is the story of a hero’s apprenticeship. The hero is an old woman in Pilgrimage (1933), a little girl in Wee Willie Winkie (1937), a dead woman in Donovan’s Reef and a woman doctor in 7 Women, who, in one of Ford’s two or three more serene and resonant scenes, arrives at her mission riding a mule while children she will not be able to save sing “Yes, Jesus loves me.” The scene feels “predetermined,” typically for Ford,

in the sense that, just as a scene of Christ entering Jerusalem might have portents of his passion, so too in 7 Women the tones, light, sounds and pace, without explicit symbolism, intimate clusters of emotions and ideas. Like young Mr. Lincoln (whose French title is Vers sa destinée – “Toward His Destiny”), like the priest in Robert Bresson’s Journal d’un curé de campagne (1950), the heroine of 7 Women will confront freedom, her moral principles and the inescapable realities around her, and realise that her mission is to be a sacrificial victim.

Always in Ford there is a dialectic between the global resonances of an event, and the intensity of individual experience; always his high points, as in the Bresson movie, are the instants of I-thou. Neither Vidor nor Hawks knows such moments as those between Cartwright and Jane Argent (Mildred Dunnock) at the end of 7 Women,

when the doctor for the first time comes out of her shell and is no longer alone, for a second, just for a second.

Ford’s father had been born where Ford would film The Quiet Man, his mother on the primitive island where Robert J. Flaherty would make Man of Aran (1934). Ford learned to make movies during three years’ apprenticeship under his brother, the silent-serial star-director Francis Ford, and then made 25 pictures with cowboy Harry Carey. The “mastermyth” was evident in even the first of these, along with thrills, picturesque beauty, invention and, above all, congeniality, but with little depth – until his sixtieth (!) movie, Four Sons (1928), a slavish imitation of Murnau’s moods, manners and techniques undertaken in a deliberate effort to relearn his own craft. Ford had watched Murnau shoot Sunrise (1927) and thought it the greatest movie ever made. Sunrise is arguably the aesthetic event in film history after Lumière; movies changed after it and still reflect its influence. Murnau showed that cinema could organize space as emotionally as music organizes time. (32) The stylisation of his painterly invention made suddenly palpable a character’s conscious rapport with his physical world,

bringing us more richly into, simultaneously, a protagonist’s emotional life and the world he or she inhabits. Because of Murnau, Ford began to take movies seriously as an art form. It is thanks to Murnau that Ford could give 7 Women its æsthetics of predetermination (its global view), and also that he could make us share one person’s deepest feelings.

Ford learned to set up a graphic composition

and then ignite it kinetically:

“Ford’s characters are almost always strongly typed, indeed, stereotyped”, Jean Mitry explained.

[But then Ford] gives them life and realism by stuffing them with a thousand details, a thousand original or singular nuances which burst the seams of the ready-made clothing the characters wore at first, when it was necessary to define them and situate them dramatically. (33)

Ford’s “cameo characterization” makes a character instantly identifiable at first glance. Like in a cameo photograph,

he or she is depicted in a revealing pose – in Ford almost always an action, indeed, often in a vaudeville-like “turn”, a complete little movie in itself in one shot,

that, wonderful in itself, is merely the point in portraiting a character where Ford begins, whereas other filmmakers take two hours to get to this point. He learned from Murnau to intensify the character’s relation to the world around her: the way her emotions permeate the entire screen, and the way milieu (customs, culture and tradition) operate determiningly upon her.

“[Ford was] the best director in the history of motion pictures [because] his placement of the camera almost had the effect of making even good dialogue unnecessary or secondary”, said Darryl F. Zanuck late in life. (34) Thus a single shot in Ford is a whole world.

And thus the explosive effect when Ford cuts to another world.

In his best pictures, Ford mixes diverse comedy and tragedy, moods, personalities, tempos and worlds; ethnic and class diversity. In Ford’s ambivalent interplays between a determining cultural milieu and an autonomous individual, there is a sort of “Augustinian dissonance” –

the paradox of terrifying freedom within a predestined cosmos. “Though hard to you this journey may appear, Grace shall be as your day”, sing the Mormons in Wagon Master, one of the rare Ford films with a happy ending. Normally Ford’s City of Man is dark with chiaroscuro.

His early 1930s films depict contemporary Americans as crass, egocentric bigots who perpetuate concentration-camp-like communities (e.g., Pilgrimage; Doctor Bull; The Whole Town’s Talking, 1935). But by the mid-’30s, the industry was under the control of the Rockefeller and Morgan interests, an optimistic tone was imposed on everyday life, and the studios retreated to the past and to exotic locales. Ford’s expressionism grew more melodramatic and Manichean (The Prisoner of Shark Island, 1936; Mary of Scotland, 1936; The Informer, 1935; Stagecoach; The Hurricane; The Long Voyage Home, 1940; Young Mr. Lincoln). Nonetheless, he managed to slip through a sarcastic denunciation of the South in the guise of a riverboat comedy (Steamboat Round the Bend); a portrait of office life even bleaker than The Crowd’s under the guises of a gangster comedy (The Whole Town’s Talking); and a revelation of economic oppression in The Grapes of Wrath, in which we are led to identify with the moral itinerary of a dispossessed farmer as his growing sense of class identity moves him to dedicate his life to revolution.

More astonishing than The Grapes of Wrath’s Marxism, in which Ford makes us empathize with the outcasts, is his way of making us empathize with ourselves as the oppressors. Intolerance, he shows, thrives not in villains who leer, but in people who care. He has a saintly old Southern judge address a noble old black man kindly as “boy” in The Sun Shines Bright. He has compassionate cavalry soldiers charge off to kill innocent Indians, because their ethic is duty, in Fort Apache. He has Sean Thornton (John Wayne) kick Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) in the rump in The Quiet Man, and, worse, has her like it, because her Irish community will admit Sean only if he compromises his newfangled American ideas.

In contrast, if you watch films of the 1930s and ’40s, you will seldom be reminded that blacks exist outside of Africa, that militarism has a dynamic of its own, or that women are encouraged to think of themselves as chattel. One reason Ford has for forty years been singled out among Hollywood moviemakers as racist, militarist and sexist is that virtually every other ’30s and ’40s filmmaker ran away from such topics, until the ’50s, and ever since then filmmakers have usually made sure that their baddies wear black hats. But Ford was pesky Irish, or Bertold Brecht before Brecht (as Jean-Marie Straub says), and he knew that we ourselves are the baddies, and that almost none of us wear black hats. In 1929 he was already outrageous. In Salute (1929), he has Stepin Fetchit as a stereotyped darkie servant, whiny and bent-over and codely named “Smokescreen”, who shows up at the United States Naval Academy in an admiral’s coat and hat (swiped from his employer) and announces to the family’s callow cadet, “I’s yer mammy!” Ford is jiving both whites and blacks – and the Navy’s southern and aristocratic culture.

Ford’s life’s work was an obsessive revelation of intolerance. Obviously, the more he delved into its intestines, the more he was misunderstood. Thus How Green Was My Valley is misread as endorsement of suicidal traditions that bury people’s heads in the ground. Thus Fort Apache gets read as justification for false myths to regulate society, when in fact Ford demonstrates not only that the myth is a lie but also, and more importantly, that myths can be fabricated by an ideological establishment with vested interests in telling lies, and that the result is that nice people just like us end up killers because we want to do the “right” thing. Thus The Searchers is read as justification for no-holds-barred racial wars, rather than a revelation of the psychic mechanisms of racism. Thus Liberty Valance is read as a justification for discarding the law in a crisis, rather than a Platonic demonstration of how such failures in idealism damage both the state and the individual soul.

Ford has been attacked – and it is part of his greatness that he will always be attacked – because he was less interested in denouncing intolerance than in making it understood, and because he does not believe that intolerance can be eliminated: he believes in sin. More, he believes in grace, especially in those instants of “I-thou”, the very ones so perilous for Hawks and Vidor. Ford’s heroes break tradition and revitalize morality by acts of genuine charity. For we need tradition and myth. They are integral to human cognition, and like cognition will always be imperfect, and in need of constant repair. How can the poet serve us?

Hawks had a chance in 1941. He made Sergeant York to convince conscientious objectors that we do God’s work when we kill in war; it grossed more than any of his other pictures and was the only one of them to get him an Academy Award nomination. In it, the casual romp of Alvin C. York (Gary Cooper) through the trenches is such an insult to the horror and tedium of those World War I battlefields that one almost wishes it were what it definitely is not: a Chaplinesque satire of a Pollyanna recruiting poster. Ford’s film, a year later, The Battle of Midway, is in contrast shot through with fear and anxiety and terror, with amazement at courage. Maybe it is the only war film where we feel the adrenaline, and the only one with such deep moral dread at what we are doing, from every possible angle, from the war as experienced by an individual (Ford himself filming bombs dropping all around him, before he passed out from shrapnel wounds), to the war in all its global and mythic dimensions – one of which, not coincidentally, is that it is an actual, and fully aware, document of the moment when the United States became the dominant global power. America’s Irish-Catholic poet laureate was there to sing of it and to pray for grace, not glory. As always, Ford is the protagonist of his movie.


  1. In fact, the nature they beheld was the product of centuries of cultivation by Indians, ninety percent of whom had recently died from European diseases. Most Puritan settlements simply took over villages and fields whose Indian owners had perished two or three years before the Puritans’ arrival. Nonetheless, the false myth of “wilderness” was to overshadow American civilization throughout the centuries to come.
  2. Luc Moullet and Michel Delahaye, “Entretien avec King Vidor”, Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 136, October 1962, p. 5.
  3. Ibid, p. 14.
  4. Ibid, p. 14: the insight is Moullet’s or Delahaye’s.
  5. Ibid, p. 2.
  6. Ibid, p. 14.
  7. “From a Vidor Notebook”, The New York Times, 10 March 1935.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. In Vidor’s film Metaphor: King Vidor Meets With Andrew Wyeth (1980).
  11. Francis Koval, “Interview with Rossellini”, Sight and Sound, February 1951, p. 393. Pio Baldelli, Roberto Rossellini (Roma: Samonà e Savelli, 1972), p. 253.
  12. André Bazin, “Voleur de bicyclette”, Esprit, November 1949; reprinted in Bazin, Qu’est-ce que le cinéma, Vol. 4, translated by Gray, p. 59; also, Vol. 2, p. 60.
  13. Gilbert Seldes, “A Fine American Movies”, The New Republic, 7 March 1928, pp. 98-9; reprinted in George C. Pratt, Spellbound in Darkness (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society Ltd, 1973), pp. 469-71. Seldes, in his Seven Lively Arts (1924), was one of the first cultural critics to demand that popular culture be given serious attention.
  14. Quoted in King Vidor interviewed by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard (Metuchen: Directors Guild of America and Scarecrow Press, 1988), p. 276.
  15. Eric Sherman, “King Vidor”, in Jean-Pierre Coursodon (Ed.), American Directors, Vol. 1 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983), p. 350.
  16. Vidor, quoted by Richard Combs, “King Vidor”, in Richard Roud (Ed.), Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (New York: Viking, 1980), p. 1027 (henceforth referred to as Cinema.)
  17. The one hero in Vidor is the architect in The Fountainhead, whom Vidor admired for his independence and self-assertion; yet, even so, he disapproved of the film’s ending, blowing up the buildings, and changed his mind to approval only twenty years later. In Northwest Passage, Maj. Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy) is a hero of superhuman proportions; but Vidor never completed the film, whose second half was to depict Rogers’ disintegration.
  18. Vidor interviewed by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, in their The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak (New York: Signet, 1971), p. 272.
  19. One obstacle to appreciating Vidor’s War and Peace is the tendency (natural enough) to see it, and its depiction of Napoléon, as a historical film rather than, more properly, a mythological movie.
  20. The New York Times, 12 August 1956.
  21. Mark Shivas and V. F. Perkins, “Interview with King Vidor”, Movie, No. 11, July-August 1963.
  22. King Vidor interviewed by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard, p. 16.
  23. Robin Wood, Howard Hawks (London: BFI, 1981), p. 177.
  24. Unpublished essay for Tag Gallagher, 1991.
  25. Molly Haskell, “Howard Hawks”, Cinema, p. 474.
  26. David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (New York: Morrow Quill, 1979), p. 235.
  27. Cahiers du Cinéma, 29 December 1953.
  28. Thomson, p. 235.
  29. Haskell, p. 478.
  30. Haskell, p. 479.
  31. Andrew Sarris, “The World of Howard Hawks”, in Joseph McBride (Ed.), Focus on Howard Hawks (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 61.
  32. Eric Rohmer, L’Organisation de l’espace dans le “Faust” de Murnau (Paris: Editions 10/18, 1977), p. 112.
  33. John Ford (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1954), p. 26.
  34. Quoted in Mel Gussow, Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking (New York: Pocket Books, 1972), p. 150.

About The Author

Tag Gallagher is the author of John Ford and The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini and has appeared in Cinéma 0, Trafic, Cinémathèque and Cahiers du Cinéma. More of his work can be found on his website.

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