The highlight of my movie watching this weekend was the 1940 John Ford film "The Long Voyage Hom" starring Ford favorites John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Ward Bond. I have a pretty good stack of Wayne films on DVD I need to get through and thought I would wait until this month - the John Wayne birthday centennial - to watch them. Friday night I realized the month was almost half over and I hadn't watched any yet. So into the DVD player went "The Long Voyage Home." I'm glad I waited because it's a beautiful film to watch and savor.
A more atypical Ford-Wayne combination I can't imagine. "The Long Voyage Home" is based on three one-act plays by Eugene O'Neill and tells about merchant sailors on sea and shore in the early days of WWII. I'm unfamiliar with the original plays, but this appears to be a pretty seamless translation as the screenplay feels whole and not a patchwork of ideas or situations. Beautifully acted by one and all, with Wayne especially good as the Swedish farm boy Ole. (And yes, he adopts a mild Swedish accent, and does not embarrass himself.). The black and white photography is exquisite, and the opening scenes, with the men confined to ship in a tropical setting while seductive women are placed in the forefront of the screen as exotic music plays on the soundtrack is one of the most arresting openings I've seen in awhile. How anybody can look at these opening scenes and say black and white photography is boring is beyond me.
The movie came right in the middle of Ford's amazing three-year period when he turned out one masterpiece after another. Consider the following: in 1939 he directed "Stagecoach", "Drums Along the Mohawk" and "Young Mr. Lincoln." 1940 brought "The Long Voyage Home" and "The Grapes of Wrath." In 1941 he directed "How Green Was My Valley" a film unjustly vilfied in recent years because it won the Best Picture Oscar that year over "Citizen Kane." All these films are towering masterpieces and exhibit the talents of America's greatest director - John Ford. The streak stopped when WII beckoned, and Ford became of the war year's most pre-eminent documentary filmmakers.