Women in the Films of John Ford


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About the Book

While John Ford (1894–1973) remains one of the most influential and revered directors in film history, he is also one of the most frequently misunderstood. One widespread assumption is that he was almost exclusively a man’s director, dismissive of, or at best not well attuned to, the stories, perspectives and concerns of women.
This book forthrightly challenges such an assumption, giving readers a richer understanding of the director’s view of the world and of the women as well as the men who inhabit it. Taking a fresh look at dozens of Ford films, both familiar favorites and under-appreciated gems, it focuses on the complex and diverse female characters in them as well as the actresses who so ably portrayed them.

About the Author(s)

The author of multiple books on film history, David Meuel has also published two books of poems, more than two dozen short stories, and hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from U.S. national parks to high technology. He lives in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Bibliographic Details

David Meuel
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 204
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7789-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1456-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Introduction: Spotlighting Women in John Ford’s Films 5
1. The Dark Side of Mother Love: Henrietta Crosman’s Hannah Jessop in Pilgrimage 15
2. Fearless Free Spirit: Jean Arthur’s Wilhelmina Clark in The Whole Town’s Talking 25
3. “Swamp Gal”: Anne Shirley’s Fleety Belle in Steamboat Round the Bend 34
4. The Innocent Turned Imperialist: Shirley Temple’s Priscilla in Wee Willie Winkie and Philadelphia in Fort Apache 43
5. All About Attitude: Claire Trevor’s Dallas in Stagecoach and Joanne Dru’s Denver in Wagon Master 52
6. Colonial Spunk: Claudette Colbert’s Lana and Edna May Oliver’s Mrs. McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk 62
7. Family First: Jane Darwell’s Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and Sara Allgood’s Beth Morgan in How Green Was My Valley 72
8. More Than the Sum of Her Parts: Mildred Natwick’s Four Small Gems for John Ford 83
9. “On the very edge of eternity”: Donna Reed’s Sandy Davyss in They Were Expendable 90
10. Ford’s Wild Irish Rose: Maureen O’Hara’s Kathleen in Rio Grande and Mary Kate in The Quiet Man 99
11. Female Supremacy: Ava Gardner’s Honey Bear and Grace Kelly’s Linda in Mogambo 109
12. “Way out on a limb”: The Women Who Trigger Ethan’s Quest in The Searchers and the Women Who Must Face Its Consequences 120
13. Reconnection and Regret: Vera Miles’ Hallie in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 135
14. No Other Way Out: Anne Bancroft’s Dr. Cartwright in 7 Women 142
15. Snapshots: Other Fine Female Roles and Performances in Ford Films 152
16. Dare We Call Ford a Feminist? The Director’s Achievement in Context 172
Conclusion: Electric Moments 180
Recommended Resources for Further Reference 183
Chapter Notes 187
Bibliography 191
Index 193

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Well-written and well-researched”—Examiner.com
  • “Wonderful…a truly delightful read…heartily recommend”—Classically Speaking.blogspot.com
  • “An intriguing and convincing study into John Ford’s most memorable female characters…Meuel is extremely convincing in his quest to prove that Ford should not be remembered primarily as a man’s director, but rather one that cared as much about his female characters as he did about his male…a fascinating read…outstanding…a wonderful piece of work”—moviecritical.net