Motifs of John Ford's Films

Topics: John Ford, Wyatt Earp, John Wayne Pages: 5 (1818 words) Published: July 20, 2011
John Ford, since 1952, has held the record for winning Best Director in the Academy Awards. His films have been dazzling and astonishing moviegoers for decades and he was a pioneer for shooting on-location and the extreme long shot. Of the many John Ford movies, there is an ongoing presence and repetition of several motifs. These themes are usually significant to the plot or character development in the film and often represent similar themes from film to film. Some of these motifs Ford uses in his films are dances, fights, doctors, women, and arrivals and departures.

First of all, the dance is present in many of Ford’s films. Dances are used as a social event to bring together the community and signify the acceptance of an outsider. My Darling Clementine is the film where this is most prominent. The townsfolk set up wooden platforms to dance on and Wyatt and Clementine join the gathering by the river after church. This functions as the town’s acceptance of Wyatt. The same example can be used in Young Mr. Lincoln, although Lincoln warns Mary Todd against his inability to dance, he still engages after Todd insists, later commenting on Lincoln being a man of his word. Lincoln is accepted by Todd, later to become his wife. This dance Lincoln attends functions as an acceptance into the community as a lawyer and a respectable man. Wagonmaster shows how dance can be used as vulnerability when the Mormon community accepts the newcomers, good and bad. Travis Blue and Sandy Owens are received as the wagon masters and the Clegg family, wanted for murder and armed robbery. Sometimes people can’t be trusted and the dance sequence in Wagonmaster shows where this can be a problem, the Mormons invite them to join them in their festivities, making them vulnerable to manipulation. Dance is present also in Donovan’s Reef in an acceptance manner not by the characters, but by the islanders accepting their princess. This is one of the few times the camera moves in this film and concentrates strongly on the cultural dance. Ford concentrates on the traditional Polynesian dance as a central piece in the film because it brings Lelani to life as she represents the past, traditions, and culture of Hawaii. Dances are a significant motif of acceptance in Ford’s films, but fights can also be a form of dance and acceptance.

Fights are present in all films, whether conflict in the character personally, verbally between two characters, or physically. The physical fights are where Ford’s motif is strongly present. My Darling Clementine is a retelling of the story of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, a timeless fight between the Wyatt Earp and the Clanton family. The final gunfight is the great ending to the story and functions as closure to the revenge against the Clanton’s for killing Wyatt Earp’s brothers and stealing his cattle. Wyatt Earp’s true character is revealed by letting Old Man Clanton live to feel the pain that he caused the Earp family. The gunfight is also prominent in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because the fight between Liberty Valance and Ransom Stoddard was the defining acceptance of Ransom in the town. This functions as the revelation of Tom Doniphon’s character who never told anyone, other than Ransom, the truth behind the gunfight. The whole film is Ransom reminiscent of what Tom did for him. Judge Priest and Young Mr. Lincoln are centered on fights as part of the plot. The main character proves his worth through revealing the truth behind the fights through honest efforts. The Quiet Man and Donovan’s Reef are examples of Ford using fights in a humorous manner. The Quiet Man uses several physical fights. Though Thornton is the main character the story is told by Father Lonergan, reminiscent of the past. The first is between Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher on their wedding night. This fight shows the husband’s dominance over the wife, showing her that she must be obedient to him, as dictated by Innisfree’s culture. Thornton...
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