Born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna on February 1, 1895, Cape Elizabeth, ME. Also known as Sean Aloysius O'Feeney, Jack Ford, and Sean O'Feeney. One of the greatest American directors who made a name as director of Westerns (56 out of 125 films and TV shows he directed). Began career in Hollywood at Universal Pictures in 1914, contract director by 1917, moved to the Fox studio 1921 for whom he made comedies and films about Irish and American history during 1930s. A film about the Irish Rebellion The Informer (1935) won his first of 4 Academy Awards for Direction.

Even before the US was at war, in 1940 Ford had assembled film crew (a "private army of Hollywood technicians", Sinclair, p. 101) and was lobbying Washington to support his group. When war broke out in December 1941 his film unit was formed into Field Photographic Branch of the US Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner to the CIA). Pioneers documentary filmmaking techniques for intelligence gathering purposes. From 1942-5 serves as Lt. Commander in US Marine Corps, wounded at the Battle of Midway while filming (wins Oscar for best documentary and medals - Legion of Merit and Purple Heart). 1945 begins supervising 8 hour documentary on Nuremberg war crimes trials until project abandoned. Makes wartime film about the fall of the Philipines and its evacuation They Were Expendable (1945). After war becomes officer in Naval Reserve. Made Admiral by President Nixon.

After WWII Ford created some of the greatest Westerns ever made, many of them shot in Mounment Valley, including a trilogy of Cavalry Westerns about the US Cavalry's task of pacifying the Indian tribes who resisted Amercian expansion afte the Civil War: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950). In his other Westerns such as My Darling Clementine (1946);Wagon Master (1950), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) a common theme which he raised to a work of cimatic art was the "shoot out", especially the shoot out at the O.K. Corral between Wyatt Earp and the Clanton familly.

The richness and complexity of his view of the settlement of the West raises his work above that of most of his contemporaries. Although he extols the military for its role in making settlement possible he also shows the darker side of using force to resolve disputes. The Searchers shows an embittered Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who searches for an abducted niece who was taken by Comanches in a raid. His life of violence and racial hatred of the Indians forces him to live outside European society, his hatred of the "defiling" of his neice by the Indians drives him to want to kill her in order to "save" her (compare Vietnam). The picture Ford shows us of the isolation of Western communities, the doomed Indians, and the impact of violence and racial hatred on European men is a very bleak one. One of his last films, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) is an attempt to revise his own earlier attitude towards the conquest and dispossession of the Indians by Europeans by looking at history more from the perspective of the Indians.

Ford had a great interest in the Civil War (a war buff who could name all the generals on both sides of the conflict) but only made one film directly about it, the segment on The Civil War in the 5-part collaborative film How the West Was Won (1962). Focuses on the Battle of Shiloh, significant for the Ford family because his Unlce Mike was tricked into signing up when just off the boat from Ireland. At Shiloh he deserted from the Union Army and served in the Confederate Army. The critic Philippe Haudiquet observes taht:

War, with its sounds and fury, may provide Ford with spectacle - deployment of troops, alignment of artilery pieces, Cavalry charges - but he regards it as nothing less than the most frightful butchery. He is not content with showing troops being decimated, ripped up with machine guns, he takes us into the worst part of the battlefield, the field hospital. he shows operations taking place under bombardment (They Werer Expendable ), young soldiers dying ... in The Civil War ... such scenes, brief, dense, and presented in their logical order, give us the most exact image of war. (quoted in McBride, p. 192).

It is surprising that Ford did not make more Civil War movies, however, the war is ever present in his post-war cavalry films.

Films: the western The Iron Horse (1924) about the progressive role of the railways in settlement of the West; WW1 film The Lost Patrol (1934); about the Irish Rebellion The Informer (1935); the classic Western Stagecoach (1939); Young Mr. Lincoln (1939); about the American Revolution Drums Along the Mohawk (1939); about the Depression The Grapes of Wrath (1940); war documentaries Sex Hygiene (1941), The Battle of Midway (1942), December 7th (1943); They Were Expendable (1945); cavalry trilogy Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) about the tensions between the troopers' duty to the military and their personal lives during the Indian Wars in the South West; Korean war films: the documentary This is Korea (1951) and two war comedies - WW2 comedy When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950) and the WW1 film What Price Glory? (1952); the dreadful comedy about WW1 aviator Wings of Eagles (1957); Civil War film The Horse Soldiers (1959) and Civil War section of How the West Was Won (1962), court martial of black cavalry officer Sgt Routledge (1960); WW2 film about tyrannical captain on cargo ship Mister Roberts (1955); westerns My Darling Clementine (1946) about bringing law and order to the "wild" west; Wagon Master (1950), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962); Cheyenne Autumn (1964); documentaryVietnam! Vietnam! (1971).



  • Claudette Colbert Magdalana (Lana)
  • Henry Fonda - Gilbert (Gil) Martin
  • Edna May Oliver - Mrs. Sarah McKlennar
  • John Carradine - Caldwell
  • Eddie Collins - Christian Reall
  • Doris Bowden - Mary Reall
  • Jessie Ralph - Mrs Weaver
  • Robert Lowery - John Weaver
  • Arthur Shields - Rev. Rosnekrantz
  • Ward Bond - Adam Helmer

Young newly weds Gil and Lana Martin plan to settle on the frontier along the Mohawk River valley in New York state on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Lana comes from a well-to-do family and so finds life on the frontier primitive and hard. Gil joins the local militia in order to defend the settlement from Indians allied to the British.


Screenplay: Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien

Novel: Walter D. Edmonds


Andrew Sinclair, John Ford (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979).

Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington, John Ford (London: Secker and Warburg, 1974).


1. As Fox had not done many historical costume dramas Ford was forced to make most of the period costumes and props from scratch: period flintlock muskets found in Ethiopia where they had been in use during the 1930s by the Ethiopians against Mussolini's army

2. Why make a film about the American Revolution (War of Independence) in 1939? Perhaps reassertion of American values and history as Europe sliding into war. A reminder that America had to defend itself from oppression by British by taking up arms. A warning that they may have to do it again if fascism threatens.

3. The men always know exactly why they are fighting, what they are fighting for. They are defending their families, communities, property, and way of life.

4. The strength of the white community is shown in communal activities such as feasting, marriage, dancing, church services. The strength of the women is often shown - feisty, independent-minded women like Mrs McKlennar who follow their husbands into the wildness but have the courage to take over when they have gone.

5. The other side of the coin is that the enemy (usually Indian) have no community and thus no humanity.

6. The mythologizing of the army and the church as two pillars of the community.

7. The idea that very ordinary men will rise to the occasion demanded of them by circumstances.