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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

John Ford-John Wayne set shows power of the pairing

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. That hallowed slice of advice, repeated so often it s become show-biz cliche, can be found in John Ford s last genuinely classic film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Unfortunately, Valance itself can t be found in the new John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection (Warner, $79.98), and neither can The Quiet Man (1952) or Rio Grande (1950), all of which star Wayne and stand as exhibits A, B, and C of the collaboration between Ford and Wayne arguably the most fruitful director-muse pairing in movie history.

Then again, I m nit-picking.

Because I adore this set, and you only hurt the ones you love.

You could say, just as readily, that The Searchers (1956), Stagecoach (1939), and Fort Apache (1948) all included, in glimmering new editions and packed with intelligent extras are the true A, B, and C, and the others, by default, are D, E, and F. And that doesn t even include the movies Ford made without Wayne, such as Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and My Darling Clementine (1946) on and on.

What is here, however, is a reminder that Ford, blunt and loath to talk about himself or his choices as a filmmaker (even the word filmmaker was too pretentious for him), was one of the 20th century s vital American artists, as important to motion pictures as Ernest Hemingway was to fiction and Robert Rauschenberg to painting. In short, he developed a visual foundation to tell stories that the movies still use.

As Ford famously downplayed to a Hollywood audience, I make westerns. And he wasn t being humble, either. The power of Fort Apache (available for the first time on DVD, and given a nice featurette on Ford and his Monument Valley locations) is in the clarity and simple stating of what it s about: leadership and duty, and how inflexible leaders inevitably fail at their duty. Notice the way Ford trusts long shots of characters talking because in this case, it s the words that matter. Notice the way he moves the camera only when it speeds the pace or makes sense.

Which is not to say his films are simple. Or even mostly westerns. Asked which directors he looked to for inspiration, Orson Welles said, The masters. Ford, Ford, and Ford. The Long Voyage Home (1940), included in the set, adapts four Eugene O Neill one-act plays. They Were Expendable (1945), included as well, tells the story of PT boats facing certain doom in the Pacific during World War II. Ford and star Robert Montgomery were on duty when the Navy asked them to head back to MGM and start shooting what would inevitably become a rather surprisingly downbeat portrait of resolve and heroism.

It s also a picture that, if you wade through the other films in this set, Ford is clearly reworking over and over, honing and mastering. Only with, as Federico Fellini put it, the smell of barracks, of horses, of gunpowder. And it s here the set truly comes alive. The Searchers gets the double-disc treatment it demands: Peter Bogdanovich does commentary, and many other directors offer their takes on the film in a swift (if not especially earthshaking) documentary. Stagecoach (1939) gets a commentary from Ford s enthusiastic biographer, Scott Eyman, and an American Masters episode on Ford and Wayne.

Far less important, but not horrible, is Universal s generous John Wayne: An American Icon (Universal, $26.98). To quote the box, you get five iconic films including The Conqueror (1955), in which Wayne iconically filled the shoes of, uh, Genghis Khan?

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP: What do you get with Disney s new Unrated Extended Version editions of three Jerry Bruckheimer hits, Con Air, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State (Buena Vista, $19.99 each)? Not very much. Certainly not any new big explosions, which remain the hallmark of the Bruckheimer brand. You get a few more swears, a teensy bit of naughtiness, nothing unusual, nothing necessary.

But then when is anything in a Bruckheimer movie too much? The best of the bunch, Crimson Tide, remains a guilty thrill, thanks to all that great shouting from the dream team of Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Starbucks recently got into producing with Akeelah and the Bee. If it ever gets around to making action pictures, these slick-looking, quintessential 90s relics should be the blueprint.

ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT: Normally I find it tough getting worked up about a late-night infomercial. I m still feeling burned by that Flowbee Haircutting System I bought years ago. The other night, however, I stopped on a spot for a new subscription-based series of DVDs.

They are not sold in any store.

The Midnight Special discs are a compilation of musical and stand-up performances (not complete shows) taken from the eight-year run of the venerable NBC show (1973 to 1981, the David Bowie-Mac Davis years). If you recall Midnight Special fondly, you remember coming home really late on Friday night and being unable to sleep and clicking on the television to Helen Reddy (the host) introducing Al Green or Heart singing Crazy on You. The sound on the first disc is fine; the picture quality so-so. But I stopped with the first. It s $9.95. If you order now (www.midnightspecial.com or 1-800-430-0300) you enter into a pact. You will receive two installments every month at $19.99 each (not including shipping). That s roughly 50 bucks a month for Billy Joel, ELO, and yep, Mac Davis. You can cancel any time but then, no wonder you can t find them in any store.

RUBBING YOUR NOSE IN IT: Why is it this man, this Dog Whisperer with his odd goatee, holds such sway over man s best friend? The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan: Volume 1 (Universal, $69.98) is a compendium of episodes from the hit National Geographic Channel series, a strangely compelling compendium .

Millan, patient and watchful and ubiquitously known as the Dr. Phil of Dogs, has a strange kind of celebrity. He is famous (in a Celebrity Squares sort of fashion) because he knows how to get dogs to listen to him. That is all. Called to the home of a rowdy shih tzu, he does not make eye contact with the pet. He talks with the owners and decides what s wrong. He is clear with the shih tzu. He doesn t negotiate.

The shih tzu sits.

Millan understands the power of one s presence in a room, and all other people (or animals) are aware of you even if they don t let on or show interest. He exploits that by allowing the dog to think it s in charge though subtly denying it the power. It s pretty fascinating. Here s hoping Millan finds a technique for cats before his 15 are up and he s appearing in Chuck Wagon commercials.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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