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Cannes puts Wayne, Ford back in saddle

Restored ‘Searchers,’ documentary about star, director screened at festival
/ Source: The Associated Press

John Ford and John Wayne, who forged one of Hollywood's most enduring partnerships, rode again at the Cannes Film Festival, which featured a documentary about their collaboration and a restored version of their Western classic "The Searchers."

Director Ford made 14 films with Wayne as a leading man, among them the Westerns "Stagecoach," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," along with others that include the Irish romp "The Quiet Man" and the war movies "They Were Expendable" and "The Long Voyage Home."

Their association potentially was a clash of alpha males, but Ford and Wayne made it work and made it last, the actor resigned to the put-downs and cold shoulder the director sometimes would cast his way.

"Wayne loved him and admired him and had enormous respect for him, even though Ford was mean to him most of the time," said filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who was at Cannes and contributes audio commentary in a new DVD set for the restored "Searchers." "Jimmy Stewart (Wayne's co-star in ‘Liberty Valance') said they were like father and son. I think that's quite true."

"The Searchers" set comes out in the United States on June 6, along with "The John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection" boxed set that includes "Stagecoach," "Fort Apache" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon." A separate DVD set, "The John Ford Film Collection," comes out the same day, its films including "The Lost Patrol," "The Informer" and "Cheyenne Autumn."

The "Stagecoach" DVD is accompanied by the documentary "John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend," which premiered this month on PBS' "American Masters" series and also played at Cannes.

Common ground and extreme differencesThe documentary recounts the common ground the men shared and the differences that strained their relationship, notably Wayne's ultraconservative politics against Ford's liberalism and the director's documentary efforts on behalf of the Allies in World War II while Wayne stayed in Hollywood making movies.

Sam Pollard, who directed the documentary, said the two men's strengths and differences complemented one another, Wayne gaining a mentor and Ford creating the Hollywood epitome of a man's man.

"Ford was able to take Wayne and create his alter ego, everything he couldn't be, really," Pollard said. "He wasn't handsome, he wasn't charming in Wayne's way. But he molded and shaped John Wayne to be that, his ideal of a man."

Born into an Irish-American family in Maine, Ford followed his actor-director brother to Hollywood and gradually made his reputation as a silent-era filmmaker, the 1924 railroad Western "The Iron Horse" securing his status as a rising star behind the camera.

Wayne started as a prop man on Hollywood films in the 1920s and became friends with Ford, who took the tall, handsome youth under his wing and cast him in bit parts, grooming him for leading roles.

Director Raoul Walsh beat Ford to the punch by casting Wayne in a starring role in 1930's "The Big Trail." Ford felt betrayed and turned his back on Wayne, refusing to speak to him for years.

Wayne spent most of the 1930s toiling in low-budget, forgettable Westerns until Ford abruptly ended the freeze-out and brought the actor back into his fold.

They resumed their friendship, which included boat and fishing trips, card games and boozy parties. Against studio bosses' wishes, Ford cast Wayne in a key role in 1939's "Stagecoach," the film that put Wayne on the trail to superstardom.

They remained fast friends the rest of their lives, Ford dying in 1973, Wayne in 1979. Dan Ford, the filmmaker's grandson, recalled how distraught Wayne was at his old friend's funeral, more than 40 years after their partnership began.

"I don't know of a parallel. (Martin) Scorsese and (Robert) De Niro, maybe," said Dan Ford. "They did have things they disagreed on. The war, politics. ... But they liked each other, they liked each other's company. They're two men who had enough in common that they could sustain this relationship."