Biographies and critiques of the work of John Ford and John Wayne abound to be perfectly frank. As such, any new volume on these men needs to offer some different spin on familiar material, another perspective if you like. Scott Nollen’s new book – Three Bad Men:John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond – does so by examining the lives and careers of not only Ford and Wayne but Bond too. It’s quite common to see works which examine the complex relationship that Ford and Wayne had but Bond tends to be given lower billing. While Nollen makes it clear that Ford was without doubt the prime mover, he also focuses on the significant role Bond played in the old director’s life and that of Wayne. In short, the book establishes just how inextricably these three men were linked on both a personal and professional level.
There is some background sketching relating to the early years of these men’s lives, but the bulk of the text concentrates on the Hollywood years, and particularly those when Ford, Wayne and Bond were friends and colleagues. Although they all had radically different personalities, this trio remained fast friends and their affection for one another is never in doubt. Ford looked on Wayne and Bond as surrogate sons as much as friends and co-workers, treating then with all the indulgence, frustration, cussedness and meanness that he was renowned for. Ford was a deeply complex man, an impenetrable enigma in many respects. What comes across clearly is the struggle that seems to have characterized his life – with the studios, producers, performers, and most of all with himself. The contradictory nature of the man is there for all to see in his erratic behaviour, but more than anything in the beautiful images he created and captured on the screen. His difficulty in articulating his sensitive side, burying it beneath a gruff and often abusive exterior, melted away when he got behind the camera.
Of the two actors, Ward Bond comes across as the more straightforward character, although not always in an especially pleasant way. A great bull of a man, Bond was dedicated to living life to the full, whatever the cost to himself or others. Nollen nails the ebullience, the spirit of the man, and paints a picture of a talented individual who was larger than life. Bond’s persona has probably overshadowed his screen work, and Nollen tries to balance that somewhat by drawing attention to his abilities as an actor. However, the book is neither a demolition job nor an attempt to airbrush the less savory aspects. This is very much a warts and all examination of the three men where none of the controversial or distasteful parts are disguised. The result is an honest account of three real people, highlighting their flaws, their virtues and ultimately their humanity.
The book is organized chronologically and follows the interwoven lives of the three protagonists. Both their screen work and their personal lives comes under scrutiny with all their major works being analyzed. Those films where all three collaborated (They Were Expendable, The Quiet Man, The Searchers etc) are examined in detail as is the work they did independently. One notable feature is how much of the book is given over to looking at the work of Bond. There’s a fairly substantial section on his time heading up the cast of Wagon Train on television, and a welcome appreciation of some of his finest film roles, such as his strong showing as John L Sullivan in Gentleman Jim. Of course all of this is juxtaposed with an honest, and far from complimentary, appraisal of his involvement in the shameful HUAC episode. None of the trio emerge with a great deal of credit from that particular period, least of all Bond. Once again though, it serves to highlight the contrary unpredictability of Ford.
In his preface, Nollen makes it clear that he doesn’t intend for this book to be seen as a definitive account of the lives of Ford, Wayne and Bond. Instead it’s a look at how their paths crossed and how each was instrumental in influencing the careers and thoughts of the others. There’s a good introduction by Michael A Hoey (son of character actor Dennis Hoey) and detailed appendices and filmographies of the three men. Nollen’s research is meticulous and scholarly yet the writing style remains highly readable throughout, never becoming dry or tiresomely academic. There are plenty of personal reminiscences by those who worked with the three principals and the book is beautifully illustrated with a thoughtful and interesting selection of photographs. Overall, Three Bad Men makes for a worthwhile, informative and entertaining addition to the existing canon of work on these men.
Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen, foreword by Michael A Hoey
398 pages Published 2013 by McFarland & Company, Inc – ISBN 978-0-7864-5854-7
74 thoughts on “Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond – Scott Allen Nollen”
Thanks Colin; I *must* have this…
Always great to hear from you John. As an admirer of Ford, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the book.
Thanks so much for this Colin. I was curious about the book, but unsure if it would be worth reading. You have now made it clear that this is a must read.
Paul, I liked it a lot. It doesn’t have the depth of, say, McBrides’s seminal biography of Ford, but then again that’s not the author’s stated intention. It’s a very balanced work that pulls no punches but still keeps focused on the talent and artistry of its subjects.
Well Colin, I certainly did right by choosing you as a reviewer, That was excellent and I cannot imagine a better one,,,,,,you really covered the whole gist of the book in very few words. Congratulations…………you have the first review out from the 23 or so I chose. I will post your link for all to see….many have been waiting. When did you receive your book? Some still haven’t gotten theirs! Scott and I thank you, Colin, Keith
Hi Keith. I received the book last Monday and whizzed through it. I would have posted something sooner but work has been unbelievably hectic the last week or so.
This sounds great Colin – terrific review. As you say, there are so many Ford and Wayne books out there it’s great to see one take a different slant and also get some more background on Bond, who we should remember as a terrific character actor without ignoring the downside of his virulently hawkish politics. I hadn’t heard anything about this book before but it really sounds like a great addition to the library – cheers mate.
Yeah Sergio, I really appreciated the way this book gave more attention to Bond. His politics weren’t of the variety I’d go along with but his acting talent was there for all to see.
And of course he did a wickedly accurate impersonation of Ford opposite Wayne’s ‘Spig’ Wead in THE WINGS OF EAGLES and was just in a large batch of great movies made by the likes of John Huston, Frank Capra and Nicholas Ray too of course.
Quite. The book highlights all those movies – Wings of Eagles, The Maltese Falcon, It’s a Wonderful Life, On Dangerous Ground – and shows how he was much more than Ford’s stooge and whipping boy. It really is a shame that such a fine performer felt the need to descend into the kind of mindless red baiting and poisonous politics that now overshadow his contribution to cinema.
Forgot Colin, Amazon US has the book at about $49 and standard shipping to say Greece, (18 plus days), is about $8.
Although Ward Bond’s actions in regard to his politics are something I feel very negatively about when I think about it, the truth is that I don’t think about it very much.
I watch Ward Bond in movies and what I see is a great actor, especially for Ford but, very simply, for anyone. There is no end of great movies he is in. He’s great in WAGON TRAIN too. He was just extraordinarily gifted as an actor because you always believed him.
The way I reconcile these first two paragraphs is this–artists (I’m especially thinking of directors now but it also applies to actors and anyone who was involved in creating movies, just as with all other artists) really only ask to be judged for their work, not for their biographies. Yet now everyone mixes in biography so much when any of these people are talked about. If you knew them and they hurt you personally there would be reason to dwell on it, but otherwise, I don’t understand why it is dwelled on as much as it is. It is their work that will endure, not their checkered lives.
People are complex and flawed, and in the case of artists and other creative people, so often it is the best part of themselves that they give to their work, but not to their lives. To want anyone to conform to someone’s romantic dream of them based on their work is just doomed to failure.
There are probably still people who think John Wayne was the persona he often played–and very well (though the range of his roles is, of course, actually considerable). That’s just very naive–he was an actor, and, like Bond, a really great one.
I’m a devoted Fordian. I consider him one of the greatest artists of all time. But I would not have wanted to be his son and it would surely have been difficult at times to be his friend even for the closest friend, or in any intimate relationship with him. It seems pretty clear that he was an alcoholic but had the will to put this aside when he was working. He seems to have been always unhappy. But when he came on the set to work, something extraordinary happened and everyone working with him responded to it. That’s why they are great too in his films, and at least partly explains the devotion he got for all his legendary ill treatment even of those he loved. I think people knew what it meant to be part of that world. It is something that is and will remain eternal.
I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of judging people in any event. And again, the subjects of biographies didn’t live their lives to be judged. We are interested in knowing more about them because of their work, but it’s their work we should care about in the end. That is what will last.
Of course, I’m interested in reading this book and will, and thanks for a good account of it.
As usual, you make some excellent and well expressed points there Blake. The basic thrust of your argument is something i try to follow myself – that we should regard artists as precisely that an put their frailties as human beings to one side. When it comes right down to it, none of use are perfect and it would be a pretty raw deal if we were ultimately judged on our weaknesses and failings alone.
I too have the greatest respect for the work done by Ford, Wayne and Bond. Their politics and human weaknesses are only of passing interest in truth. I quite agree that passing judgement on any individual is a distasteful business and I try to avoid it as much as possible. What’s really important is how much anyone has contributed to our world and its culture. I think the three men under discussion brought a lot to us that is of worth and the book I reviewed here does highlight that fact.
I just finished “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend”. This one is next on my list.
Should make a good companion piece.
I’m in the middle of this book and really enjoying it. I appreciate how it places their films together within the context of their individual careers — not many books bother to do that. For example, it’s fascinating that Bond shot My Darling Clementine and It’s A Wonderful Life back to back, and that scheduling had to be worked out for him to appear in both.
If the second half is like the first, I highly recommend this one. It’s not definitive, but it’s got plenty to recommend it.
And Blake, on the subject of judging people — in my judgement, you’re 100% correct.
Toby, I liked that aspect of the book’s structure too, particularly in relation to Bond whose schedule and output was incredible.
Well, as Ward is my “main man” I can only say he did what he thought was right and stood by it. I am a believer as some of you are that it is his acting ability that should be our concern, and Ward could make you believe he was anything or anybody. I read once from a fellow performer, that Ward could “morph” from Ward to his character immediately when called to do so. That, in itself is quite something! Thanks Scott for taking the 28 years to write a book that could finally give credit to what some of us think was “the glue” that held the three of them together……a severely underrated and MOST remarkable and intelligent manipulator of what is called, the acting profession. KP
Keith, one of the things that made an impression on me was just how capable an actor Bond was. I’ve seen him in countless films over the years, but it brought home to me the variety of roles he played and how easily he slipped into character.
Hi Colin, Yes, I have studied Ward for years, and Scott showed ME some movies I have never even heard of where Ward is the star or co-star, (one Duke has a small part in the background)……even some where Ward has a relatively small part he just goes on the set and promptly “steals” the entire scene leaving you wishing he was in the film more.
Our “love” of Ward’s work is what got Scott and me together so that I could help him promote and get quality reviewers for his book. He has written 18 books such as this and has a good following. But I wanted to introduce him to a different kind of people….not just the historian kind. Seems you have made a most excellent beginning for that. Now, to hear what the others have to say. Keith
Just a note about this topic of “judging.” I’m an historian, not a judge. As I state in the preface of my book, I attempt to tell a story as close as possible to the truth. You cannot separate the artist from the man, but present a balanced portrait of that person. A good biographer does not judge anyone; what he should do is do his level best to present a portrait of a life, and, in this case, the whole point of the book is that you cannot truly understand the work of these men unless you understand the men and the complex relationships between them. Art does not exist in a vacuum. And I love Ward Bond–that’s why I wrote the book–but as a professional historian (BA, BA, MA), I cannot set aside the truth of the man’s life and just talk about his movies. Let’s remember that Adolf Hitler was an artist; not a good one, but he was an artist–it’d be pretty tough just to write about his amateurish paintings without providing the context!
Firstly Scott, it’s great that you popped in here to add your own contribution.
I certainly didn’t feel that you were the least bit judgmental and a “balanced portrait” is pretty much what was achieved in the end. Any biography of worth has to present the facts and you did so quite plainly. Moreover, I think your book contextualizes everything well, pointing out the way various aspects of the men’s private lives – especially the war years and the HUAC business – impacted on and related to their movies.
Hi, Colin. I didn’t think you implied that I was being judgmental. I was referring to some of the comments. There is a reason I use “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to define my approach! How I love that film! I am mightily impressed with your review, which is beautifully written. Your website is most impressive. I’m glad you mentioned WWII, because few writers have given it the attention it deserves with regard to Ford. Even some ardent Fordians don’t realize how important Pappy was in the big picture (no pun intended!). (WWII has always been one of my main areas of interest, study and research as an historian.)
Thanks for the kind words Scott.
I also think WWII was highly significant when one speaks of Ford – both his role in it and its resultant effect on him. It brought about a change in the man and a change in the tone and feel of his movies.
Yes, indeed. I also wanted to extend a thank you to my friend Keith Payne for connecting us, and introducing me to this fine website.
Scott, I believe you are probably referring most of all to my comment.
But my remarks were not directed toward your book. I clearly noted I have not read it yet, and also that I am looking forward to doing so. I’m especially glad that you’ve given attention to Ward Bond–my opinion of him as an actor is I hope very clear–and your title is, needless to say, inspired.
My comments were of a general nature. But I do stand by them.
“I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of judging people in any event. And again, the subjects of biographies didn’t live their lives to be judged. We are interested in knowing more about them because of their work, but it’s their work we should care about in the end. That is what will last.”
This is what I was referring to. I agree with this phrase: “it’s their work we should care about in the end.” Definitely, absolutely. But I have to address the comments that precede it: A credible biographer is a type of historian, not a judge. As an historian, I write the most accurate version of the past I can, based on endless, meticulous and sometimes excruciating research (it’s not a way to support yourself in any way!). Is presenting the truth about the context is which expression is created “judging” its creators? To a scholar, this viewpoint is ahistorical, anti-academic and inexplicable. I just don’t get it. That’s why I used the extreme example of Adolf Hitler. Should we “care about” his paintings and architectural drawings and disregard the fact that he was the greatest monster the world has ever known? I’m just trying to drive the point home, not create a debate. To refer specifically to my book, Ward Bond was a great artist but often a “bad man.” The record speaks for itself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the guy! 🙂
TYPO ALERT: In the fourth sentence, “is” should be “in”: “IN which expression is created…”
If you know me you’ll know I’m not an academic–maybe anti-academic–and it’s not because I don’t understand it, Scott.
I hear you that there’s no judgement in your book. I can’t emphasize enough that I’m looking forward to the book. For one thing I’m very interested in factual material–circumstances of production, specifics of careers. I’m very interested in your response to the films because these are films I love and have lived with a long time.
I’d suggest that Hitler, historically, is more important to history and not important to art, and that we know this history. Those who don’t know it should. I don’t think this is a good example if you’re looking for one.
But, and please, Scott, though I am answering you, this is not about your book or anything in it because I don’t know what’s in it: A lot of biography is subjective and many biographers have acknowledged this, for example Tag Gallagher in his mammoth biography of Rossellini did so, and I can’t imagine a biographer ever lived who did as much research as he did. This is relevant here, of course, because of his own John Ford study, which does have value as biography but it’s secondary to his superb critical argument that runs through that book. To some extent, biographers are going to create a version–which may have a lot of truth in it–of the person they write about, and sometimes this will take them over a line into judgement, and even disapproval, which I’ve seen happen much more than the opposite, and I could name a biographer who has done this and tends to take salacious innuendo and then “print the legend” as if it were the truth. I won’t say his name. Please be assured again that it’s not you.
But I have to ask, and this doesn’t take away anything of the scrupulousness of your work and research into the subjects, how truly and fully are we ever going to know three men who are long dead? We can know a lot about them, but certainly not everything about them, and where they create from comes, I believe, from a much deeper place than anyone will ever know. I’m thinking especially of John Ford saying that. There’s been so much written about him, yet he remains complex and contradictory, as I believe an artist like this should be.
I just want to add that I left out something before that might give more context to what I said about judgement–and this pertains especially to Ward Bond. When I was a kid, my best friend’s father was blacklisted (a screenwriter) and I was close enough to this family to be personally affected by it, and I’ve known others in the blacklisted community throughout my life. To many in that community, anyone who aided HUAC in any way, promoted these witch hunts, cooperated in some way, named names of their onetime friends and colleagues, still makes them seethe with anger to the point that sometimes they cannot even look at the work they did and allow it any standing. Though I can understand this because I know them, it’s a line I will not cross myself and don’t.
I will in the end disagree with you. Though it’s natural to want to know a lot about artists, maybe even all we can (though personally I’m not into gossip or salacious detail), and of course their art cannot finally be separated from who they are as people and the lives they lived, I think the art can be understood separably and we don’t need to know anything about them at all to understand it, even if it might in some way further illuminate it. If anything, we understand the deepest, best part of them through their art.
Of course, disagreeing with me is fine, but that doesn’t affect historical reality (or a reasonable facsimile). This is a FACT (not an opinion): You CANNOT understand a film unless you understand the people who made it–unless it’s just a B film with nothing deeper than filling seats. You can ENJOY a film separately (a vacuum), but you cannot UNDERSTAND it (a product of culture). The politics and personal lives of Ford, Wayne and Bond INFORM most of what they put on the screen. Just as an example, with Wayne, BIG JIM MCCLAIN, THE ALAMO, THE GREEN BERETS. Ford: the Cavalry Trilogy, THE INFORMER, THE GRAPES OF WRATH and, well, EVERYTHING he made. Bond’s politics infuse WAGON TRAIN, albeit in a subtle manner most of the time.
I have three degrees in history, so I probably have a different view of reality than non-academics. I don’t think Hitler is a bad example (I studied the 3rd Reich at the graduate level, and I previously stated that I used it BECAUSE it’s an extreme example, just to try to drive the point home). The people who DO judge aren’t historians; they are axe-grinders, and I agree with you in this respect, absolutely. (Charles Higham, who trashed Errol Flynn, for example–a scoundrel.)
A LEGITIMATE historian is an educated detective who gathers as many facts as possible and then forms a thesis or conclusion (a tendency toward objectivity); those who start with a conclusion and then tailor the material to fit it (total subjectivity) are NOT historians–and here is where I agree with you. Most “biography” IS crap, and those who judge shouldn’t be writing.
This is the last comment I’m writing, as I need all the time possible to write the book I’m now working on! Then I plan to retire. Too much work, and nothing but arguments and NO money in return! Sic transit gloria mundi.
I think we’re talking past each other a little and maybe my approach to movies is just not yours (I am a longtime professional film critic and my negativity toward most in academia has to do with overly ideological approaches it brought to cinema in the 1970s that still have not been thoroughly shaken off–I approach my understanding of movies mostly through inflections in mise en scene by the director though I see movies as integral works and everything as important).
I don’t lack interest in facts around films and individuals as I said, though they just don’t explain all of work. For example, with Ford, his Navy career is an important part of his life, maybe as much as his directing career, but his treatment of military themes in his fiction films is complex and not hand in glove with this Navy side of his life and the loyalties that came with it.
You’re mentioning Higham gives an idea of where I wanted to go with bad biography and if John Knight is reading this he might know that McGilligan is the man I referred to earlier–in his biography of Fritz Lang, McGilligan basically laid out the premise that Lang had murdered his wife, but there is really no evidence at all of this; apparently, there is much evidence it was not the case. Just a good story but this guy does sell books and seems to go on and on with this approach!
There’s no need to reply to this, Scott, but when you say “NO money” please keep in mind that I will pay for my copy of your book, so maybe that will make up for the time you spent in this discussion. I hope so. I do research too, when I write, and I know very well writing is a lot of work with little reward. So all the best with the book, and again, I am looking forward to it.
Thanks very much for your terrific response.
Thanks for bringing this new work to my attention with your fine review, Colin! I’m definitely all over this title, and am very happy to hear that Ward Bond gets a good share of the limelight, as much less has been written about him other than as a key pivotal figure in Wayne and Ford’s lives. Bond and Ford (and certainly to some, Wayne) were difficult men by all accounts but their talents were prodigious, and in the end that is what is most important to cinema lovers. Off to order a copy of this puppy ASAP…and a s a side note, I have to say it’s nice to see you cover a film book like this…hope to see more of this kind of special review off and on as the mood strikes you.
Cheers Jeff. Even though I read a lot, I’ve never reviewed books before. It is something I may return to again.
Colin,I feel that this review was one of your best ever and has certainly provoked some
lively debate,to say the least.
I will attempt to bring some more grist to the mill,in the knowledge that I might regret some
of the points that I make.
When Patrick McGilligans nasty and inaccurate,in my opinion, book on Clint Eastwood appeared
some years back it was nothing more than an attempt to vilify the great man.
Sure there are dark sides to Eastwoods character,but who has not got a darker side?
Also did not Eastwood sue the publisher for several million dollars because of the untruths in
McGilligans book.At any rate at least McGilligan had the decency in his final analysis to quote
someone in France who stated that in the end its only the films that matter.
I think that Blake has more than covered the HUAC thing so I will not even go there.
Ford when accused of racism in his movies always stated that “how can I be a racist when my
best friend is a Black man” (Woody Strode)
Mr Strodes autobiography is most revealing.For a start when Ford fell ill and the work dried up
Ford loaned Strode the money, $2,000,I believe so that he could pay for his Mothers funeral.
It was not until Woody started making Euro Westerns that he started making real money.
Desperate for work Woody tried to get a minor part in MAJOR DUNDEE,as a slave.
The producer told Woody that he was not Black enough.Woody explained that after 300 years
of Black people forming relationships with Native Americans and Whites is it any wonder some
of us are not as Black as we used to be!
Peckinpah seated in the corner sneered as Woody left the room,telling Woody that he is a
Joe Don Baker hated Peckinpah,he classed him as a nasty little runt who liked to bait big guys.
Woody ever the gentleman just described Peckinpah as a crude ignorant man.
As much as I love RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY I have to admit that much of its greatness
stems from the fact that N B Stone wrote it and Lucien Ballad shot it.
Later Peckinpah films like the Godawful PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID leave me cold.
Having written this far,I do not know what point I am trying to make,if any;its just that the people
who made the movies we love had darker sides and its whats up there on the screen that counts.
Thanks John, although I think Scott’s book rather anything I’ve written here has inspired the great discussion all you guys have been involved in.
Peckinpah is another example of a director with a very complex side to him. Frankly, it appears that most of the great filmmakers have displayed some, let’s say, questionable behaviour, doesn’t it?
BTW, I wasn’t aware you disliked Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Conversely, it’s a movie that I have great affection for, despite its flaws – I wrote a piece on it a few years back that you may or may not have read. If you feel like posting any thoughts on it, I’d be interested to read them.
Colin, Many thanks for pointing me towards your review of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY
THE KID. Oddly enough your review has made me want to possibly give the film another look.
I have only seen the film once and that was at the time of its release,though I did see the film
at a West End cinema on a huge screen in those heady days before multiplexes.
I really disliked the film at the time,but having said that, as you probably realise, I am not a
huge Peckinpah fan. Never really liked anything he did after THE WILD BUNCH apart from
JUNIOR BONNER. Even odder that RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is my all time favorite film……..
go figure.From your review you obviously saw loads of stuff that I missed;so I should give the
film another go.As you no doubt know,from my ramblings on Tobys blog,that I am more of a
B Movie sort of guy far more comfortable discussing the likes of Lesley Selander and William
Witney.I really have admiration for Blake Lucas who can write most compelling stuff about
Cinemas grteats then champion a virtually unknown film like TWO GUN LADY.
I sometime feel Colin your fine website is far too intelligent for the likes of me,but here I am
anyway.In any case I have never seen the “Directors Cut” of PAT GARRETT, but there again
it always gets confusing because Peckinpah always seemed to moan that his films
were hacked to bits.
MY radar is probably more tuned to Billy The Kid flicks like THE LAW VS BILLY THE KID
and THE PARSON AND THE OUTLAW……I think Blake really likes the former;though the
latter,as far as I know has no admirers.
John, if you haven’t seen Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for such a long time, then you really ought to give it another look. This film certainly was treated shabbily initially, and the way the two versions have been presented on disc is hardly ideal either – the studio showing their preference by only restoring one version.
Anyway, a new viewing may alter your assessment of it, or then again maybe not. Either way, I reckon it’s worth your time.
As for preferences of types of movie, my own tastes are fairly wide ranging. I like all kinds from the thoughtful and meditative to the action-packed quickies, from the polished prestige pictures to the humblest of B movies. Basically, I just like films. I certainly agree with you that Blake is a guy who looks at a film and appraises it on its own terms as opposed to the established critical consensus. This is the approach I try to adopt myself, and I think it would be fair to say that the majority of people who pass through here and comment seem to have a similar outlook.
I haven’t seen THE PARSON AND OUT LAW but do like THE LAW VS BILLY THE KID.
Lots of good Billy the Kid movies (THE KID FROM TEXAS with Audie Murphy one of the best less known ones) but I will surprise you, John K.–PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID is, I believe, the best of all of them. Not that it’s perfect, but it’s very moving. More so in “Director’s Cut” (actually maybe just near to Peckinpah’s final cut–he might have been done some tweaking but the studio did the final cut). I responded to it in the release version and more so now (but I would caution against a second “Seydor” cut also on the disc, which is a little different and for me does some harm to the editing rhythms Peckinpah intended). I like this movie enough that I wrote an entry for it in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES, the only Western after 1959 for which I did write an entry (wrote on a number of key ones 1949-1959).
I had years of ambivalence about Sam Peckinpah, then picked up this DVD box of what are surely his four best films–RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, THE WILD BUNCH, BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE and PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and starting with CABLE HOGUE saw them all again over a four year period and found I took Peckinpah deeply to heart. I now care more about these movies then I ever did–except RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, the only one I always thought was great and still consider it his masterpiece. So we agree most on that one, John–it’s one of the best Westerns ever made.
RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY still has one foot in classicism–it has McCrea and Scott together at a moment in their careers when both had stepped in Western sublimity; it has so many beautiful things that I love about Westerns. Peckinpah’s gifts are further confirmed by the television series he had created and produced a little earlier–THE WESTERNER with Brian Keith–which had an especially stunning piece he wrote and directed in the first episode “Jeff” and his first movie, also with Keith, THE DEADLY COMPANIONS is good too. As readers of Colin’s blog will know from his own writing about it, the mid-60s sees a transition toward a sea change in the genre, and this is where the troubled production MAJOR DUNDEE falls in, its style still classical but its ideas pointing the way toward modernist Westerns (there is a word beginning with “R” that I try not to use) that will have taken hold by the end of the decade, THE WILD BUNCH being one of the most significant.
Here’s where I’m going with this: Peckinpah is unusually interesting because there is perhaps no one else with a foot in both camps of the classical Western and the modern Western, and given my preferences, it’s understandable that I would have reservations about the style of his movies from THE WILD BUNCH on, no matter what things I did like about them (and they always had a lot to recommend them–superb acting, Lucien Ballard often the cinematographer, and Peckinpah himself was an actual Westerner with deep ties to the real West and an appreciation of both its realities and its myths from his own experiences). Now, feeling that I see these movies more deeply than I once did, I may still have some reservations, and can’t quite put Peckinpah in my top tier in the genre (but the ones I’d name are all classicists to the end) but rather than seeing him as representative of what I don’t like in what happened to the genre, I now think that his Westerns from 1969-1973 are the road not taken for the Western, the trail not traveled. They have been read superficially, and if filmmakers had gone his way, and, rather than being obsessed with more violence in Westerns, followed a thematic direction about change and the death of things, notions, values, dreams, and ways of life attached to the West that he articulated in his work with real feeling, the genre would have had a better life in this later period than it has had. It doesn’t mean these movies are unflawed, but they are worth going back to, and I wouldn’t want to be without them now.
John K., thank you for your kind comments about me and I hope that do read this.
Colin, I wrote the previous after reading John’s but not yours so thanks to you too, and of course we very much agree on how to approach individual movies and I too think it does seem to be true for most here. I know I took extra space with my last post. Since RIDING THE HIGH COUNTRY is the name of this blog, guess you don’t mind indulging me this time.
Blake, you can take as much space as you like – there’s no limit here, and that was a first rate reply.
I think you nailed the essence of Peckinpah as a director there, both his unique place in the transitional era of the genre (arguably acting as the personification of it) and his sadly misunderstood influence on it’s development. Like yourself, I went through a period of what I can only call ambivalence to his work. I’ll not go into the reasons for that here but suffice to say that the release of that box of movies you referred to was instrumental in the revival of my own interest. I find it hard to decide if The Wild Bunch or Ride the High Country represents Peckinpah’s best work; the latter is such an achingly beautiful movie and McCrea and Scott’s final scene (Scott’s words and McCrea’s last look) makes for a powerful and poignant combination.
Major Dundee is a film that I keep meaning to write my thoughts on, but something always causes me to draw back. Maybe I will get round to it though.
“Ride the High Country” is one of my top handful of favorite movies, western or otherwise. For me, it’s the sensitive handling of aging, something I doubt I’d have appreciated until I more or less arrived there myself. Then there’s the gorgeous cinematography, the great script, and the fact that no matter how many times I see it, I always wind up in tears. No movie (nor book nor painting nor anything made by man) is unflawed, but imperfections are part greatness, providing context and texture.
Colin, if I remember correctly, you told me you had never written a book review but would be willing to give it a go. One of you did……even if it wasn’t you, I believe the comments here about your review should have proven to you that you CAN write a book review and do a tremendous job at it. As I have read the book, of course, I have spread the word about your review and added the comment that you “NAILED” Scott’s book. Hope you will write many more….as I will be looking to you when a new book comes out. Thanks again for taking your time to answer my request. Hope you aren’t too busy……….you might have a “second” undertaking emerging, LOL! KEITH
Thanks a lot Keith. As I mentioned to Jeff earlier, this was indeed my first time trying a book review. And yes, I may see my way to doing more in the future.
I’ve really been enjoying the discussion that has developed, even if I’ve mostly been sitting back and watching rather than contributing.
Wow, there’s so much good thinking in this string of stuff. Colin, Blake and gang — I appreciate the time you’ve taken to explain and clarify your points. I’ve gotten a lot out of it. Wish all of us on this thread could get together somewhere for coffee or a pint and hash this out face to face.
Scott, your book is great. Knowing where their “solo” films fell in relationship to the others, such as Tycoon so close to Red River or that Bond went from A Man Alone straight to The Searchers, was really enlightening. It’s a context I never had before.
Thanks to you, I also have a better understanding of their work, their relationship and their working relationship. And as I said on your Facebook page, the picture of Bond and Hank Worden from 3 Godfather is worth the price by itself.
Thanks very much for your kind words, Toby. I really appreciate it.
Hi Colin et al….the above review is a fine piece of writing, Colin, consistent with the high quality you regularly present in relation to film appraisals on this site. The book seems quite intriguing.
I have also enjoyed reading the sharing of ideas and arguments afterward….it is a complex question, the evaluation of another human being….in the future will historians look to Internet comments to piece together a picture of us? 😉
An interesting synchronicity in terms of Ford as I had just recently referred to him in a piece I did on my site on the use of land and location in AMC’s Hell on Wheels. I specifically made a comment about Ford’s heavy use of Monument Valley and how for many initiates to the Western genre that use created the view that ALL Westerns were set in the desert. I particularly like a comment by Anthony Mann in relation to that….who said: ”John Ford adores Monument Valley but Monument Valley is not the whole of the West.”
Hello Chad, and thanks.
That’s a very good point you bring up, supported by Mann’s comment. I guess it goes to show pervasive and wide-ranging Ford’s influence was. The distinctive landscape of Monument Valley has now become one of the default images used when mention is made of the Old West. Those who are into westerns, like ourselves, are of course aware of the variety of landscapes and (speaking for myself anyway) appreciate the use of other great locations.
And there I was thinking no one but my husband could really get truly worked up all things Wayne, Bond and Ford. I’m not sure what’s controversial about what you wrote, but then again I’m a bit of an historian in an amateur way and can’t imagine looking at the world without putting it in an historical context. Thanks for the review. If people like you didn’t take the time to write, I would never learn where to find new and interesting books to feed my habit … and in this case, what to get my husband for Christmas!
Western fans get worked up about all kinds of stuff all the time. 🙂
Glad to hear you enjoyed the review and that it sparked your interest in the book.
Colin, I am so EXCITED to hear about the new book profiling Ford, Wayne and Bond!! Wonderful review. During my years as a TV/radio news reporter, I had the wonderful opportunity meet and spend time with many Hollywood legends including John Wayne. I’ve been a life long admirer of Wayne, Ford and the Ford “stock company”. I’ve read a lot about Wardell Bond including anecdotes about Ford and Wayne teasing Bond about his substantial rear end. Wayne alluded to this in our chat and said Bond was always good sport and often ran interference for him when “Pappy” was in one of foul moods. Richard Jaeckel and James Coburn who also worked with Ward Bond also told me what a supportive person he was for young actors. Bond was a fine character actor. The scene in “Gentleman Jim” where he passes the heavyweight champ’s belt to Erroll Flynn is so very quiet and poignant. John Wayne also told me that when Ward Bond died shortly after the filming of “Rio Bravo”, it was one of the darkest moments of his life during a period when he was feeling very vulnerable. Colin, I can hardly wait to get my hands on this book. Thanks for the review and the heads up!!!
Garry, thanks for stopping by and for sharing that – I’ve got to say I’m positively envious that your career afforded you the opportunity to meet and converse with these greats!
From what You’ve said, I think you’ll definitely appreciate this book. Pretty much all the stuff you mentioned there – Ford’s zeroing in on Bond’s physical peculiarity and Wayne’s grief in particular – is dealt with in the course of Scott’s book.
WHOA, what a fantastic story YOU have Garry. Just read all about you! Did you know that after Ward’s funeral, Duke headed down to make Hatari. He had planned for Ward to go down there, and Duke had already arranged for photos to be taken with Ward and a Rhino facing away from the camera. He had planned to send them all to their friends asking them “who had the largest”?
Can’t wait to swap some stories with you Gary. Oh, my Dad was born deaf. Heard his first cricket when he got a hearing aid after he graduated from Clemson as an architect. Fell asleep that night with the hearing aid on and woke up in the middle of the night, quietly awaking my mother and asking her what that noise was. Of course……….Mom didn’t realize what he was talking about. Dad described it, then she saw he still had his hearing aid on……….when she told him it was crickets……the kind he fished with when he was a kid…….he was amazed! You wife has my email…….we have to start you a BLOG! The stories you must have to share!
Please excuse me here Colin……..man, you should read what Teepee12 has in her blog about GARY! But, guess I stayed on the subject with my story about Ward. I have some that SCOTT didn’t have, LOL! KEITH
Keith, I look forward to sharing some stories with you. I sometimes feel people are bored with my anecdotes.
Well Garry, when I tell my Frankie, Bob Hope, David Janssen, etc. and so on stories, a few folks LOVE IT…….most don’t believe it, and some are just plain old jealous, LOL. But living in Palm Springs and being golf pro at one of the most prestigious clubs there, besides having a boyfriend who talked Hoffa into financing a good bit of Las Vegas, you can’t help but get to know a lot of those kind of people. Just as in your work. I won’t be bored with your anecdotes, you can be sure. Warning here, though, I am not a Clinton fan, LOL! Looking forward to the radio show! KEITH
Frankie’s best bud, Jilly, lived next door to me, Pat Henry next door to him……oh the times we had. Scott wrote about both of them…..and I felt like I was with them again…….he sure can capture the spirit of a person!
Marilyn sent me and I’m glad she did. I now have another book to add to my list. Great review mate and you’ve got a new follower!
That’s great! I’m glad you enjoyed the site and I hope you’ll be back.
I do believe I will be!
I’ve just revisited this post to focus more on the interchange of comments. I find them fascinating because they all come from folks who are obvious movie lovers. As a person of color, I’ve always had to balance my love of movies with the realities of life and how movies portrayed minorities. I’ve never been oblivious to the dual personalities of stars, directors, writers, etc. Hell, I’ve dealt with legendary Politicians and Heads of State who I wouldn’t share a drink with but share a professional respect. Yes, I’m also a dual personality which comes from all my years of being something of a (local) celebrity. The HUAC years brought out the worst in some of my favorite movie people including Bond, Wayne, Robert Taylor, Elia Kazan and many, many others. I still separate their personal lives from their movie work. Some of you may be familiar with character actor Eugene Pallette. I love his work from the 30’s and 40’s. I understand he was a virulent racist. Still doesn’t change my appreciation of his work. If you are a true lover of movies, you allow yourself to enjoy the film and not fester over the personal background of the artists or movie makers. The hardest thing for me over the years has been coping with the blatant and insulting stereotyping of Black people and other minorities during Hollywood’s Golden years and right through the 60’s. I’ve dealt with it because I love movies!! When you’re “hanging” with John Wayne, you put your politics aside, Pilgrim!! Think I’ve gone on far too long and need to climb off my soap box.
Garry, I’m happy you came back to share your thoughts on this; they’re very welcome and very interesting too. The classic era of filmmaking was certainly a very different world to the one we live in today. I fully agree with your belief/approach that we have to try to separate the professional from the personal, especially in relation to artistic matters.
There are plenty of artists whose racial/political beliefs or prejudices sit uncomfortably with me too but, like yourself, it’s my love of and passion for the work they did on screen that I focus on.
Keith Payne sent me here. I have got to say that I don’t usually read this type of book but after reading your review Colin you have sold me. I think I would really enjoy reading this book. It seems that it might be a very interesting read rather than boring like I have found this type of book to be in the past. The author seems to have done an excellent job of writing this book to get a review like you have given it. I’m sold on it. Thanks, have enjoyed reading what everyone has said also.
Hello Joyce. I guess biographies aren’t to everyone’s taste and, depending on the writer or the subject, they might come across as a bit dry. However, I didn’t find that to be the case here. Ford, Wayne and Bond were colorful characters and the book captures that very well. There’s a lot of fascinating material contained within and I’d be surprised if anyone found it boring.
Wow, so much to digest here. Your review was great Colin, and when I read it, I thought, is this his first book review or have I missed something. I agree with Keith, you may have another talent to unleash. I first saw the book listed on Amazon and pre-ordered it before it came out. Finally, a take on the extraordinary relationship of three amazing, complex, talented men.
With regards to the comments about being judgmental opposed to historical fact in biographical works, I think often the readers own judgmental thoughts begin to expound and they confuse their own mindset with that of the writer. A great biographer is one who manages to stay with fact but get the reader to think, to decide what life events put an individual in a circumstance, such a Ward’s involvement with the HUAC. I am so delighted to read your comments Scott, about a writers exhaustive work in putting together a book. When a grateful reader finds a subject near and dear to them compiled in a fine volume, one tends to forget how it all came together.
And Garry, I think your love of movies and managing to keep separate your personal feelings regarding prejudice is quite interesting. I’ve put that exercise to work regarding women in movies at times.
What a great blog this is!
Thank you very much for that Elise; I’ve honestly been thrilled by the response to this piece.
And I reckon both Scott and Garry will appreciate your comments too.
Hello, Elise! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m been writing biographical works for 34 years now, and I always TRY to give 110%. Comments such as yours make it worth all the hard work. Best Wishes–Scott
Sorry, just had to say it……….64 comments, we have created a monster, albeit a quite nice one, LOL! Way to go, Colin! Chosen any new books you like yet? Thanks again, Colin! KEITH
Keith, I should be thanking you – after all it was you who asked me if I’d be interested in taking this one on. I just hope it all turns some people on to Scott’s great work.
Had my eye on you Colin ever since I wrote a comment about Ward’s death on Katrina’s Speakeasy piece on Ward Bond.. Then she hosted my last yearly comment on Wagonmaster 1950, and you were nice enough to comment on it. I have enjoyed your writing for a while now and figured you would be perfect for something like this. I was most happy to find you got out the very first review. Scott and I couldn’t have asked for better, Colin. Thanks again, KEITH
Yep, we have a lot to thank Keith for–she has been an extraordinary supporter of my book, and I’m most grateful for all HER hard work!
Not sure what I am doing with this blog of mine, but I linked to yours here….wanted to reblog, LOL. Anyway, thanks for telling folks about my “Ward” articles. One day, I may get the hang of this blog thing…….can’t make the font size big enough even, LOL! KEITH
Reblogged this on HAWKS WILL WESTERN and commented:
As I gathered the reviewers for Three Bad Men, I thought first of Colin from Riding the High Country. I have always found his film and actor reviews to be exceptional. However, he had never written a book review. I asked him anyway. Not only did he come out with the first one, but anyone will be hard pressed to provide as complete, fair, and accurate accounting of this
book as Colin has. If you don’t have him in your “favorites”, just read this…..he will be shortly! HAWKS WILL (KEITH)
Pingback: Review: Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen | Immortal Ephemera
Pingback: A Decade, and counting… | Riding the High Country