The best of the lot

August 05, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach

Five John Ford films you won't want to miss this weekend:

"How Green Was My Valley" (1941, 8 p.m.-10: 05 p.m. and midnight-2: 05 a.m. tomorrow) -- Ford won the third of his four Best Director Oscars for this sentimental look at life in a Welsh mining town at the turn of the century. Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp, Barry Fitzgerald and Roddy McDowall star in a film that reveals Ford's basic sentimentality better than any other (save perhaps for "The Quiet Man").

"Battle of Midway" and "December 7th" (1942 and 1943, 3: 15 p.m.-4: 30 p.m. tomorrow) -- Ford, according to his grandson Dan, loved everything about the Navy. His devotion may explain why he paid such loving attention to wartime documentaries like these. Some of the cameras used for the filming of "Midway" were lost during the battle, while the re-created attack footage from "December 7th" has been a staple of World War II documentaries for decades.

"My Darling Clementine" (1946, 10: 15 p.m.-midnight and 4: 05 a.m.-6 a.m. Saturday evening/Sunday morning) -- Ford's take on the shootout at the OK Corral (Wyatt Earp himself is said to have provided Ford the details) is a masterpiece because of the wonderful performances he elicited from Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan and even Victor Mature, not to mention Joseph MacDonald's brilliant photography. You get to see two versions with two different endings: at 10: 15 p.m., the one Ford preferred; at 4: 05 a.m., the one the studio released.

"Three Bad Men" (1926, 6 a.m.-7: 35 a.m. Sunday) -- "The Iron Horse" may be the most famous of Ford's silents, but this may be his most engaging. Tom Santschi stars as "Bull" Stanley, leader of a trio of Western toughs who rescue a traveling Virginia woman (Olive Borden) from the clutches of some bandits and instantly become her protectors. George O'Brien is the guy they decide is good enough for her.

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940, 1: 30 p.m.-3: 40 p.m. Sunday, repeats 3: 45 a.m.-6 a.m.) -- Henry Fonda's performance as Tom Joad, the leader of a group of wide-eyed Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl for the seeming bounty of California, justly has been singled out as one of the screen's finest. There's not a single poor performance in the film (Jane Darwell and John Carradine are especially good), and Ford's direction imbues this adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel with just the right combination of misery and humanity. A classic.

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