When Orson Welles was asked what movies he studied before embarking on directing Citizen Kane he replied, "I studied the Old Masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." Over the last three days we've been looking at little-seen films from The Old Master, each different in tone, temperament and subject matter, but all unmistakably the work of America's storied film-maker, the irascible, painterly, domineering, sentimental puzzle that was John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.
The Rising of the Moon (John Ford, 1957) Interesting, charming anthology film from Ford, featuring three short stories (of approximately thirty minutes each) from the Emerald Isle.
Ford was able to parlay his success with The Quiet Man—made on a shoe-string (and with a Western in the bargain for Republic Pictures) and reaping a pot of gold—to make this labor of love to promote the Irish film industry, with a cast of actors from the country's Abbey Theater (which figures prominently in the film's third sequence). As a carrot for American audiences, Ford uses Tyrone Power as a presenter for each of the stories, each different in tone and style, but bearing Ford's ability to bring out the best in his cast, while also keeping a reign on several threads of character arc interlacing throughout each tale, to make a verdant pattern full of blarney. Each one also has a distinct style of shooting, one landscaped, one close-quartered, one urban and chiaroscuro, that slyly reflect themes and moods of the story, even if the whimsy is a constant factor.
The three stories are thus:
"The Majesty of the Law"—A police inspector (Cyril Cusack) ventures to the country-side, wind-blasted and rough-hewn to arrest a man for assault. He attracts the interest of some locals, briefly toys with a rapscallion (Jack McGowran) who is trying to avoid him, then visits an old friend to shoot the breeze. Things are not what they seem, and the segment ends on a complicated note.
"A Minute's Wait"—A busy, typical day at Dunfail station. A brief stop-over opens the bar and the train empties of passengers. Then things get complicated involving a match-making minister, a honeymooning British couple, young lovers, a goat, and a ghost story-in-passing. Just when things get resolved, more complications ensue, and the train is delayed another "minute's wait." The train empties again...and again...and again, as places change, stories get crossed, and get schedules get thrown out the window, while everyone gets increasingly drunk. Man schedules, God laughs, and life gets in the way...and nothing is stationary.
"1921"—The entire world seems to be a little off-kilter and threatening to fall into the abyss in this story set during the Black and Tan Wars, and the height of the British/Irish conflict. Sean Curran (Donal Donnelly) is set to be hung for treason. A snaking queue of townspeople parades in protest in front of the prison as the scaffold is prepared ("That step is loose. Fix it or he'll break his neck before he falls" says the Irish prison functionary in a display of gallows humor) Curran is set to hang and the Brit overseers are feeling the pressure keeping the lid on a situation that could quickly get out of hand. A visitation by nuns, one of them Curran's sister inflames events and the intrigue moves to the streets as the Army presence builds up and loyalties are tested. "There's a little treason in all of us," says a local bobby working for the Brits, summing up the situation and the tale.
It's great story-telling all the way through, with nothing familiar in the Ford crowd-pleasing arsenal: no John Wayne hook, no western fallback, no Ford stock company dependence, just the Old Master weaving his magic, with an artist's eye and a director's sense of pace, detail, and theatricality, each episode given its own look and feel, everything fresh, but rooted in the man's presentation and gifts, unfamiliar, yet unmistakably Ford country.
Psycho is not my favorite Hitchcock film, but I revere it as a display of the director at the top of his story-telling gifts and mastery of the form. In the same way, The Rising of the Moon shows Ford's abilities to play with the arts of tale and film, and is the purest example of the director's gifts..and his craft.