For John Ford Completists only
20 October 2007 | by lorenellroy (United Kingdom)
This 1934 movie is largely unknown and considering it was directed by John Ford this may seem surprising .Yet even quite exhaustive surveys of his work either omit references to this movie entirely or else give it only a passing mention.Now that I have seen it I feel that this is not really surprising after all .It is bombastic ,muddled and confused ,with a -for me -unacceptable pacifistic line .It is the product of an isolationist mind set and I found it morally repugnant .Thankfully ,it is not very good and so it is possible to dislike it on artistic grounds as well.
In form it is a family or dynastic saga ,split into a number of eras .It opens in 1825 in New Orleans as the family of a dead fabrics baron assemble for the reading of his will .The estate is split between branches of the family in the US -as represented by Franchot Tone -,England ,France and Germany .The rest of the action is this segment consists of Tone killing a ,man in a duel for insulting Madelaine Carroll.She and Tone have a mutual attraction but she is engaged to someone else and the affair is not consummated .
The movie then moves forward to Europe immediately before World War 1 .The family gathers for a dynastic wedding .Tone and Carroll re-appear ,both playing descendants of the people they portrayed in the opening section of the movie.There are hints -conveyed by their response to a particular piece of music -that they have some kind of "deja vu" connected with their ancestors previous relationship but this potentially intriguing theme is never pursued .War breaks out and the family splits on national grounds .Tone joins the French Foreign Legion to take up arms against Germany but others respond in less sensible ways.Carroll defies the orders of the government and refuses to make munitions (an act of treason which bizarrely Ford seems to agree with)while a key member of the French side of the family joins the priesthood as a gesture against the war .
The last part of the movie takes place in the 1920's .Tone is now a tycoon and an absolute megalomaniac driven by greed and a lust for power.The crash of 1929 sees him reappraise his life and values and take a "peace ,love and understanding ,man" approach to life .
There are some good things about the picture .The scenes of wartime action ,without recourse to graphic violence ,do depict the horrors of war well but overall this is a sprawling mess of a movie .The episodic structure and the obvious striving after "significance "allied to a propensity to preach at the audience make it tedious .The last 10 minutes is essentially a lightly dramatised and sententious pacifist tract and as wishy washy as such farragoes of nonsense invariably are .One section is particularly offensive ,It involves newsreel footage of Hitler ,Mussolini and Japanese militarists and the British navy .Now ,Ford was an Anglophobic jerk (albeit one who could be a genius with the right story and actors at his disposal)but surely even a blinkered Irish nutter should have realised that to lump the British in with that bunch of lunatics was over-egging the pudding a tad .That decision was not the product of woolly thinking so much as feeble mindedness-the kind of oaf who thinks owning a U2 album makes them an expert on politics in general and "the troubles"in particular.No it doesn't -it makes you a musical illiterate easily parted from her/his cash by a bunch of pompous bores with guitars The acting is indifferent ,the racial stereotyping in the Stepin Fetchit role is insulting but above all I cannot tolerate a movie that responds to the rise of European and Asian dictators by advocating nonsense like appeasement and lionising treasonable factory owners
This movie is pernicious tripe