"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Glenn Ford and the American Character

Glenn Ford (r) and Lee Marvin in Fritz Lang's classic crime film "The Big Heat"Actor Glenn Ford died yesterday at the age of 90 after a long career in the movies and television. Perhaps best known to modern audiences as Clark Kent's father in Richard Donner's Superman—The Movie, Ford made a solid career as a leading man despite a near-complete lack of charisma and magnetism.

Ford's stolid, mature persona contrasted greatly with those of popular contemporaries such as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean who valued a high degree of explicit emotional expression. Ford could show passion when called upon, as in the suspense film Ransom (remade in 1996 as a Mel Gibson vehicle) and the drama The Blackboard Jungle, but even in those cases his stoicism is what we remember most vividly.

Ford's characters often had serious flaws—such as stubbornness, irresponsibility, jealousy, and lack of intelligence—and these flaws led to interesting moral complexities in his best films. In both his virtues and his flaws, Ford represented a strong strain of the American character—the adventurousness, the uncompromising striving for rectitude, and the relentless and often disorganized pursuit of what is right and good in life.

Ford's best films and most memorable performances admirably reflect this complex set of attributes: classic crime dramas such as Gilda, The Big Heat, and Experiment in Terror;The Man from the Alamo, westerns such as 3:10 to Yuma, The Desperados, Cimarron, and The Violent Men; dramas such as Trial, The Blackboard Jungle, and The Brotherhood of the Bell; films in which he played contemptible villains as in The Man from Colorado; crazy comedies such as The Gazebo and The Teahouse of the August Moon, and many others.

He was a man who made the most of his talents and opportunities.

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