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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Ford Retrospective at the Aero Theatre

John Ford directed more than 100 films during a prolific career that began in the silent era and continued until the end of the studio system. Ford is remembered as a master of the Western, but his comedies and dramas are just as superb, reflecting American culture at its best, along with all its imperfections. Don’t miss the remainder of this rare retrospective presented by The American Cinematheque.

Sunday, January 24th at 7:30 PM marks a double feature of what is arguably Ford’s two best Westerns: “The Searchers” and “Stagecoach.” John Wayne stars in both films, first as a vengeful bigot who spends years in a search for the niece (Natalie Wood) who was kidnapped by renegade Indians, only to face a tough decision when his prejudice conflicts with his dedication to family. Although he wasn’t even nominated for his portrayal of Ethan Edwards, Wayne gives a definitive performance as a man conflicted with powerful emotions when forced to examine his racism in a very personal manner.

Twenty-five years earlier, Wayne starred in his first real breakout role as the Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach.” In one of the best films of 1939 (and that’s saying a lot), Wayne plays a likeable cowboy on the lam to revenge his brothers. But the Kid gets more than he bargained for when he joins a stagecoach full of intriguing characters played by one of the all-time best supporting casts, including Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell (in an Oscar winning role). Rampaging natives keep the party on its toes as a bank owner tries to abscond funds, a mysterious gambler watches over a Southern lady struggling to reunite with her Calvary husband, and a traveling whiskey salesman loses his stock to a boozing doctor, all while the Duke falls for a shady lady with a heart of gold. This is pure entertainment at its very best.

Four days later, on Wednesday, January 27th at 7:30 PM, the Aero will be presenting another Ford double feature, starting with a new 35mm print of the 1939 film, “Young Mr. Lincoln”. This first collaboration between Ford and Henry Fonda chronicles the early life of Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the events that molded a shy, country lawyer into one of America’s most distinguished leaders. It’s a quiet little film, but as entertaining and inspiring as any of Fords greatest, complete with a very satisfying courtroom sequence at the film’s climax.

The second feature of the night is “Tobacco Road”. This rarely screened Ford adaptation of the Erskine Caldwell novel follows the family adventures of Jeeter Lester, played by Charley Grapewin (Grandpa in “The Grapes of Wrath” and Uncle Henry in “The Wizard of Oz”), a poor farmer who is about to lose his land. The bawdy and sometimes tragic nature of the novel was toned down for the movie, but Ford manages to faithfully capture the rural milieu of life in the Southern boondocks. This may be one of the only chances you’ll ever have to see a relatively unknown film by a true master. Almost as if it had just been released. How cool is that!

For more information about the films, the Aero Theatre, or the American Cinemtheque go to their website at or call (323) 466 – FILM. The Aero Theatre is located in Santa Monica at1328 Montana Avenue, 90403.

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