Remembering Glenn Ford

to recognize the day of Glenn Ford’s birth (presented one day early– don’t forget TCM’s multimovie tribute to him starts early tomorrow) here’s a previously published article of mine that ran in Dark Pages noir mag back when Ford passed in 2006. Now this is my opportunity to tell a little personal story, which isn’t meant to blow my own horn in any way, but to tell you how much a simple but gracious gesture gave me a lot of inspiration and perspective near the start of my efforts at writing about movies. As regular readers of this blog might know I sometimes do illustration and custom artwork (a few samples of my work posted at the other end of this link) and so I also contributed to DP a portrait illustration of Ford that ran with the article –this was it, and DP editor Karen put it on that issue’s cover:

now, imagine how thrilled and touched I was, when sometime later on, Karen forwarded me a wonderful letter she got from Glenn’s son Peter, expressing that he read and liked both the piece and illustration. Needless to say, this was a greatly appreciated gesture by a very classy gentleman and a moment I treasure related to an actor whose work I love. So nice to know that as a fan, you write about one of your all time favorite actors, one of those screen stars you grew up watching and who seem a little unreal and then you manage somehow to touch the “real world” such that a star’s family takes the time and effort to reach the mag and mention you! :)  Peter’s book on his father has since come out and is highly recommended.

…now, here’s the piece as it  originally appeared in Dark Pages, and since DP is a noir mag, fittingly this piece focuses mainly on Ford’s noirs:

Legendary actor Glenn Ford, who died August 30, 2006, achieved a very special status in Hollywood. He was always able to convincingly portray a decent, idealistic, dignified hero, no matter the situation or genre. That’s no small feat over a career of 50 years and 100+ movies, and it’s criminal that he was never recognized with an Oscar, not even a lifetime achievement one, even though you could count on one hand the other actors who could play all the types of roles he did, so well and for so long. One obituary calls him an “overlooked star”, and he may be, at least by those who bestow such honors, but not by the fans who loved him so, and lifted him consistently to the top of popularity polls and box-office champion lists. There was about him a boyish, innocent sweetness, which made him likable, charming, sympathetic, trustworthy and believable, except as a villain. His performances were invariably calm, quiet and relaxed. Even playing the most put-upon, embattled characters in trying situations he never resorted to histrionics or overacting, projecting instead a steely strong core and thoughtfulness. That screen persona was not far from the real Glenn Ford, a loving father and humble, grounded man who was a patriotic real life hero as well, serving bravely with the Coast Guard Marines, Green Berets and Navy Reserves, in World War 2 and in Vietnam, earning many medals and international honors for his distinguished service.

A versatile and talented actor, Ford appeared in many different genres, and made quite a mark in 7 films Noirs, all for Columbia, where he played different shades of wronged, crusading, doggedly determined heroes, or frustrated lovers trapped in romantic triangles. First came Gilda (1946), where Ford and lifelong friend Rita Hayworth made a huge impression on audiences with their sizzling chemistry, in this second of their 5 movie partnership. Ford was excellent as the passionately nasty Johnny, who loved Gilda so much he hated her, and vice versa. Next came Framed (1947), where a bank employee and his girlfriend try to frame Ford for robbery and murder, but he turns the tables and then characteristically refuses a reward. Undercover Man (1949), directed by Joseph H. Lewis, cast Ford as an IRS agent after a mobster, Eliot Ness-style. Convicted (1950), a prison noir, found war vet Ford serving a sentence for accidentally killing a man in a fight, and then encountering the D.A. who convicted him as the new warden. Dorothy Malone co-starred. Affair in Trinidad (1952), re-teamed him with Rita Hayworth, as he investigates the suspicious “suicide” of his brother with initial suspect, then romantic interest, widowed sister-in-law Rita.

Late in the Noir cycle came the classic The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang, where Ford played police Sgt. Bannion, a signature role; a man single-minded in his quest for justice, intense and vengeful over the murder of his wife (killed by a bomb intended for him). Even so, he doesn’t stoop to cold-blooded murder, and along the way even earns the admiration, respect and assistance of gangster Lee Marvin’s abused moll Gloria Grahame, who sacrifices her own life to set things right. Lang, Ford and Grahame were together again in the excellent Human Desire (1954). This time Ford plays a man lured by the married Grahame into an affair, then urged by her to do away with her husband, which in the end he cannot do. So, even in noir, where wobbly morals and mercilessly destructive fate permitted or forced characters to do their worst, even Ford’s hardboiled persona remained reliably decent and steadfast. He could play ruthless but never heartless, and was more believable as a man who could not kill easily, even when completely justified. That quiet heroism, his ability to make interesting the humble nobility of “ordinary” men, also marked his best work outside noir, like Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Follow the Sun (1951), The Blackboard Jungle (1955), and many remarkable westerns, including The Man From Colorado (1948), The Man From the Alamo (1953), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956). A whole new generation “discovered” those same qualities for the first time when they saw him as Pa Kent in Superman (1978). Nobody could have better guided young Clark toward his true heroic destiny, telling him, “You are here for a reason…and it’s not to score touchdowns.” There were few like Glenn Ford in his era of Hollywood; there are fewer still around today. His talent and ability to touch viewers will be sorely missed, but fondly remembered.

11 thoughts on “Remembering Glenn Ford

  1. This is a wonderful piece, Kristina. Like you, I love Glenn Ford. I screened “Gilda” for a large audience a few years ago and folks were amazed by his performance. His love-hate relationship with Rita Hawyworth (Gilda) was as complex as Cary Grant’s with Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious.” And now I know how we “met.” You did that great illustration of Dana Andrews that you shared!

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    • Thanks for stopping by and reading
      Ford & Hayworth certainly generated some heat in Gilda that has to be compelling and impressive to any generation, and Ford in general had that understated way of acting that has a timeless appeal I think. That’s right about the Dana illo! I forgot that! I really have to find time to do more of those, they’re so much fun …

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  2. Kristina,

    So. You know and write about film in a way that captures readers – light-hearted and touching at the same time. The son of one of the Hollywood great gentlemen writes you. And now I learn you can also draw. SERIOUSLY?!

    Loved this piece. My loss I subscribed to DP after the issue featuring your beautiful sketch was on it.

    Aurora

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    • thanks for the kind words! and for stopping in for a visit, do so more often! Really appreciate it, and that’s exactly how i felt too! (ie Seriously?!) best, cheers (& leekpotato soup!)

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  4. Wow, what an incredible sketch! Have always been a fan of Ford, but knew so little about him until I heard an interview with his son Peter on The Book Report recently, about his biography. Peter Ford seemed so straight down the line, so I’m guessing it’s a huge compliment having his mention. The interview tweaked my interest, thus bringing me here. As a fellow fan, I thought you may like to take a listen to the interview; not sure if it’s still to air in another part of the country, but both the station schedules and a recording of the interview can be found on their site (bookreport(dot)com). A great source of info you have here-thank you.

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    • wow, thanks so much for stopping in, reading this and leaving such nice words, and thanks also for the tip on that interview too! much appreciated, I will be checking that out for sure.

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  7. I love Glenn Ford in almost anything. Of course my favorite being The Big Heat. I wonder if you ever saw the hidden gem from 1949, Mr. Soft Touch?

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