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.