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JOHN FORD: COLUMBIA FILMS

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 17, 2014

In addition to manufacture-on-demand sites for Warner/MGM/UA, Sony/Columbia and Fox, there are a few boutique DVD labels that steadily give life to old movies that have never been on DVD, and in some cases, never been on home video.

One of the most important is the TCM store's "Vault Collection" on the website for the cable channel Turner Classic Movies, and one of its newest exclusive releases is "John Ford: The Columbia Films Collection."

At $49.99, the box set is undeniably pricey (the site has sales occasionally though they don't amount to much, plus you have to pay for shipping), but the set does cull five rare movies (so that's about $10 per film), which Ford made for Columbia from 1935 to 1961.

Although he is best known for his many classic westerns with John Wayne, Ford ventured into a wide variety of genres over the course of his lengthy career, as demonstrated in this set, which includes a comedy, a biography, a mystery, a political drama and, yes, a western.

"The Whole Town's Talking" (1935, b/w) is a funny farce with the unlikely but successful teaming of Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson. Arthur works at an advertising firm with mild-mannered Robinson, neither aware that Robinson is a dead ringer for a notorious gangster. Mistaken identity can't be far off. Robinson is most convincing as two very different characters.

"The Long Gray Line" (1955) stars Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in the true story of an Irish immigrant who found his way to West Point, where he wound up having a 50-year career. Sterling, glossy biographical movie of the kind at which Hollywood excelled in the 1940s and '50s.

"Gideon's Day" (1958) is a British comedy-drama about a day in the life of a police inspector, starring Jack Hawkins. Underrated film was released in the United States 30 minutes shorter, with a title change — and in black and white!

"The Last Hurrah" (1958) is a justly famous entry in Spencer Tracy's career as he delivers superb performance as a city mayor up for re-election even as he battles charges of corruption. Surprisingly relevant, despite some obviously dated elements.

"Two Rode Together" (1961) is, surprisingly, the least of these titles, a western with James Stewart and Richard Widmark that seems to have cast them in the wrong roles: Stewart is a cranky, duplicitous marshal/Indian negotiator and Widmark is a good-natured cavalry soldier. A sort of reworking of Ford's own "The Searchers," with Shirley Jones in support (also miscast).

By the way, as a footnote, Ford won seven Oscars over the length of his career, two as a director of documentaries aiding the war effort during World War II, one as a producer — and four as best director, for "The Informer" (1935), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "How Green Was My Valley" (1941) and "The Quiet Man" (1952).

And with four best-director Oscars, he holds a record that has yet to be broken.