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'Directed by John Ford,' premiering Tuesday on TCM

Hal Boedeker
The Orlando Sentinel

Clint Eastwood calls John Ford "the granddaddy of all directors." John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart talk about the challenges of working with brilliant but belittling Ford. Katharine Hepburn and Ford are heard in an intimate conversation expressing their affection for each other.

The documentary "Directed by John Ford" contains treasures to astound any movie buff. The film, which premieres at 8 p.m. EST Tuesday on TCM, has it own unusual lore.

Peter Bogdanovich wrote and directed the work twice. He offered a version in 1971, two years before Ford died.

Now Bogdanovich, whose films include "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon," has expanded and deepened this look at six-time Oscar-winner Ford. "Directed by John Ford" mixes the best of old and current Hollywood. Bogdanovich retained Orson Welles' narration and charming interviews with Wayne, Fonda and Stewart from 1969.

Bogdanovich has added insights from directors Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Walter Hill. The documentary provides a more penetrating look at the breadth of Ford's 140 movies and the recurring themes of family, patriotism and spirituality.

The juiciest addition comes from 1973, when a dying Ford told Hepburn that he loved her. They had given an interview to Ford's grandson, who left the room and inadvertently recorded their private conversation. Hepburn and Ford had some sort of relationship from 1939 to 1941, the richest period in his career.

"Directed by John Ford" follows another worthy documentary on the director that aired in May on PBS. But "The Filmmaker and the Legend" concentrated on Ford's complicated working relationship with Wayne. Bogdanovich appeared in that film to say, "Ford was a myth-maker, and Duke Wayne was the stuff of legend."

Bogdanovich's admiring film offers a more expansive view of Ford. Drawling screen legend Stewart, a master storyteller, emerges as the best reason to watch.

Stewart explains how Ford picked on him, to co-star Wayne's delight. "With Ford, it's not a relaxed set at all," Stewart says. "There's tension everyplace. Everybody's on edge."

The documentary brings new attention to "Two Rode Together," a gritty 1961 Western that paired Stewart with Richard Widmark. Before a memorable scene, Ford separately warned each actor that the other would try to steal it.

That sneaky approach pushed the two men to act with ease and humor. The moment explains what's missing from many of today's movies: craft, camaraderie and care.

"I've heard him say most of the good things in movies happen by accident," Stewart says of Ford.

One stunning bit of luck: Thunderstorms elevated the look of "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon." The cinematographer wasn't sure shooting the bad weather would work. He later won an Oscar.

Lucky or not, Ford understood how to capture stunning images on film. Spielberg recalls that at 15 he met Ford, who taught him the value of putting the horizon at the top or bottom of the film frame.

Ford continues to influence American films - Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" is a prime example - even if most moviegoers don't know him. "Directed by John Ford" makes a persuasive case for getting to know him.

The documentary surveys movies beyond Ford's masterpiece, "The Searchers"; presents Wayne in a boyishly charming mode; and explains how Ford helped shape America's vision of itself. "Directed by John Ford" is a loving reminder that America has a glorious history of show business, too.

___

DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD

Cast: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Steven Spielberg, James Stewart, Martin Scorsese, Katharine Hepburn, narrator Orson Welles.

Where and when: The documentary premieres from 8 to 9:50 p.m. EST Tuesday on TCM.

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