This’ll be the day

John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection

The combination of John Wayne’s rough-hewn machismo and John Ford’s penchant for cinematic mythmaking produced one of the most iconic actor-director collaborations in film history. That’s why the most intriguing revelation from the eight movies collected in the John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection box set is the great director’s instinct to cast his star in such wildly different roles.

Wayne plays a romantic outlaw in Stagecoach, a sweetly pot-bellied military veteran in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, a self-confident second banana in Fort Apache and They Were Expendable, a guileless Swedish sailor in The Long Voyage Home, an obsessed racist in The Searchers, a boozy and hell-bent pilot in The Wings of Eagles and a sentimental roughneck in 3 Godfathers.

Half of the films in the collection are great; all of them are good. Stagecoach remains a masterwork of personal redemption and cinematic language. The Long Voyage Home adapts Eugene O’Neill to tell a bleak story of life at sea. They Were Expendable follows post-Pearl Harbor PT boat captains fighting an impossible battle in the Philippines. And so on.

But the real gem of the collection is the two-disc set for The Searchers, complete with a sparkling new DVD print and piles of extras (including a 1956 promotional comic-book adaptation that ignores the darker aspects of the story). The Searchers is the great American film, an incomparably entertaining and multileveled collision of Western myth; racial violence; sexual psychosis; beautiful and impossible landscapes; and Wayne’s righteous, burning eyes.

Although it was shot in the same dreamlike Monument Valley landscapes as other Ford Westerns, The Searchers is the only film that uses the setting to evoke such strong feelings of fear and loneliness. The nighttime terror of the candle-lighting scene is enough to make you wish Ford had cranked out a couple of horror films.