"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Frenchie (Universal, 1950)


A Mae Western




 
 
The Destry story was popular at Universal. Most famously, James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich had been Tom Destry and Frenchie in 1939’s Destry Rides Again, itself a remake of the studio’s 1932 Tom Mix talkie of the same title – although the story is different in that one. Even the 1932 one bears little resemblance to the original 1930 Max Brand magazine story, Twelve Peers, whose Harry Destry does indeed wear guns, though he is reluctant to use them. The ‘Again’ part of the Tom Mix title was odd as Destry had never ridden on screen before. In 1954 George Marshall, director of the Stewart/Dietrich one, would make it again, in color, this time with Audie Murphy and Mari Blanchard. It would be very similar in many ways. But in between the 1939 and 1954 versions came yet another, Frenchie, with Joel McCrea and Shelley Winters doing the honors. And then in 1964 Destry migrated to TV with John Gavin in the title role. So that’s quite a lot of Destries.

Frenchie was not avowedly a Destry remake. It had a different director (Louis King, brother of Henry) and the hero is Sheriff Tom Banning (McCrea), not Destry. It is certainly different in tone from the ’39 and ’54 ones, being less an overt comedy Western, with fewer Marshall belly laughs, and played straighter. But it’s Destry alright.

It was written by Oscar Brodney, known for having worked on Harvey and The Glenn Miller Story but not really for Westerns. Felix Jackson had done the 1939 one and DD Beauchamp the 1954 one so this was a departure. There are some goodish lines (I like it when Lambert says he’ll be seeing Frenchie again soon and she replies that she’ll be listening for his rattles) and it’s quite interesting the way McCrea’s character starts off gunless, contrasted to Winters’s character using her pocket pistol and as the story develops the roles are reversed.

The best thing about Frenchie is that it’s a two-derringer picture. Well, actually it’s the same derringer but first Shelley’s Frenchie uses it on the stagecoach, then, in a rather saucy bit, in the saloon Joel draws it from her garter holster to get the drop on the bad guy. Derringers always add to a Western. Mind, it’s rarely the hero who uses one. Usually it’s a saloon gal (such as Frenchie) or a gambler or a no-good crooked town boss, Victor Jory maybe. But just occasionally the good guy wields one. Randolph Scott shoots Dingo Brion with one from under his barber’s sheet in A Lawless Street and even John Wayne finds that his, named Betsy, comes in handy in Big Jake. Perhaps Randy and Duke thought that if Sheriff Joel McCrea could use one, they could. But enough of derringers. Let us return to Frenchie.

One of the differences is that Frenchie comes to Bottleneck to get revenge. The opening scene shows her as a little girl and her dad is shot in the back and killed by his crooked partners. She grows up, becomes a madam in a New Orleans ‘gambling house’ (euphemism) and when she has made her pile arrives in Bottleneck to get vengeance. She knows who one of the villains is. It’s saloon owner Pete Lambert (Paul Kelly) but who is the other partner, Lambert’s accomplice in the murder of Frenchie’s pa?

She buys the moribund Scarlet Angel saloon from owner Dobbs (Frank Ferguson), does it up and sets up as rival to Lambert.
 
Frank sells her his saloon
 
She has met the pacific Sheriff Banning on the stage. He showed a dislike for guns, even when the stage was pursued by bandits, and appropriated Frenchie’s derringer to prevent her using it. Banning becomes a sort-of friend, whittling in the saloon, despite his respectability and the townsfolk disapproving of her and her saloon.

We meet banker Clyde Gorman (John Emery) and his wife Diane (Marie Windsor) a former flame of the sheriff’s. The plot thickens.
 
McCrea. Fine actor.
 
The acting is very good, in fact. McCrea was a fine actor in a quiet way and always top notch in Westerns. I’m not a great fan of Ms. Winters in Westerns. She was in seven and never really convinced in them, being more suited in my view to gangster moll roles. The same year as Frenchie she was in Winchester ’73 (with the previous Destry, Jimmy Stewart) but had a rather supernumerary part in that. In Frenchie she was already rather, ahem, ample of frame, an aspect made more noticeable, not less, by her very tight gowns. Still, she was bright and amusing as Frenchie Fontaine and she tries for a Mae West vibe. Mae West herself had of course done a Western, My Little Chickadee, back in 1940, also for Universal, but she didn’t get on with co-star WC Fields, there was no spark, and the movie was rather a dud. Shelley Winters carries this one off with more sparkle.
 
Doing her Mae West act
 
But the support acting was very good. 3rd-billed Paul Kelly made a very good Western villain. Kelly had served time for manslaughter after a fistfight with his lover’s husband led to the man’s death. In films he was usually a tough cop or sadistic bad guy. He didn’t do many Westerns, more’s the pity, but he was a memorable villain in Springfield Rifle with Gary Cooper and San Antonio with Errol Flynn. He’s excellent as the ruthless and crooked saloon owner rival to Frenchie.
 
Kelly a good bad guy
 
Good old Marie Windsor plays ‘the other woman’, Diane, the sheriff’s former girlfriend now married to the banker. I always thought she was good in Westerns, though usually consigned to B-movies and best known for gangster flicks and noirs. She was in a great many B and TV Westerns from 1947 to 1975 and was memorable in Cahill, US Marshal, Support Your Local Gunfighter, Little Big Horn and Dakota Lil, among many others.
 
Marie still loves him but she made the wrong choice
 
Then Frank Ferguson as Frenchie’s saloon manager was always good value. He was never bad in a Western. John Russell is there too, as Frenchie’s slick gambling boss who really loves her. He has a perfectly splendid hat. Paul E Burns is entertaining as the comic relief old-timer Rednose. Chubby Johnson is an (uncredited) miner, Jack Perrin is an (uncredited) voting clerk and Hank Worden is the assayer. It’s a good line-up.
 
Louis King
 
Louis King certainly did not have the talent of his brother. He directed a lot of children’s films and B-Westerns for various studios, doing mostly TV work in the 50s, especially The Deputy and The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. Powder River (1953), a sort of My Darling Clementine rip-off which is a decent B with Rory Calhoun, and Frenchie were about his best big-screen Westerns. He didn’t do badly on Frenchie. It rattles along.
 
Some lovely location shooting
 
It’s in bright Technicolor and there are some really lovely Inyo locations shot by Maury Gertsman (28 Westerns). The print I have is a Sidonis DVD, very good quality. The series has annoying subtitles you can’t turn off, a lousy catalogue you can’t search unless you know the French titles and very poor extras in the shape of meandering waffle from Patrick Brion and (especially) Bertrand Tavernier – perfectly dreadful. But as I say, the picture quality is very good.

I like this Western. True, I am a Joel fan so I would be bound to, but actually I think anyone would find it pretty good. Even without the derringer.


 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The hats



Hats off to the Stetson

There are three main ways to distinguish a cowboy: his horse, his gun and his hat. Even unhorsed, on foot in town maybe, the gun and hat are still there. And even if there’s a gun ordinance in town and he has no pistol on his hip, for example in the saloon, you’ll still never separate him from his hat. When it all comes down to it, it’s the hat that makes the cowboy.

He wears it out of doors, indoors and in some movies even in the bath.

All Western stars knew this. It was why, when they got a hat they liked and it just suited and fitted, they hung onto it through picture after picture.

Charlton Heston, talking about
Will Penny:

 
"Hats are very important. I used that hat in about four Westerns. Then someone stole it on me. Wish I could find him. I’d kill him. You get a good hat, you gotta hang on to it."

James Stewart was as fond of his hat as he was of his horse Pie. It was a pretty beat-up, sweat-stained affair, that hat, a sorry-looking item to be sure. But it suited him perfectly and was part of Stewart as Western star. When he abandoned it in
Shenandoah, it ruined the film. (Well, Shenandoah wasn’t very good but I will grudgingly admit that there may just have been other reasons than headgear for that).
 
Jimmy Stewart's hat
 
Rotten hat in Shenandoah
 
Naturally there were many hatters in the West and many brands of hat but of them all the Stetson seems to have claimed pride of place. To many people, Stetson and cowboy hat are synonymous. While panning for gold in Colorado in the 1860s, John B Stetson created a hard-wearing hat for himself made from thick beaver felt. Although he wore it first as a joke, Stetson soon grew fond of the hat for its ability to protect him from the elements. Its wide brim protected him from the weather and the high crown kept an insulating pocket of air on the head. He even used it to carry water. So do I: when walking my dog Wyatt on a hot day I carry a bottle of water and give him a drink out of my hat. He likes it and it cools my head when I put the hat back on.
 
 
The legend tells that a cowboy saw Stetson and his unusual hat, rode up, tried the headgear on for himself, and paid Stetson for it with a five-dollar gold piece, riding off with the first Western Stetson on his head. Stetson went into the hatting business and the rest is history.

Stetson made hats for the Texas Rangers, the US Cavalry hat and even those famous ones for the Canadian Mounties.
 
Distinctive
 
In reality, of course, Westerners didn’t only wear Stetsons. You might think they did if you are keen follower of Hollywood movies (where they wear them in pictures set even before Stetson was born) but in fact you’d be just as likely to see Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp in a derby or a top hat as a Stetson. Those wide-brimmed affairs weren’t really for town use. The writer and photographer Lucius Beebe called the bowler “the hat that won the West”. Of course everyone wore a hat in the nineteenth century; the only question was which.
 
The Bat hat
 
And some screen cowboys became attached to different brands of hat. Think of that great Western actor Glenn Ford: he wore a Jaxonbilt with curled brim that became recognizable as ‘his’ hat. See it in Jubal, say or any of many Westerns he starred in. Tex Ritter wore one too.
 
Glenn Ford
 
Reader Bob says that his favorite cowboy hats of all are:

Richard Boone’s Paladin hat, Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday hat; the hats Kirk Douglas wore in Last Train From Gun Hill and Gunfight at the OK Corral; and, of course, Buffalo Bill Cody’s hat.

An excellent choice.

Bob hats

Clearly the classic wide-brimmed cowboy hat was influenced by the Mexican sombrero. A high crown gave insulation and a broad brim gave shade. If you look at a picture like The Avenger, with Buck Jones, you can see the cross-over Mexican/cowboy effect.
 
Sombrero
 
Silly
 
Hats followed fashion and developed, though. Think of those huge ten-gallon affairs worn by the cowboys of the silver screen in the 1920s, right through into the 40s. Some of them were plain silly, but the actors felt obliged to wear them. Look at Tim McCoy, for example. Later on Stetsons became rather more restrained. It was noticeable that in the 1960s brims got smaller and more curled. Like Horst Buchholz as Chico in The Magnificent Seven.
 
Horst's hat
 
The crease became important. They gave hats individual character, and creases and dents make it easier to put on or remove the hat by grabbing it by the crown rather than the brim. A very popular crease used on cowboy hats is the Cattlemen, creased straight down the center of the crown with a dent on each side. Then there’s the Carlsbad crease, now often called a "Gus crease" after the character Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove. That keeps a high crown at the back, with the crease sloping steeply toward the front. Or you might favor the rodeo crease, the bullrider's crease, the quarter horse crease, or the Tycoon, with a pinched front.
 
Which crease do you favor?
 
Then we even got cowgirl hats, pink, maybe, and with sequins and fringes. Yes, well.

Inside the cowboy hat you always see a little ribbon bow. It’s in memory of past hatters, who developed brain damage from treating felt with mercury, which gave rise to the expression Mad as a hatter. The bow on the inside hatband at the rear of the hat is supposed to resemble a skull and crossbones.

Of course there is the old cliché about the goodies wearing white hats and the baddies wearing black ones. It’s still trotted out today and you can still identify a villain by calling him a ’black hat’. It was always nonsense. Hopalong Cassidy dressed in black and he was no baddy. Perish the thought.
 Tom Mix appeared in black hats quite often. Black hats improved contrast in black & white movies.

No black hat he
 
The color was down to personal preference, not goodness or badness. Silverbelly (or gray) hats tend to look better on people with ruddy complexions, like John Wayne. “Black hats make me look beet red or deathly pale,” said Duke. “My silverbelly makes me look normal.” Duke often wore a Resistol.

In High Lonesome there’s a good bit where Chill Wills chooses a suitable hat for Cooncat, the newly-arrived and hatless youth who has arrived on the ranch. It takes some time before arriving at the right item. Chill knew just how important the choice was.

Sometimes hats play a key part in the film. Think of the much mocked low-crowned topper of James Caan in El Dorado. In Wild Bill there is a running gag of touching the hat. You don’t touch a man’s hat. That’s what causes most of the gunplay, when they touch Wild Bill’s hat. As Lyle Lovett sang, "You can have my girl but don't touch my hat."
 
Curious headgear
 
Of course if you listen to the song Stag O’ Lee (try the Bob Dylan version) you will understand that taking another man’s Stetson is a shootin’ matter.

One of the great tragedies of that lovely movie Silverado was the decision by director Kasdan to cut out the scene where Kevin Kline, having just shot a man who had stolen his hat (fair enough), kicks up the headgear from the floor in a saloon with the toe of his boot and it lands on his head. Is that cool or what? Luckily you can see it in an out-take on the DVD.

All in all, there’s no doubt about it: you can have a cowboy without his horse, you can even have a cowboy without his gun; but without his hat? Never!

 

 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Invaders (Kay-Bee Pictures, 1912)


A fine film






The Invaders dates from the time when Francis Ford (left), John’s elder and at that time far more famous brother, was working with Thomas H Ince (below right) at Inceville, near Santa Monica. Ince was doing very well with his one- and two-reel Westerns, so well that in order to expand production he split his company into two and put Frank Ford, then 31, in charge of the new unit.

Ince was something of a control freak, however, and also wanted to hog the credit, so it was his name that appeared on the screen, not Frank’s. But it is clear now that the majority of the work on this particular movie was Ford’s.

The 41-minute, three-reel film is remarkably sophisticated for 1912. (3-reel movies were considered feature films in those days). As was usually the case with Ford, the characters look weather-beaten and the settings are dusty landscapes. Smoke is used effectively in the battle scenes. There is an authentic tinge to it all, helped by the acting which, for the day, was restrained and unmelodramatic. The plot centers on a fight between the US Army and the Sioux, and actual Oglala performers were used. The story has a fairly pro-Indian line (the whites break a treaty and the Sioux fight back). Of course in 1912 these treaties and Indian wars were very much in living memory. These early Westerns were not so much historical documents as comments on current affairs.

Ford himself plays the heroic Army colonel (left) who, in the fort, holds off the Sioux and their Cheyenne allies against all the odds while the brave young Lieutenant White (Ray Myers) rides off to a neighboring post for help. Of course the colonel has a pretty daughter (Ethel Grandin) for whom the young lieutenant has fallen, and this was fast to become a Western movie trope – in John Ford’s cavalry Westerns in particular.

Parallel to this is the romance between the Sioux chief’s daughter (Ann Little, a white actress but said to have Sioux ancestry) who defies her father by loving a handsome white (uncredited) surveyor  rather than an equally uncredited Sioux brave who offers horses for her. This is perhaps a bit 'safe' but it humanizes the Indians in the eyes of an audience used to being shown bloodthirsty savages halting the path of progress.
 
Ann Little as the Sioux chief's daughter
 
As the situation looks hopeless, the colonel turns his revolver on his daughter in order to spare her a fate worse than death with, er, death. But of course at the last moment, before he can pull the trigger, the US Cavalry relief force arrives in what would become a classic tradition, and the daughter is saved, as is the fort. John Ford was to use this idea (as he re-used so many of his brother’s devices, though hated to be reminded of the fact) in Stagecoach in 1939, when gambler Hatfield brings his silver pistol to the head of Mrs. Mallory, and Cecil B DeMille, an admirer of John Ford, was to copy him the same year in Union Pacific when Joel McCrea looks as though he will shoot Barbara Stanwyck. All the dames are saved by a deus very ex machina.
 
A much copied plot device
 
In only forty-odd minutes and with no words (and very few intertitle cards) a complete and believable story unfolds, characters are developed, there is an action climax and the issue is resolved as the whites vanquish the Indians, who meet their tragic fate. It’s masterly.

In the opening scene a treaty is signed

Movies were evolving incredibly rapidly at the time and already in 1912, with Ince and Ford involved, they were really quite sophisticated. Another Ince/Ford work of the same year, Custer’s Last Fight (review coming soon) was good enough to be re-released in 1925 and hold its own as a film. It’s a real compliment to its quality. I’m quite sure DW Griffith had seen The Invaders before he made The Battle of Elderbush Gulch. Scott Eyman, in his excellent biography of John Ford says that "Frank’s exteriors are superb, the full equal of the work his brother, not to mention William S Hart, would be doing in a few years." And he adds that ”Some of Francis’s films for Ince were so good that DW Griffith followed dutifully in their footsteps.”

To be seen. There are goodish quality prints on YouTube.

Authentic

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Francis Ford


The other Ford

 
Francis Ford (1881 – 1953) was John Ford’s elder brother. In another, parallel universe, we might have explained who John Ford was by saying he was the younger brother of the great Francis, and John followed on the coat tails of Francis in many ways. But as it is, of course, it was Jack who would gather all the plaudits and Francis would be consigned to bit parts in his brother’s movies. Nevertheless, Francis Ford played an important part in the history of film, especially Westerns, and he does not deserve to be forgotten.

Francis Feeney was born in 1881, in Portland, Maine, twelve years before his brother Jack. Though his parents were saloon keepers in a dry town, the family was ‘respectable’, home-loving and steady. It was soon very clear, however, that the mercurial and hard-drinking Frank was anything but home-loving and steady. He dropped out of high school and went off to the Spanish-American war and afterwards left home and worked as a tailor. Scott Eyman, in his excellent biography of John Ford (which we will be reviewing soon) calls Frank “the randy black sheep” of the family. He met a woman, Dell Cole, in Portland and got her pregnant; there was a shotgun wedding which barely preceded the birth of Frank Jr. The marriage did not last. Dell took the infant and went to Boston. Frank began a raffish existence cleaning gas lamps and working in vaudeville in New York. Somehow he got into the early movies as a journeyman actor, moving from one company to another, including Edison, mostly in New Jersey, the ‘Hollywood’ of the time.

Perhaps to avoid bringing shame on the family, Frank changed his surname, to Ford - for, he said, the automobile, though John had another version (but then John was an inveterate liar), that Frank stood in for an actor named Francis Ford and got stuck with the name. At any rate, Ford it was from then on.

Frank Ford developed a liking for and affinity to Westerns. In the latter part of 1911 Frank joined Thomas Ince, a step up, and he was soon doing other duties for Ince, scouting locations and placing the camera. He toured Texas, the South West and California, and soon Ince leased eighteen thousand acres near Santa Monica and started making Westerns. They quickly became so popular that he needed to expand production. In June 1912 Ince divided the company in two and put Frank in charge of the new unit.

Ince was a bit of a control freak, though. He gave Frank detailed shooting scripts with each shot carefully described, and Ince would view the rushes personally each evening and edit the negative. And of course it was Ince’s name credited as director.

Still, it was a great start. Thus did Francis Ford become one of the pioneers of the early Western.
 
The poster for the 1920s re-release
 
One of the films, the 30-minute Custer’s Last Fight, with Frank as Custer, created a great stir and was so good that it was re-released in 1925 and again in 1933 (though movies had moved on enormously by then, it still stood up as a fine film). We will review this movie soon. Another, The Invaders, released in January 1913, seems to have been pretty well Frank’s work, though of course Ince hogged the credit. Eyman says of it:

It features realistic costumes, a lot of dust, silhouetted riders, evocative landscape, [and] consistent depth of focus.

He adds that

The acting is ordinary, as are the interiors, but Frank’s exteriors are superb, the full equal of the work his brother, not to mention William S Hart, would be doing in a few years.

Eyman also says that”Some of Francis’s films for Ince were so good that DW Griffith followed dutifully in their footsteps.”

Frank delighted in leading journalists off on a false trail with made-up yarns, saying, “It will look awfully funny in print”. John was to adopt this habit, as indeed he emulated Frank in so many other ways. Frank loved far-away places and ocean voyages and would be off to the South Seas at the drop of a hat. On the set Frank was brusque, rough and often sarcastic. But a writer for Motion Picture Magazine said of him that underneath his bluff manner there was a deep seriousness and “one of the warmest hearts imaginable.” Either the two brothers were remarkably similar in character or John consciously modeled himself on Frank.
 
Frank with brother Jack
 
Frank had remarried, a woman named Elsie van Name, but now fell in love with the actress Grace Cunard (named by Carl Laemmle after the shipping line he habitually used), Libby Custer in the 1912 film. At Grace’s urging, Frank started asserting that he, not Ince, was responsible for the quality of many of the recent pictures, and after Texas Kelly at Bay in March 1913, Frank left Ince and went to work for Laemmle’s Universal.

His first picture for Universal was hailed for “the director’s masterly handling of the battle scenes”. Between 1913 and ’16 Frank directed and produced some eighty films of one to four reels, and four serials. Ford and Cunard became the leading stars of the era. Back in Portland, Jack was enthralled with his brother’s success. Straight after graduating from high school Jack went out to California and already in August ‘Jack Ford’ as he suddenly became had a minor part in one of his revered brother’s pictures.
 
Frank with Grace Cunard
 
Frank’s manner with brother Jack was rough and ready. Jack did a lot of doubling for Frank, as they looked reasonably alike. Once too much gunpowder was used in a Civil War picture and Jack woke up in hospital with a broken arm. Frank’s sympathy only extended to saying, “That was a close thing. Another second and audiences would have realized I was using a double.”

Jack Ford, though, was a man who remembered, indeed, nurtured a grievance. And in later life the rough fraternal horseplay would be returned many times over.

By early 1916 Frank was at the top of his game, famous, well off and lauded. It was not to last.

It is said that Frank’s directing style failed to evolve in a rapidly changing world of movie making. His personal issues, the sarcasm and the drinking, not to mention the scandalous affairs, did not help. He began to find it harder to make pictures. In April 1916 Frank and Grace walked out of Universal in the middle of a serial when a functionary demanded that Frank reimburse $100 for a tent that had burned. Universal gave way but soon there were other ructions. Grace married someone else. Frank went on the bender of all benders.

In 1917, he founded his own independent company, Fordart Films, and opened his own studio at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. Several movies were produced starring Frank, many of them very cheap and of poor quality. They were doomed ventures anyway. Finding theaters that would release independent films was increasingly difficult. The studios were closed and Frank descended to directing cheap Westerns for Poverty Row studios through the 20s.

As Frank’s career declined, so his brother Jack’s was on the rise. Jack was directing some high quality Westerns for Universal starring Harry Carey (see, for example, Straight Shooting of 1917) and moved up to Fox in 1920. He started giving his brother Frank small parts in some of his movies. In 1924 Jack (now more grandly referred to as John) Ford directed the epic The Iron Horse but although there was a huge cast there was no part for Frank.

Frank Baker, a plain spoken Australian who met Frank in the South Seas, worked with him on movies back in the States and then worked often for John, wrote tellingly of Frank:

He was an extraordinary man. In some ways he was very much like John. He and Jack didn’t get on very well. … Everything that John Ford did, I could see the reflection of Frank. Camera angles and different touches. [John] would say, ‘How do you like that?’ And I’d say, ‘I’ve seen that before,’ and he’d go as cold as anything. He had an amazing admiration for his brother … but he was completely jealous of him.

John Ford was a spiteful and insecure man who had learned from his older brother but, though certainly John had developed into the greater artist, he could never shake off his sense of inferiority to Frank.

Francis, on the other hand, was never bitter or spiteful. He admired his younger brother’s skills (his son Francis Ford Jr. said, “He was kind of proud of him”) and willingly accepted even uncredited bit parts in his movies, often as drunks, which others considered demeaning. By the 1930s Frank was getting no directorial assignments at all, not even for Poverty Row studios (he never directed a talkie), and acting parts were irregular and infrequent. For the rest of his life Frank would be dependent on Jack.

On the Senses of Cinema website, Charles Barr gives an interesting list of Frank’s parts in John’s films, which I take the liberty of reproducing here (I have put the Westerns in bold). It is not fully inclusive; some of the silent movies have been lost and in others he shows up on cast lists but is not there in existing prints.

 

Film date

Date set

Frank Ford role

Air Mail

1932

1930s

Air passenger

Pilgrimage

1933

1910s

Mayor Elmer Briggs

Doctor Bull

1933

1900

Chairman of meeting

The World Moves On

1934

1825-1930

WW1 soldier

Judge Priest

1934

1890

juror

The Whole Town’s Talking

1935

1930s

reporter

The Informer

1935

1920

Judge Flynn (of the IRA)

Steamboat round the Bend

1935

1890s

Efe – engineer

Prisoner of Shark Island

1936

1865

Corporal (O’Toole)

Stagecoach

1938

1870s

Sergeant Billy Pickett

Young Mr Lincoln

1939

1830s

Sam Boone – juror

Drums along the Mohawk

1939

1776+

Joe (Boleo)

My Darling Clementine

1946

1880s

Dad

Fort Apache

1948

1870s

Frank – stage guard

3 Godfathers

1948

1880s

Drinker at bar

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

1949

1870s

Connelly, barman

Wagonmaster

1950

1849

Mr Peachtree

The Quiet Man

1952

1920s

?? Dan Tobin

The Sun Shines Bright

1953

1890s

Brother Feeney

In some of these parts Frank stands out despite the very minor status of the role. In Stagecoach, for example, though uncredited and with no lines, Frank’s barman seems a strong presence at the stage way station, and the crucial business of Mrs. Mallory being invited to change places at the table, away from the prostitute Dallas, is seen, as it were, through his eyes. He also appears quite often in My Darling Clementine, memorable even as the hotel porter.

Frank also appeared in a host of Westerns with other directors, often uncredited but you spot him, in the saloon, for example. He is especially noticeable in The Ox-Bow Incident as Dad Hardwicke (left). IMDb credits him with an astonishing 492 appearances as actor, between 1909 and 1953, perhaps 250 of them Westerns. He may have directed and/or produced and written 180-odd movies.

In 1953, soon after appearing in John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright, Francis Ford died, aged 72. It certainly affected John Ford deeply, though as usual he did little to show it. Whenever he met Frank Baker he would say, “We gave Frank a good send-off, didn’t we?” as if a ‘good’ funeral could absolve him of blame for the way he had treated his brother when Frank was alive.

Let’s leave the last word to Andrew McLaglen:

Francis was a very nice man, a very, very nice man. I won’t say ‘unlike his brother,’ but he was different than Jack.