Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hangman's House (John Ford) ***

Director: John Ford

Cast: Victor MacLaglen, June Collyer, Earle Foxe, Larry Kent, Hobart Bosworth

Background: He hadn't cemented himself as a legend yet, but by 1928 John Ford was already noteworthy as one of the hardest working directors in Hollywood, making more than 60 films between 1917 and 1928. 4 years earlier he scored his first big hit with the epic western The Iron Horse.

Story: A ruthless judge (Bosworth) objects to his daughter's (Collyer) future husband (Kent), so he arranges for her to be married to the despicable John Darcy (Foxe). Meanwhile, a mysterious man (MacLaglen) arrives in town to find the man who caused his sister's suicide.

Thoughts: An entertaining genre film that doesn't provide much depth, but is still generally entertaining. It's hard to not like the presence of victor MacLaglen in a movie, even if it was hard to separate him from his oafish persona from A Girl in Every Port. The central romance isn't exactly scintillating, but it works well enough for you to care about the outcome. What really makes the film work is Ford's precision direction that reallys sells the action scenes, including a horse race and an impressive large scale house fire. He also adds some vivid atmosphere. Even back in 1928, Ford had a great sense for setting up exciting action sequences and providing appealing heroes for you to root for and distasteful villains that you love to hate. Hangman's House may not mean anything, but it's a good time. An extra treat is seeing a very young John Wayne as an extra during the horse race.

Postscript: Ford would later go on to direct some of the most notable films in Hollywood, such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Grapes of Wrath. Other than MacLaglen, the cast did not go on to much success.

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