Two devout Fordians make personal contributions to the Criterion disk: Peter Bogdanovich with amusing character portraits of Ford and John Wayne, and Tag Gallagher with a video essay, "Dreaming of Jeannie." Gallagher sketches Stagecoach's aptness as a reflection of post-Depression America and then, with acute sensitivity to the particulars of Ford's style, analyzes key passages. He illuminates the director's genius for exploring inner reality through spatial dynamics, and persuasively demonstrates that "Ford wants us to empathize with people, not to ally against them … to see without intolerance." Ford himself is heard from in a 72-minute interview conducted at his home in 1968 by BBC interviewer Philip Jenkinson; this is fascinating, though less for information and insights imparted than as a chapter in Ford's career-long history of being cantankerous with interviewers. His grandson and biographer Dan Ford presents a quarter-hour of home movies of the director with trusted colleagues aboard his yacht Araner, a home-away-from-home and means of escape from Hollywood … yet often Dudley Nichols would be turning out script pages somewhere on board. Stagecoach made Monument Valley "John Ford country," so it's right that the set should include a short history of the Goulding family, who operated a trading post there, and their relationship with Ford and the Navajo. There are also a (rather disappointing) tribute to Yakima Canutt, the fabled stuntman who played such a big part in executing the movie's famous chase across the salt flats; a 1949 radio dramatization of Stagecoach with Wayne and Trevor re-creating their roles; a theatrical trailer; and a print essay by David Cairns.
And yet the most exciting component apart from the Stagecoach restoration itself is something else by John Ford: a 54-minute silent comedy-Western from 1917, Bucking Broadway. This was made the year Ford started directing (at age 23), yet the work is both fresh with discovery and remarkably assured. Already it has the look of a Ford picture, as in an early sequence of horsemen gathering, surging up hillsides, crossing a creek, and then (anticipating the first shot of Stagecoach!) breaking into view from behind a roll of land we didn't even realize was there. The playing is relaxed, natural; there's hardly anything "silent movie" about it except that you can't hear their voices. Ford even kids about sentimentality (something he would often be charged with in later years) with a scene of crusty cowpokes getting blubbery over the song "Home Sweet Home." And in the final reel, as hero Cheyenne Harry (Harry Carey) arrives in New York City on a mission to rescue his girl, one shot is sublime: the off-center framing of the Westerner, with saddle thrown over his shoulder, striding into the tall, baronial lobby of a Broadway hotel as concierge and bellhops look warily on. Picture-man John Ford had arrived, ready for work. --Richard T. Jameson