The man who made the myths

TCM podcast ‘Decoding John Ford’ sheds light on the infamous filmmaker

John Ford poses with one of his four Oscars in 1946. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

When Orson Welles was asked what filmmakers he admired, he responded, “I prefer the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

Born John Martin Feeney in Maine in 1894 — though he disputed two of those facts — John Ford is American cinema. He directed more than 140 features, shorts and documentaries, won six Academy Awards (four for directing, a record) and would influence legions with his films.

“John Ford’s idea of America became the idea of America. John Ford is Walt Whitman. John Ford is Thomas Edison. John Ford is American life.”

That quote comes courtesy of season five of The Plot Thickens, TCM’s signature podcast hosted by Ben Mankiewicz. This season’s seven-episode series, Decoding John Ford, co-produced by the audio company Novel, covers the lasting impact of a filmmaker born 130 years ago with secrets still to be uncovered.

Ford is a frustrating man to love. He was a drunk and a bully, dismissed the obvious poetry he brought to motion pictures as nothing more than “a job of work,” and bent, broke and borrowed the truth any chance he could get. But it’s all there in the frame — which is why so many interviewees in Decoding John Ford reach for hyperbole when describing Ford’s films.

For the newcomers to Ford, the series succinctly lays out all the pertinent information with plenty of archival audio and contemporary interviews with scholars. For the already initiated, the real coup comes in episode four when Mankiewicz goes in search of Ford’s lost documentary shot during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. 

Like many Hollywood filmmakers, Ford served in uniform following the U.S. entry into World War II. Ford’s award-winning documentary The Battle of Midway is a sight to behold and easy to find. But color footage of Allied soldiers landing on Omaha Beach shot by one of the finest ever to touch a camera? Talk about the holy grail of lost footage.

June 6 marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and TCM will be celebrating accordingly with a line-up of World War II movies, including Saving Private Ryan, directed by one of Hollywood’s most successful devotees of Ford, Steven Spielberg. Some people just live. John Ford lives on.

Decoding John Ford will be available to download and stream from your podcast app of choice starting June 6.


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