SO ENDS OUR NIGHT (1941) – Directed by John Cromwell, starring Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan, Frances Dee & Glenn Ford

Here given fourth billing, Glenn Ford faces his toughest screen assignment yet. SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is a superb film, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel FLOTSAM, about displaced ‘undesirables’ spurned by Nazi Germany and made to wander about Europe without a valid passport, thus rendering them perpetually on the run and in danger of repeated deportations.

It is here that a study of Glenn Ford’s films shifts gears because SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is an A level, class production all the way. Ford’s biggest challenge as Ludwig Kern is to hold his own with one of the most formidable screen actors of all time—Fredric March. It is my opinion that March and Spencer Tracy were the two greatest American film actors of the 20th-century.

March always brings a depth and resonance to his performances and was able to convey great emotion with minimal effort. He is never phony and his character in SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is noble, compelling and courageous. Those incredible, soulful March eyes reflect suffering, determination, longing and resolve with powerful clarity.

Yet Ford proves every bit March’s equal and is every bit as compelling. This is no mean feat; sharing the screen with a talent as great as March’s would expose the inadequacies of a lesser performer inside five minutes. It didn’t hurt that March was very helpful to Glenn during the making of this film and became a teacher and mentor to his young co-star. When reviews for the film indicated that the young Glenn Ford ‘stole the show’, March was quite pleased—a truly generous gesture. Glenn Ford, young as he was, is both believable and interesting. There was a lot riding on his performance in this important film and he seems to carry it off with ease. It is an interesting and somehow warm footnote to know that Fredric March was such a pivotal person in Glenn Ford’s film career.

SO ENDS OUR NIGHT was made/released in 1941, before America entered WWII. The fact the film addresses the evils of Fascism in Nazi Germany so forcefully and presents the oppressed (Jews, political dissidents, etc.) with sympathy makes this a film ahead of its time. What is even more remarkable is that Glenn Ford would later assist in building safe houses in France. (Although the exact time that Ford participated in this endeavour is hard to determine until details of his war record are examined—and Peter is working on obtaining his father’s record—building safe houses apparently earned Glenn Ford a place on the Gestapo’s death list (and, a few decades later, a Legion d’Honneur from France).

There is a core of truth that exists in many of the war-themed films that were made during the actual era when the outcome of WWII was still in question. Despite censorship and inevitable characteristics that date many of these films, they often have a seriousness of tone and an immediacy that transcends time, rendering them valuable and even compulsory viewing today.

The atmosphere of the film is immediately established following a scroll outlining the premise, when a tracking shot reminiscent of Lewis Milestone or even Alfred Hitchcock draws us into a myriad of buildings in a European city where a number of passport-less dissidents have found refuge for the night. A sudden noise startles young Ludwig Kern (Ford) from his slumber. He awakens with a start and as his face turns to the sound, a bar gobo is seen across his face, showing him, symbolically, to be a prisoner of his circumstances.

There is another stunning scene, not involving Ford, which attests to the power of this film and the vision of the director, John Cromwell (father of James Cromwell, Farmer Hoggett in BABE). March tries to see his wife one last time before fleeing the city. He follows her in a marketplace, speaking to her from behind, knowing full well they are both under surveillance. He then decides he must look at her once more and tells her to pass through a tunnel up ahead. There they pass each other with only a few seconds to actually look into one another’s eyes. It’s a powerful cinematic sequence and it is done extremely well.

What unfolds in SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is two parallel storylines, one following March and one following Ford. Of course they meet and intertwine in places, but Ford is challenged to register his scenes as memorably as March’s. He does. He possesses the coveted gift of presence combined with star power and is every bit as interesting as his brilliant counterpart. Seen in the context of a big budgeted film with an accomplished director, Ford is clearly poised to make strides in his career.

SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is must viewing for Ford fans. While still playing a young man, his acting is taken to a new level of competence in the company that he keeps. Don’t miss this one.

TEXAS (1941) – Directed by George Marshall, starring William Holden & Glenn Ford

A few years prior to the making of this film, William Holden leaped to stardom with GOLDEN BOY. He was the rising young star on the Columbia lot. It was only natural that he and Glenn Ford would meet. They did and they became fast friends. Their first film together, TEXAS, is an epic film in which they share top billing. It was also Ford’s first partnership with director George Marshall, who became a friend as well and frequent collaborator.

TEXAS is also Ford’s first pairing with leading lady Claire Trevor, and his second partnering with the great character actor/curmudgeon Edgar Buchanan who, as mentioned was a former dentist, and here plays a dentist (with real conviction I might add)!

Ford and Holden’s repartee and spirited competitiveness is authenticated on screen by their real-life friendship off screen. As perhaps the two brightest young male stars in the Columbia Studios actors’ corral, they shared a variety of misadventures that no doubt compete with the storyline of TEXAS.

There is a lot of range in this film. It is a buddy picture, a classic Western, a comedy, a drama and a thrilling morality tale all rolled into one. Director Marshall throws in hilarious visual jokes in the most unexpected places. For example during a climactic cattle stampede through town in the midst of a gun battle, a man having a bath in a tin tub in a shack is intruded upon by a few stray steers. Very funny, laugh-out-loud stuff, partly because it comes out of nowhere. Director Marshall has a sure, confident hand indeed and is reminiscent, in this sense, of another great director (and another Ford), John Ford.

Glenn Ford, appearing in only his second A picture, brings all his youthful mannerisms to play—the boyish grin, the awkward body language, especially around women—while maturing into the film’s hero, here named Tod Ramsey. This is another marvellous characteristic about Ford’s performances—his characters always grow. Despite the fact that Holden’s character is more interesting (slightly manic and with a self-destructive tendency—perhaps like Holden himself), Ford is never boring. He continues to impress during these early years for the sincerity and believability of his performances.

One note of interest—the fist-fighting scenes in this films are downright awkward. Not that fights should always be smooth and choreographed, but the punches themselves look like pulled punches. No one, Ford included, knows how to throw a convincing punch in this film. It was relatively recently from the time this picture was made that John Wayne and actor/stuntman Yakima Canutt broke new ground and developed believable cinematic fist-fights. The main factor, they discovered, through trial and error, was camera angles.

Given Glenn Ford’s proficiency for effective screen brawling in later films it would be interesting to know when he learned to ‘punch properly’ on film.

TEXAS is a sprawling, action-packed Western full of great scenes. Glenn Ford’s performance is A picture calibre all the way and further proof that he stood out from the norm. Matched with Holden, another consistently honest and believable film actor, Ford holds, impresses, and establishes even further his reputation for giving a reliable performance. He has, as they say, ‘won his spurs’.

GO WEST, YOUNG LADY (1941) – Directed by Frank R. Strayer, starring Penny Singleton & Glenn Ford

Penny Singleton of BLONDIE fame is here given a terrific opportunity to display her considerable singing and dancing talent in addition to her flair for light comedy (as opposed to broad slapstick). It’s not hard to believe she started her career on the Vaudeville circuit.

GO WEST, YOUNG LADY is a blatant rip-off of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (that treasure with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich). Too many musical numbers spoil the film, although Singleton’s big number in the saloon is special and Ann Miller’s tap routines are always a joy to watch. One wonders if Ford appreciated Miss Miller’s tapping talent even more for his relationship with soon-to-be-Mrs. Glenn Ford and phenomenal hoofer, Eleanor Powell.

Ford is called upon to play a Western hero with a lot more humour and youthful enthusiasm than we would expect, judging from our exposure to later Ford Westerns. He maintains his by now established screen persona—honest, reliable, truthful—without developing it much further. The film is simply a light-hearted comedy and succeeds because it doesn’t try to be anything else. It is to Glenn Ford’s credit that he is able to adjust his playing style enough to complement the proceedings and take his share of pratfalls and pies-in-the-face such a film requires. And it is the ‘aw shucks’ aspect of this persona that keeps his naïve Sheriff Tex Miller palatable.

While GO WEST, YOUNG LADY is no big stretch for any of the parties involved, it is another noteworthy Glenn Ford performance.

FILMS OF 1942-43