Bucking Broadway (1917)

Director: John Ford

Recently I watched Brownlow & Gill’s legendary Hollywood series, one episode of which is dedicated to the western. It was an interesting and useful reminder that the last days of the old West overlapped somewhat with the early days of Hollywood; many of the early screen cowboys (including this film’s star, Harry Carey) had been actual cowboys not long before, and some parts of California were still being settled while the film industry was growing there. Useful, because I think the western genre mostly seems to be associated with the three or four decades after the Civil War, so that when we first see the villain of the piece make his appearance in an automobile it seems… a bit jarring. Here you think you’re watching a story taking place in maybe the 1870s or 1880s, and, oh, fuck, it’s the modern (well, 1917) world after all… Anyway, this is us almost at the start of John Ford’s directorial career, and I suspect it’s that particular credit which made the rediscovery of this film in 2002 a kind of big thing, from a lesser director it wouldn’t seem like a big deal. Cos as a film, it’s not a big deal, it’s a small thing and I suppose that’s the charm of it; it’s a simple story of a man (Carey) working as a ranch foreman out in Wyoming who falls in love with the owner’s daughter, she then being spirited away by the aforementioned villain, a city slicker from the east coast. Revenge ensues. As I said, a small tale, but perfectly well-made, and culminating in an absolutely fantastic climactic dust-up, performed, filmed and edited with thrilling vigour. Obviously this early in his career, Ford had yet to blossom into the giant of later years (even though this was something like the sixth feature he’d made just that year—ah, the mighty work rate of the old-school Hollywood filmmaker, eh), but it’s still a film with its own virtues, and not the least of those is the 54-minute running time, with everything in its right proportion and nothing wasted, and worth it for that outstanding climax…

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