Friday, September 12, 2008

Ward Bond (I)

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I've titled this Ward Bond "1" because I'm quite sure I'll have more to say about Mr. Bond as time goes on. But for now I want to get down my intitial thoughts on this fantastic, larger-than-life, barrel-chested lug.

In 1929 Ward Bond, a football player and friend/rival to John Wayne, shoved his way onto a train full of football-playing extras for John Ford. Bond insinuated himself into the Ford inner circle through a combination of syncophancy, brawling, and boozing.

But don't let than fool you into thinking that Bond was a lackey or no-talent. A big broad-shouldered galoot, he was capable of surprising depth and humanity, in addition to broad comedy. Ford may have stumbled across him, but he clearly nurtured his career just as he did Wayne's.

In 1939 alone, Bond appeared in Frontier Marshal, Drums Along the Mohawk, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Gone With The Wind. His greatest popularity would come on TV as the star of "Wagon Train" before his death of a massive heart attack.

In his book of essays "Bambi vs Godzilla," David Mamet singles out Bond's scene with Errol Flynn in "Gentleman Jim" as a moment of great all-time cinema acting. I agree, but I'd add a scene from "They Were Expendable" to that list. As the mechanic and head crew chief of a PT boat in the Pacific, Bond is overseeing repairs to his boat, as thge men swim about in the water below trying to free a stuck propeller. An officious young officer arrives to tell Bond and the men that they are all being given a high-ranking award. Bond and the men ignore him completely in a typical Fordian moment of machismo, and work being its own reward. To be honest, it's a bit much. But Bond sells the scene completely, lost in the problem of the propeller. It's a great piece of acting.

Even more interesting about Bond is that despite being an almost universally genial presence, he was in real life a rabid anti-communist. There are even allegations that Bond and the gossip columnists virtually ran the 1950s blacklist. Imagine John Huston having to beg for a job to Ward Bond! An unpleasant man in real life, yet the son of a bitch certainly could act.

Essential films:
-Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
-Gentleman Jim (1942)
-My Darling Clementine (1946)
-It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
-Three Godfathers (1948)
-The Quiet Man (1952)
-The Searchers (1957)

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