Ford, Glenn: Hollywood’s Versatile, Underestimated Actor and Star

Despite his range, versatility, and career longevity, Glenn Ford must have been one of Hollywood’s most underestimated and underappreciated actors.

Gilda

The most memorable role of Glenn Ford’s career came with his first postwar film in 1946, starring alongside Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Directed by Hungarian emigre Charles Vidor, the two rising stars instantly bonded. Their on-screen chemistry came to fruition in Gilda, also directed by Charles Vidor.

Rita Hayworth: Frequent Screen Lady

This was Ford’s second pairing with Hayworth; his first was in The Lady In Question (1940), a courtroom drama in which Glenn plays a boy who falls in love with Rita Hayworth when his father, Brian Aherne, tries to rehabilitate her in their bicycle shop.

The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther did not much like, or, as he freely admitted, even understand, the movie, but he noted that Ford “just returned from war duty,” did show “a certain stamina and poise in the role of a tough young gambler.” Reviewing the film in 1946, Crowther had no way of knowing that Gilda was the herald of a new, hard-bitten, steamy genre that frequently flouted logic to make its dark points about the human heart. He, in fact, did not yet have the phrase by which Gilda would soon after be associated, a term that the French critics had not even invented: film noir, with Rita, that genre’s most remarkable femme fatale. The erotic sadism and covert homoeroticism were actively encouraged on set by director Vidor, a sophisticated Vienna-born expatriate, though Glenn Ford always denied any awareness of the latter in his character’s fervent loyalty to his boss, who had unwittingly married the love of Johnny’s life. The film was entered in the Cannes Film Fest, then in its first year.

Ford went on to be a leading man opposite Hayworth in five films, and the two, after their location romance, became lifelong friends and neighbors. Beautifully shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Rudolph Mate, Gilda has endured as a classic of film noir.  In 2013, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Male Icon in 1950s and 1960s

Alongside his peer and friend, William Holden, Ford flourished throughout the 1950s and 1960s as male icon for those decades.

But Ford was frustrated that he was not given the opportunities to work with directors of the caliber that led Holden to his Oscar-winning career, such as Billy Wilder and David Lean. Glenn Ford missed out on From Here to Eternity, as did Rita Hayworth, when production was stalled by Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn. He also made the mistake, which he regretted later, of turning down the lead in the comedy Born Yesterday (also planned with Rita Hayworth) which Holden then snatched up.

Directed by Fritz Lang: Classic Film Noirs–The Big Heat, Human Desire

He continued to bring in solid performances in thrillers, dramas, and action films such as A Stolen Life with Bette Davis.

He was memorable in several film noir: The Big Heat directed by genius German filmmaker-Hitler refugee, Fritz Lang, co-starring Gloria Grahame.  The three reteamed in the following year in Human Desire, loosely based on La Bete Humaine, the 1870 Emile Zola novel.

He also made Framed, the noir thriller Experiment in Terror with Lee Remick, and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Minnelli’s expensive, high-profile but misguided project.

Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Blackboard Jungle was a landmark film of teen angst. Unlike Rebel Without A Cause and The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle tackled racial conflicts, as Ford played an idealistic but harassed teacher of an urban high school that included a very young Sidney Poitier and other black and Hispanic cast members. Messed-up white kids were there, too, particularly one played by Vic Morrow, depicting that new phenomenon, the juvenile delinquent. Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” under the opening credits was the first use of a rock and roll song in a Hollywood film. Richard Brooks, the film’s writer and director, had discovered the music when he heard Ford’s son, Peter, playing the record at Glenn’s home.

In the biopic Interrupted Melody, Ford starred with Eleanor Parker, who was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

The Westerns with which he would always be associated include Jubal, The Fastest Gun Alive, Cowboy, The Secret of Convict Lake with Gene Tierney, the classic Western 3:10 to Yuma, and Cimarron.

Ford’s versatility was shown in some popular comedies, almost always as the beleaguered, well-meaning, but nonplussed straight man, set upon by circumstances.  In The Teahouse of the August Moon, which co-starred Brando, he played an American soldier sent to Okinawa to convert the occupied island natives to the American way of life, and is instead converted by them.

He also starred in The Gazebo, Cry for Happy, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and the naval-themed Don’t Go Near The Water with Gia Scala.

Superman (1978)

In 1978, Ford had a supporting role in Superman, as Clark Kent’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, a role that introduced Ford to a new generation of audiences. In Ford’s final scene in the film, the theme song from Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock,” heard on a car radio.