A new frontier: 'Ford at Fox' set

Restored silents, docu, classics in 25-picture package

Legendary filmmaker John Ford will be honored in the fall with a lavish DVD collection of his early films made for 20th Century Fox.

The collection, which spans 1920-52, includes such classics as "The Grapes of Wrath," best picture Oscar winner "How Green Was My Valley," "My Darling Clementine" and "Drums Along the Mohawk." Twenty other films also will be included in the "Ford at Fox" set, 18 of which have never before been available on DVD.

The $300 set, which 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is preparing for a Dec. 4 release, is believed to be the largest collection of films by a single director ever released in one shot. It's a far cry from typical DVD boxed sets devoted to a single director or actor, which generally include no more than four or five movies.

"An undertaking like 'Ford at Fox' is important to the heritage of our studio as well as to film history," said Steve Feldstein, senior vp marketing communications at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. "It's designed to be a must-have for any cinephile."

Many of the films have been painstakingly restored and remastered, Feldstein said, with the oldest films, the silents, featuring all-new orchestral scores created specifically for each film.

"John Ford was a true pioneer of the craft, and a lot of his work has inspired some of our most celebrated directors and many of the directors working today," he added. Ford's work influenced such contemporaries as Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles as well as such latter-day filmmakers as George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

"In addition, Ford's relationship with the Fox studio, and with Daryl Zanuck in particular, was one of the longest and most productive relationships in the history of film," Feldstein said.

"Ford at Fox" includes several of the director's early silent films, including 1920's "Just Pals," his first film for Fox, and "The Iron Horse," which in 1924 grossed more than $4 million to become the top-grossing film of its day. "Just Pals" is a rustic comedy set in rural America that stars cowboy actor Buck Jones; "The Iron Horse," about the 1860s construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways, is the first film to feature legendary cowboy star George O'Brien.

The set also includes three films with cowboy hero Will Rogers (1933's "Doctor Bull," 1934's "Judge Priest" and 1935's "Steamboat Round the Bend"); 1937's "Wee Willie Winkie," which star Shirley Temple has said was her favorite early movie; and the James Cagney classic "What Price Glory" (1952).

Exclusive to the DVD release is a newly produced documentary from Ford historian Nick Redman, "Becoming John Ford," which, according to Feldstein, "tells the story of the collaboration between Zanuck and Ford that yielded so many masterpieces."

The set also comes with a hardcover coffee table book that includes rare, unpublished photographs from Ford's career, lobby card reproductions, production stills and an in-depth look at Ford's work.

Fox is getting some unsolicited promotional help from film festivals nationwide eager to screen the restored Ford classics. "The Iron Horse" will be one of the final films shown at the Venice Film Festival, while the New York Film Festival will host the premiere of the newly restored "Drums Along the Mohawk," Ford's first Technicolor film. Scorsese will introduce the film.

"True cinephiles, the film festival crowd, love the work of John Ford," Feldstein said. "Many of these films haven't been seen in years, and the opportunity to see classics like 'Drums Along the Mohawk' and 'The Iron Horse' on the big screen, there's incredible interest in that."