John Ford didn’t have much interest in discussing his creative process. Anybody who’s read a book or two on him knows he downplayed his incredible artistry (and sentimentality) at every turn, preferring to fall back on his reputation (deserved) as a mean old man who happened to make great movies.
Ford’s greatest collaborator, John Wayne, worked very hard to look like he wasn’t working at all. The fact that so many today think of Wayne as more a personality than an actor shows how well he succeeded.
Ward Bond was a natural, plain and simple. Over 200 films and a TV series, Wagon Train, certainly benefited from his style (or lack of style).
The politics of these three men were as varied as their approach to their craft, but they formed a fast friendship that lasted for decades — from Wayne and Bond playing football at USC in the late 20s to Bond’s death in 1960 and on to Ford’s passing in 1973. It’s a sort of father-sons relationship that just happens to include some of the finest films ever made.
If you’re a frequenter of this blog, you’ve probably got shelves loaded with books on Ford and Wayne. Some are indispensable, some are good, some aren’t so hot but maybe contain a still you can’t live without. I’d put Three Bad Men in the indispensable stack.
What Scott Allen Nollen does that sets Three Bad Men apart is use Bond’s biography (which has never been tackled before, to my knowledge) as the backbone on which the rest of the book hangs. Nollen covers the films they made together, along with the pictures that came between them. The book really benefits from this larger context, from the ups and downs of their individual careers (Wayne’s picture before The Searchers was The Conqueror; Bond went from My Darling Clementine straight to It’s A Wonderful Life) to the irony of Ford’s later years, when Wayne’s superstardom and Bond’s TV success made it harder for Pappy to line up his cast — when he could get a project off the ground.
As with most books about these men, tales of drinking and mischief fly fast and furious, along with valuable insight into their working relationship. Nollen strikes an almost perfect balance between the meticulously researched and the engagingly told. I found this a fun, fast, enlightening read — up there with the Bogdanovich book. (Some sections have already seen a second pass.) My only complaint: I would’ve liked another 20-30 pages on They Were Expendable (1945). Inspired by this book, I’m planning a Ford/Wayne/Bond binge, beginning with the Blu-ray of The Sun Shines Bright (1953).
Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen, foreword by Michael A Hoey
398 pages Published 2013 by McFarland & Company, Inc – ISBN 978-0-7864-5854-7