Rob Edelman: Glenn Ford

Apr 15, 2013

Of all the actors who came to the fore after the end of the Second World War, perhaps the best-recalled are Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Montgomery Clift, Robert Mitchum, William Holden... But they are not the lone stars of the era. Glenn Ford may not have appeared in as many timeless titles as the Lancasters and Pecks, but he was a prolific performer whose star glowed from the postwar years into the 1960s.

Some of Ford’s best films, which include GILDA, THE BIG HEAT, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, and the original 3:10 TO YUMA, are not to be found on GLENN FORD: UNDERCOVER CRIMES, a new DVD set marketed by Turner Classic Movies. These titles already are available on DVD. What you will find here are five lesser-known Ford features. One of them, THE LADY IN QUESTION, dates from 1940, when a lean, very young Glenn Ford was starting out in Hollywood-- and before he left the industry to serve in the military during the war. Granted, THE LADY IN QUESTION is a trifle, but Ford, playing a young man who predictably falls for an accused murderess, appears opposite an eye-catching young actress by the name of Rita Hayworth, who earned major acclaim as his co-star after the war in GILDA.

The other four Ford films are FRAMED, THE UNDERCOVER MAN, MR. SOFT TOUCH, and CONVICTED, all released between 1947 and 1950. In them, he respectively plays a down-on-his-luck drifter who finds himself in the clutches of a scheming femme fatale, a U.S. Treasury Department agent doggedly determined to nab an Al Capone-like hood, a kindhearted but corrupted soul who steals what amounts to his own money from the mob that has usurped his nightclub, and a victim of tough luck who finds himself doing a stretch in the pen after accidentally killing a man in a bar fight.

THE UNDERCOVER MAN is the best of the lot: a gritty crime drama that features stark direction by Joseph H. Lewis. Also noteworthy is CONVICTED, a taut drama which features an array of familiar names and faces, including Broderick Crawford, Dorothy Malone, Will Geer, Ed Begley, Frank Faylen, and Millard Mitchell. But none are bona-fide classics, so why bother to check them out?

Well, what makes them more than watchable, and enjoyable, is Ford’s mere presence: his likability, and the manner in which he expresses intensity and emotion. Ford brings a credibility and naturalism to his performances and, as you watch him here, you can see why audiences took to him back in the 1940s-- and why he managed to remain an A-list Hollywood personality for close to two decades.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of  Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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