THE WORLD MOVES ON

The World Moves On, starring Madeleine Carroll and Franchot Tone (above),
is a fairly undistinguished and only mildly entertaining John Ford film
from 1934.  One might be tempted to see it as an assignment in
which he had no great personal interest, except for the fact that its
themes are ones that preoccupied him all his life — family, war and
religion.

The film is an epic family saga that begins in 1825 with the setting
up, in New Orleans, of an international textile combine.  After
this lengthy prologue the film concentrates on the first third of the
20th Century — showing how war and greed destroy not only the combine
but the family that runs it and, by not so subtle implication, the
fabric of civilization itself.  There are chilling and prophetic
hints of the war to come — with documentary images of Hitler reviewing
marching Nazis, of Imperial Japanese and Russian and French troops on
parade, of British ships and American warplanes on maneuvers.

The coming apocalypse — which in 1934 could conceivably have been
averted — is presented, like the previous apocalypse of the Great War,
as the direct consequence of rejecting Christian values.  At the
end of the film, when the lead couple visit their crumbling home in New
Orleans, the ruined patriarch says, “There's nothing left.”  His wife
answers that there is something left — and points to a crucifix hanging on the wall.

Ford was rarely so explicit in his references to religion, because he
didn't need to be.  They were built into the narratives of his
films, as they were built into the parables of Jesus (before he
explained them in private to his disciples, at which point they lost most of their
power.)  Here the religious references seem imposed from outside
the narrative — one
of the few cases in which we catch Ford preaching.  Ford wasn't at
his best in a pulpit — like Jesus, he did his best work out of
doors, in taverns and in the homes of ordinary people.

The most moving sequence of the film shows a series of
soldiers walking through a town towards the train that will take them
to the front.  We see the film's young lovers but also nameless
characters — a stiff-upper-lip officer walking with his son, tenderly holding the little boy's
hand, a soldier walking with his mother, who babbles advice as a way of
not falling apart.  In these small vignettes we feel the truth of
war, feel its threat to decency and humane life, far more deeply than in
the noble pronouncements of the characters who expound Ford's
sentiments directly.

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