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Saturday, 30 May 2009

WESTERN ICONS - HENRY FONDA


Fonda's authority made him perfect for playing Presidents and solid men but his westerns prove his range was far wider than he is often given credit for. In My Darling Clementine his Wyatt Earp is a shy gunslinger, in Warlock he is both hero and villain and in Once Upon a Time in the West he shoots a child in one of western cinemas' most shocking sequences.

His first western was 1939's Jessie James in which he played the outlaw's down to earth brother. He reprised the role in the Fritz Lang directed sequel, The Return of Jessie James in 1940.

He then made three films with John Ford - Young Mr Lincoln, Drums along the Mohawk and Grapes of Wrath and then in 1943 he starred in William Wellman's classic, The Ox-bow Incident which was brave choice given that it was a brooding melodrama that questioned the lynch mob mentality. Although the film was not fashionable at the time it is these days considered a classic of the genre.

In his on - off career in Westerns which stretched for 40 years he worked with such great directors s John Ford, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann - however after being blacklisted for his liberal views in the 1940's Fonda's roles dried up but he was rediscovered for westerns in the 1950's and made some stunning classics of the genre. He was great as a bounty hunter in The Tin Star (1957) and multi layered in the brilliant Warlock (1959). He played an aging cowboy in The Rounders (1964) and showed good comedy timing as a stricken gambler in 1966's A Big Hand for the Little lady.

In 1968 he played the bad guy twice. First in Firecreek opposite James Stewart and then in Once Upon a Time in the West which to many people qualifies as his best western role. His later appearance in My Name is Nobody was a fitting postscript to Fonda's westerns.

8 comments:

Laurie Powers said...

Henry Fonda is my favorite: the hero that questions the status quo.

Samuel Wilson said...

Fonda doesn't get enough credit for Warlock, which I think had to have influenced Leone's desire to cast Fonda in his westerns. Through much of Warlock he's almost a straight man for Anthony Quinn's more villainous character, but toward the end he goes scary mad, and the scene when he kicks the crutch out from under the crippled judge nearly matches murdering the child in Once Upon A Time for pure viciousness.

Charles Gramlich said...

I thought Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West made the most memorable villain ever in a western.

Steve M said...

It's always amazed me that Henry Fonda starred in many of my favourite westerns, no coincidence me thinks.

Ray said...

Clay Blaisdell or Frank - very difficult choice. Maybe, the character from 'Once Upon A Time In The West' was an extension of that which Henry Fonda played in 'Warlock'.

G said...

One of my personal faves was Drums Along the Mohawk. I thought it was one of the better period pieces out there.

Didn't care much for My Darling Clementine.

Christopher Grant said...

Everytime I pop Once Upon...into the DVD player, the scene that I jump to time and again, is the introduction of Frank.

There is nothing more cool or cold than Henry Fonda in that moment.

Barbara Martin said...

Henry Fonda was one of my favourites. If his name was in the star billing then the movie was bound to be excellent.