REVIEW by Willard Manus

An actress who worked with him had this to say about director John Ford: "Very Irish, a dark personality with a sensitivity which he did everything to conceal." Another actor remarked that he was "a very selfish guy, and he could be a tyrant, yet he got tremendous performances out of people."

Those performances were delivered by such stars as John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Katherine Hepburn, in films such as Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Grapes of Wrath, among many others. John Ford was one of Hollywood's finest directors, but his contradictory, enigmatic personality has always baffled and upset even his admirers.

Now much of the mystery about the man has been solved in Joseph McBride's SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD, published recently by St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave, NY, NY 10010.

McBride, author of previous works on Frank Capra, Steven Spielberg and Howard Hawks, spent over thirty years on Searching For John Ford, having written an earlier, less comprehensive study of the director when he was twenty-two and just out of college. Although Ford did not consent to meet with him at that--or any other--time, McBride pursued his interest in Ford, talking to those who knew him, visiting Ford's homeland, studying his films, reading everything written about him.

The result is an 838-page tome that will undoubtedly stand for a long time as the definitive work on John Ford, a man McBride greatly respects despite having been rebuffed by him. "Ford's intransigence now seems refreshing in an age where every movie comes accompanied with scores of interviews with the director, telling us how to watch it rather than letting us discover it for ourselves," McBride says. "Ford wanted his work to speak for itself. And it is through his work, not through his public or private statements about it, that Ford speaks to us most passionately and clearly."

McBride feels that "the images that Ford created have helped define our vision of ourselves. Today's most influential filmmakers--Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone--revere and emulate him." But it gripes McBride that younger audiences have turned their back on Ford. "I was shocked a couple of years ago when I asked a film teacher at a leading California university what she thought of Ford, and found that she had never seen any of his movies."

McBride's book may change all that. By delving deeply into Ford's life--even to the extent of visiting Connemara, Ireland, where Ford's ancestors lived--NcBride has put together a biography that makes for addictive reading, despite its poundage. It doesn't hurt that Ford had some juicy love affairs with such famous Hollywood actresses as Katherine Hepburn, whom he first directed in Mary of Scotland.

"Hepburn's free-spirited nature affected Ford like an aphrodisiac," MacBride writes. "The independent way she lived her life seemed liberating to a man burdened by a guilt-ridden sense of family duty and addicted to work as a substitute for sensual pleasure. But the 29-year-old actress's lack of inhibition also frightened him, threatening his fragile sense of self-control."

Ford, who was a miserable husband and father, drank heavily all his life and was only happy when he was directing a film. That he jumped from woman to woman almost as rapidly as he changed political coloration does not put McBride off. "It's the unresolved contradictions in him that make him a great artist," he said in an interview. "Like Shakespeare, his complexities are what made him the artist he was."