Review: The Plough And The Stars (1936)

the plough and the stars

I choose family over just about everything else, so that’s where I fall on this issue!

Screenplay By: Dudley Nichols
Directed By: John Ford

There’s a timeless quality to the major theme of The Plough And The Stars. Even to this very day the desire to take care of ones family often interferes with the ability to be with ones family. I’m not off at war, but I do work at least two twenty four hour shifts a week. That’s two days a week where I am completely away from my family with no contact. I worry about that when it comes to my daughter and whether she understands I’m not happy to be away from her. Obviously The Plough And The Stars is aiming for something more than just being away from your daughter for two twenty four hour shifts a week. Still, the struggle between providing for and protecting your family versus being with your family is just as prescient today as it was in 1936.

Step into the great debate John Ford, a man’s man if ever there was one. Yet, The Plough And The Stars has some very less than manly qualities to them. It’s clear, to me at least, that Mr. Ford admires the decision of Jack, yet it’s just as clear that he doesn’t fully believe in his decision. Mr. Ford thinks that men should go off to war, they should believe in country and patriotism. He also believes that a man should be there for his family, and that family is what matters most. This duality, these contrasting ideas are at the heart of The Plough And The Stars. An early bar fight scene illustrates the tug of war that any person would feel when placed in the positions of Jack and Nora.

As quickly as it begins The Plough And The Stars is finished. This is the greatest flaw within the film. The moments of overacting, most notably Barbara Stanwyck in a few key moments, can be overlooked. The brevity of the film is not easily glossed over. The Plough And The Stars is not a film that needs to be brief, extra runtime felt essential for Mr. Ford to better explore the ideas at the heart of Dudley Nichols’ script. I’ve read that studio interference is what got in the way of The Plough And The Stars being the feature it should have been. Whatever the case may be, The Plough And The Stars runs through its themes far too fast, and the film definitely suffers as a result.

It’s not essential John Ford, but The Plough And The Stars is still a well made film worth checking out. The desire is present to cherry pick through the man’s almost one hundred and fifty known directorial efforts. However, the name John Ford is incredibly important to film and it should be important to a healthy cinematic language. With that being the case there’s no reason for anyone to not, at the very least, give The Plough And The Stars a chance. Top tier or not, The Plough And The Stars is a decent watch, and a decent John Ford film is far better than a lot of other films.





2 responses to “Review: The Plough And The Stars (1936)

  1. Your review is odd, Bill. O’Casey’s The Plough & the Stars is an expose of Jack Clitheroe’s male vanity — he’s pretending to be brave for your male comrades, and so he spurns his adoring wife’s attempts to save his life as making him look weak in the other men’s eyes.
    It’s also about human foibles and greed, and the way working class people get killed by the fervour of patriotic jingoism…the Irish weakness for the romanticism of ‘grand causes’ …political independence OR socialist ideals

  2. That’s a perfectly valid read, but it’s not what I honed on in when it came to my takeaways from the film.

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