John Ford’s Movies and Irish Literature

The main idea of the paper is going to be a thorough examination of the novels and the movies directed by John Ford based on those novels. The focus of the research is the changes that may be seen in the novel’s plots and in the films directed by Ford, how those changes influenced the themes of the plot and whether those stories became original. We are going to consider the nature of those changes to understand Ford’s role in them and to consider Ford’s Irish-American identity through his perception of Ireland. To make the discussion purposeful and specific, the following Ford’s movies are going to be considered along with stories they were based on. Hangman’s House is a romantic drama based on the novel by Brian Oswald Byrne written in 1925. The Informer is another movie under discussion based on the story written by Liam O’Flaherty. The Plough and the Stars are based on Sean O’Casey’s novel. The focus of The Quiet Man is Marurice Walsh’s novel of the same name. The Rising of the Moon comprises a number of stories taken from different genres of art. Thus, this film is based on O’Connor’s The Majesty of the Law, A Minute’s Wait, a 1914 one-act comedy by Martin J. McHugh, and on the very play The Rising of the Moon by Lady Gregory. The Shamrock Handicap by Peter Kyne is one more novel Ford used as the basis for one of his films. It is important to identify the themes of those stories and consider whether the main idea remained in Ford’s films. It is also crucial to pay attention to the means of information delivering and the ways Ford used to make Irish stories more American. Thus, the hypothesis of the research paper may be as follows, John Ford’s screen adaptations of Irish literary works, namely Hangman’s House by Brian Oswald Byrne, The Informer by Liam O’Flaherty, The Plough And The Stars by Sean O’Casey, The Quiet Man by Marurice Walsh, The Rising Of The Moon by Lady Gregory, and The Shamrock Handicap by Peter Kyne, have became more American since they have been translated and changed by the film director; the changes Ford made to the original stories tell us much about the famous director, his Irish-American identity and views of Ireland.

Getting down to closer consideration of each film, we are going to consider many different problems to understand how the translation of Irish stories and novels influenced the main ideas of the films and changed human perception. First of all, it should be stated that the stories written by Irish authors are used. Philip O’Leary states that Don Byrne’s Hangman’s House is “more fitting for the Irish language than for English, and therefore, instead of losing any of its beauty in the translation, it comes into its own” (O’Leary 455). This is what Ford had made with the stories. While translation the movies in English, Ford tried to change something, to make it more interesting for an American audience, to help Americans perceive and understand the main ideas of the films.

In one of the interviews, John Ford said, “After all, you have got to tell your story through the people who portray it. You can have a weak, utterly bad script – and a good cast will turn it into a good picture. I have thwarted more than one handicap of that kind with the aid of two or three really fine actors” (Ford, Peary and Lefcourt 16). This is exactly what the director did. Ford took the story as the basis and changed it considerably. When the film was ready, it could be said that it was an original idea as Ford made a lot of different changes. Ford used to say, “I liked your script. In fact, I actually shot a few pages of it” (Gallagher 465). There is a good example in the film The Informer and the novel. There is one of the most touching moments in the movie when Katie says to Gypo, “I will love you when I am clay” (The Informer), but there is no such a scene in the book. This means that the director of the film had seen more in their relationships and had a desire to express those in such a way (Eyman and Duncan 88).

Dwelling upon the peculiarity in translation, it is necessary to highlight the style Ford had in produing films. There is an idea that he had his own style for film making. This information may be easily confirmed by means of the following example. “Instead of taking all the shots that were to b taken in one place, as most filmmakers do, he would follow the story and movie from place to place until the film was finished” (in Stoehr and Connolly 72) Maidhe P.O Conaola said in one of the interviews.

It is important to dwell upon the main methods Ford used for working with actors. “A master of psychological manipulation, Ford had a knack for goading brilliant performances out of his actors, albeit often through intimidation and verbal abuse,” Dan Ford stated in his book.

There were cases when Ford changed the plot of the story to make the film more impressive and interesting for the viewer. Thus, he might change the war between Irish and Irish armies on the war between Irish and British army (Richards 239). Such changes made Ford’s films more impressive and interesting for other nations. The cases of the changes in the story plot to make a film catching were numerous. Ford always tried to shift the accent to the items he liked, the so-called Fordian themes, “love of country, love of family and the poignancy of exile” (Levy 104).

It is obvious that much research has been conducted on the films shot by a great director of his time. It is important to understand that the research we are going to conduct is innovative and original. Considering the specifics of translation of Irish literature for shooting films, Ford tried to reduce the dialogues to minimum. The gestures, the mimics and behaviour of the characters were aimed at showing the American viewers the magnificence of Irish traditions and culture.

It is really important to compare and contrast the plot, to identify the scenes which had to be cut and to dwell upon the ones which were created by the director. The translation also plays crucial role. It is important to compare and contrast the dialogues, which words are used in the novels, which ones the director of the films used. The consideration of these points may be crucial for analysing Ford’s Irish-American identity and views of Ireland.

The works of John Ford have been analyzed from different angles, as well as their relation to the novels, still, we could not find the results of the research devoted to the translation of the novels. This information may help us understand how Ford saw and interpreted Irish culture.

Critical theory will range from analysis of archival material to application of cultural theory and close textual analysis. The researcher of the stated hypothesis may face the problem that many of the movies have been lost. This is one of the reasons of choosing specifically these films, as Ford paid attention to Ireland in many other pictures. Hangman’s House is a silent film, still, the characters’ gestures, the scenes and the background may be used for deep analysis.

It is important to read the novels carefully, to understand their main ideas and the message the authors tried to deliver. After the novels are read, it is necessary to check the information about the movies, watch those which are available and search for the archival information about those movies. Different comments and reviews may be important in personal perception of those movies. The synthesis and analysis of this information is going to be the centre of the research. Thus, research should be conducted in three stages, consideration of the primary sources, the research in the secondary sources and synthesis and analysis of the received information.

Primary/Secondary Sources

As the discussion is based on the films by Ford and the novels he used as the background, it is obligatory to use those in the analysis as the primary sources.


  1. Hangman’s house. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Victor McLaglen, June Collyer, Larry Kent, Earle Foxe, Hobart Bosworth, and John Wayne.
  2. The Informer. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, and Preston Foster. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935. Film.
  3. The Plough and the Stars. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Foster. RKO Radio Pictures, 1936. Film.
  4. The Quiet Man. Dir. John Ford. Perf. John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, and Victor McLaglen. Republic Pictures, 1952. Film.
  5. The Rising of the Moon. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Cyril Cusack, Noel Purcell, and Denis O’Dea. Warner Bros., 1957. Film.
  6. The Shamrock Handicap. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Janet Gaynor and Leslie Fenton. Fox Film Corporation, 1926. Film.

These movies were directed by John Ford who tried to deliver the main idea of the Irish novels to the American viewer. It should be mentioned that Ford did not only translate the novels, he sometimes even cut some pages from the script to create a film he liked. Being interested in Ireland, its nature and culture, Ford tried to express all this in the movies he shot. Many films directed by Ford were silent. So, much attention was paid to the background, costumes and other visual elements.


  1. Byrne, Brian Oswald. Hangman’s House. Milton Keynes: Lightning Source Inc, 2004. Print.
  2. O’Flaherty, Liam. The Informer. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2008. Print.
  3. O’Casey, Sean. The Plough and the Stars. London: Faber, 2001. Print.
  4. Walsh, Marurice. The Quiet Man. Belfast: Appletree, 2002. Print.
  5. O’Connor, Frank. “The Majesty of the Law.” In Bones of contention: and other stories. Michigan: The Macmillan company, 1936
  6. McHugh, Martin J. A Minute’s Wait. Belfast: Duffy, 1946. Print.
  7. Gregory, Lady. The Rising of the Moon. Studio City, CA: Players Press, 1996. Print.
  8. Kyne, Peter B. The Shamrock Handicap. 1926.

The novels were written by Irish authors who tried to dwell upon the life in Ireland and its different aspects. Love, war, desire, family relations, friendship, jealousy, and other types of relationships and emotions are presented in these novels. Each piece of writing is unique and considers different stories, but at the same time they are all united under the Irish topic.

Secondary sources

The secondary sources used for this research are listed on the works cited page. The main idea of these sources is to consider the character of the director, to understand the methods he used while shooting films, to check his identity and to get closer to the understanding of his plan. Being a psychological manipulator, Ford always managed to make HIS movie, to make actors play as he wanted to create an ideal film. For example, a book The Quiet Man… and beyond: reflections on a classic film, John Ford and Ireland by Rod Stoneman dwells upon complex relations between the film, the novel, the Ireland and other films directed by Ford. It is also important to consider the place of this movie in the Irish cinematography. The analysis of the secondary sources is helpful in collecting different thought and their referencing to the personal perception from the films and novels.

Works Cited

Eyman, Scott and Paul Duncan. John Ford: the searcher, 1894-1973. Taschen, 2004. Print.

Ford, Dan. Pappy: the life of John Ford. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1998. Print.

Ford, John, Peary, Gerald and Jenny Lefcourt. John Ford: interviews. Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001. Print.

Gallagher, Tag. John Ford: the man and his films. California: University of California Press, 1988. Print.

Levy, Bill. John Ford: a bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. Print.

O’Leary, Philip. Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State 1922-1939. Penn State Press, 2010. Print.

Richards, Jeffrey. Films and British national identity: from Dickens to Dad’s army. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997. Print.

Stoehr, Kevin L. and Michael C. Connolly. John Ford in focus: essays on the filmmaker’s life and work. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. Print.

Stoneman, Rod. The Quiet Man… and beyond: reflections on a classic film, John Ford and Ireland. Dublin: The Liffey Press, 2009. Print.

The Informer. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, and Preston Foster. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935. Film.