John Ford and Maureen O'Hara Classic Movies

Five Great Films Between the Veneralbe Director and His Favorite Actress

While John Ford had a far more prolific collaborations with John Wayne and Henry Fonda, the director also helmed several excellent films with Maureen O’Hara, undoubtedly his favorite actress. Though it only lasted five movies – as compared to the 21 pictures Ford made with Wayne – their partnership produced a number of lasting classics.

Unlike some actresses at the time, O’Hara was more than willing to tackling more physically challenging roles, making her a perfect fit in Westerns and other action-oriented movies favored by Ford. Here are all five films made between John Ford and Maureen O’Hara.

In her first film with Ford, O’Hara was elevated to star status thanks to playing a major role in an Oscar-winning film. How Green Was My Valley was a decades-spanning drama that depicted a Welsh mining family struggling to overcome the onslaught of encroaching modern life. O’Hara was the eldest daughter of the family who falls in love with their town’s new preacher (Walter Pidgeon), though she ultimately ends up in a loveless marriage with the son (Marten Lamont) of the mine's owner to better her financial position. After moving to the country, she returns home without her husband and becomes the subject of nasty rumors about divorce and infidelity. Winner of five Academy Awards, including a surprise Best Picture win over Citizen Kane, How Green Was My Valley marked the start of a successful collaboration that waited another nine years to resume.

Ford and O’Hara continued their partnership with Rio Grande, the final installment to the director’s famed cavalry trilogy. The film also marked the first time O’Hara starred with John Wayne, a close friend and her favorite actor to work with. Wayne played an overly devoted cavalry officer whose dedication to the job has cost him the love of his wife (O’Hara). But when his son arrives to serve a stint in his father’s post, his mother is not far behind, leading to a family strife exacerbated by an impending battle with Apaches. The onscreen chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara was undeniable – a byproduct of two actors with genuine affection toward one another – while Ford directed the most emotionally compelling of the three cavalry films.

One of the all-time great movies about the Irish, The Quiet Man tops the list as the best film made between Ford and O’Hara. Starring Wayne once again, the film featured O’Hara as Mary Kate, a no-nonsense Irish lass who makes the amorous acquaintance of a former American boxer (Wayne) trying to overcome his guilt for having accidentally killed a man in the ring. He wants to marry her, but being a good Irish woman Mary Kate wants a proper courtship. Naturally, obstacles exist in the form of her bullying brother, who refuses to consent and forces them to marry without his blessing. A favorite of all parties involved, The Quiet Man earned seven Academy Award nomination, winning two, and remained one of O’Hara’s favorite movies.

Another movie focusing on the Irish – a common theme throughout Ford’s career – The Long Gray Line was a well-told biopic about the life of immigrant Marty Maher (Tyrone Power), who rose from a dishwasher to become a non-commissioned officer at West Point. A combative boy with a disdain for authority, Maher comes under the tutelage of West Point’s athletic instructor (Ward Bond), who also plays matchmaker by introducing him to an Irish maid named Mary (O’Hara). The two wed and become an integral part of the military academy, but suffer tragedy when Mary has a stillborn child. But that only seems to strengthen their bond with the academy, as both begin to see the cadets as surrogate children. Eventually, Mary’s health declines and leaves Maher without a wife, pushing his connection to West Point ever closer. Though The Long Gray Line belongs to Tyrone Power, O’Hara had a number of touching moments, especially when seeing one of the cadets off before he goes to fight in World War II.

The last film made between O’Hara and Ford, The Wings of Eagles was an uneven docudrama about the life of Ford’s close friend, Frank “Spig” Wead, a U.S. Navy pilot who was instrumental in pushing for American air superiority during World War I. The word allegedly is used because Ford took more than a few historical liberties in order to sing Wead’s praises. Played by Wayne, Wead spends his time flying planes, riding horses, and drinking with his buddies, leading to a deep estrangement between him and his wife Min (O’Hara). After a night of particularly heavy drinking, Wead takes a tumble down the stairs and breaks his neck, leaving his body paralyzed and his Navy career in tatters. He rehabilitates his legs and goes on to a successful Hollywood career as a screenwriter, and finally returns to active duty following the attack on Pearl Harbor. O’Hara had little to work with here, but she did the best she could. Still, one would like to have seen one more film between O’Hara and Ford in order for their collaboration to end on a higher note.