14.30 Cinema Arlecchino, Bologna, 1 July 2010
PILGRIMAGE / Naisen tie / Pellegrinaggio, USA (c) 1933 Fox Film Corporation. R.: John Ford. DP: George Schneiderman. With: Henrietta Crosman (Hannah Jessop), Heather Angel (Suzanne), Norman Foster (Jim Jessop), Marian Nixon (Mary Saunders), Charles Grapewin (Dad Saunders), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Worth), Francis Ford (Mayor). 90'
Proiezione in HD (HDCam SR), from: Twentieth Century Fox, e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti.
When we did our great John Ford retrospective in Helsinki 20 years ago I was aware of the importance of Pilgrimage, and we scheduled it, but then it turned out that there was no film viewing print anywhere and we had to make a programme change (we replaced it with the dull The World Moves On). Apparently the print situation has not improved, as Pilgrimage was screened in Bologna on digital video. The technical quality was ok from a used, scratched source. Due to the digitalization the plein air sensuality was missing.
It was a thrill to see the first time on screen the film Joseph McBride calls John Ford's first great film.
Formally it is a melodrama and a woman's film but there is an exceptionally hard tragic edge to the story. It is the story of deranged mother love.
The Murnau impact (Sunrise) is still obvious in the beginning of the film. For those who pay attention to the paucity of love scenes in John Ford's films there is a beautiful haybarn attic sequence where the woman is the seducer. (Such scenes were typical in Nordic films during the studio era.) The war is just a short, grim, and terrible scene in the trenches, where everybody is drowned in the mud. As in Mother Machree, Ford stages a laconically powerful scene where the priest and the mayor visit the woman with the death message.
There are several powerful moments. Hannah pastes Jim's photograph together again. The sorrow in little Jimmy's eyes when Hannah forbids him to play with her dog. Hannah' reluctance in accepting the flowers from Mary and Jimmy.
Hannah's reluctant pilgrimage to Europe to visit Jim's grave brings her to a wider world for the first time in her life, and her various encounters open her eyes. At last she is able to cry and to accept Mary and Jimmy.