(2) discovering some gems I had never known of before, including most notably Pilgrimage, which is a little heavy-handed at times perhaps but is probably the very moment at which John Ford synthesized all the Griffith-Walsh-Murnau influences he'd been incorporating into his own work for fifteen years and finally came up with something truly his own -- including that uniquely Fordian mix of melodramatic sentiment and broad ethnic/regional humor. (Really, for all its flaws, I can't recommend Pilgrimage enough.)
is indeed an extremely good picture. What I most appreciated about it though was that Ford really dialed down the folksier aspects of his characters and stories. At his worst, Ford could be extremely maudlin, sentimental, and heavy-handed (in a very hokey kind of way) in his portrayal of country folks (this is something that crops up in "minor" Ford, and is perhaps the primary reason why said pictures are considered "minor"). Here though, characters are treated lovingly and with a sly sense of humor. Take, for example, the scene in which Henrietta Crossman's character goes to the shooting gallery with that "mountain woman." The scene is merely an aside, but it's funny because it's gentle, touching, and it refuses to either demean or exaggerate.
The Murnau influence you mention is still here I think, but Ford is able to give such scenes his only signature touch as well. Norman Foster's sexual initiation in the hay is lovingly dealt with, a beautiful, remarkable scene that resonates extremely well by the end of the film. Certain other aspects, like Crossman's flashbacks to her son at the train station, work modestly well. However, the film gains considerable strength from Ford's warm treatment of his characters; the charming humor, the moving catharsis at films end, etc.
But where this film really, really works is in Crossman's performance as Hannah Jessop, and Ford's treatment of this character. Our opinion of Jessop alternates back and forth throughout the film, to a point where no matter what she does, we begin to understand her thought process and her stubborn independence of mind. That Ford's even capable of doing this by the end of the film says a lot about successful a picture Pilgrimage
actually is. By all accounts, we should absolutely loathe Jessop by film's end, but Ford adds enough beautiful, warm touches that it's difficult for us to ever truly dislike her. Pilgrimage
is a remarkable film and, like Tryavna, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Seek this one out, even if you have no intention of purchasing the entire box set.