Francis Ford, Actor and Director

On Secret Service
R: Thomas H. Ince. B: Richard V. Spencer. D: Walter Edwards, Robert Edeson, Frank Borzage, Nick Cogley, Francis Ford (as Abraham Lincoln), Ann Little. P: NYMPC – New York Motion Picture Kay-Bee. USA 1912

“By April 1911, Frank (i.e. Francis Ford) was working for producer Thomas Ince’s Bison Films in California, directing and starring in two-reel Westerns made by his own outfit, the Broncho Motion Picture Company. Creating elaborate makeups, he played the title character in Custer’s Last Fight (1912) and Abraham Lincoln in several successful shorts, On Secret Service (1912), When Lincoln Paid (1913), The Battle of Bull Run (1913) and The Toll of War (1913). He and his mistress, actress and writer Grace Cunard, then moved to ‘Uncle’ Carl Laemmle‘s Universal Film Manufacturing Company, where Frank again portrayed the Great Emancipator in From Rail Splitter to President (1913). Unlike the ‘original screen cowboy’, William S. Hart, whose style was quite melodramatic, Frank Ford was a more naturalistic performer. Director Allan Dwan said, ‘Francis was a hell of good actor, one of our top stars. He was an exception because we didn’t have good actors in movies then.'”
Scott Allen Nollen: Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond. McFarland 2013, p. 17

The Invaders
R: Francis Ford, Thomas H. Ince. B: C. Gardner Sullivan K: Ray C. Smallwood. D: Francis Ford, Ethel Grandin, Ann Little. P: Kay-Bee Pictures. USA 1912

“Indians are clearly the wronged party in this film. The treaty text is shown three times in total, making both its terms and the fact that it was broken by the US government abundantly clear. Nevertheless, the attack on the post is merciless and brutal and the first people to be called ‘victims’ are white. Furthermore, the Indian maid prefers the white man over her Indian suitor who is reasonably rich and liked by her father. Also, even though she favors the white surveyor, even consensual miscegenation is avoided by her death. Miscegenation through rape is equaled with the dishonoring of the woman, as demonstrated by the Colonel’s daughter’s attempt to die before the Sioux and Cheyenne arrive at the post. On the other hand, a more positive attitude towards Indians can be found in the fact that Sky Star is portrayed as a heroine who gives her life to save the whites.
The Sioux are presented as smart and fair – they can read, they know their rights, they protest in a civil manner before they go to war, only go to war after diplomacy hasn’t worked, and they form alliances to fight the whites, they effectively communicate with the Cheyenne via blanket signals. Except for Sky Star non of the Indians have names which sets her apart from other Indian characters, as does her screen time which lies at almost twenty-three percent. The other Indian characters such as ‘the chief’ or the ‘an unwelcome suitor’, and thus resemble types more than actual characters. Nevertheless, it remains that the Indian attack is justified by the broken treaty, thus, providing the characters with a motivation that sets them apart from later screen images of Indians.”
Indian Pictures


The Post Telegrapher
R: Francis Ford, Thomas H. Ince. D: Lillian Christy, Jack Conway, Francis Ford, Mildred Harris, William Myers, Robert Stanton, Ann Little. P: Bison Motion Pictures / New York Motion Picture. USA 1912
Print: EYE collection / Jean Desmet Collection
Dutch titles

“After taking over the New York Motion Picture Company’s West Coast productions, Ince hired performers from the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show and leased 28 square miles of canyons and rolling grasslands above Santa Monica for locations. Included in the arrangement were fifty Oglala Sioux from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.
The Post Telegrapher was Ince’s sixth large-scale western; all were two-reelers, with plots that had settled into a formula. As Moving Picture World (27 April 1912) summarized, while praising the series, ‘We know in advance that the Indians are going to have a war dance and attack the settlers, that some hero or heroine will go through all sorts of perils to reach the military post, and that the troops will arrive in the nick of time.’
Francis Ford’s title role underlines how fully this film is a prototype for his brother John Ford’s westerns. As in The Searchers, we open with a settler’s family, among whom only one daughter will survive the Indian attack. Of Ford’s cavalry films, this is closest to Fort Apache, with romances and a Custer-like massacre near an isolated fort in the 1870s (President Grant’s portrait overlooks the Colonel’s office).”
Scott Simmon
Antti Alanen

>>>  Thomas H. Ince