In which Ford picks up where Murnau and Griffith left off. The silent film comparison is instructive, as whole sections of this early talkie—'specially Act 1—would play better without dialogue, just letting the storms and the moonlight do the talking. Act 3 is far too pat, but what comes in between shows how much Ford was concerned with loss and regret, and how his look back at pre-modern America carried ambiguities.
[After the first act,] the film then starts to function on a good many registers at once: as a devastating critique of war propaganda, as a satire about yahoo Americans or “innocents abroad” (a theme popularized by Mark Twain in his first best seller), as a complex character study that steadily grows in impact, and as a kind of parable about moral redemption in which the mother finally comes to terms with her own responsibility for her son’s death.
The torn portrait pieced together, the emotional gaze directed straight into the camera (cp. Dreyer's Prästänkan), an entire screen full of Fordian graves—the absurdity of heroism and the maternal bond that strangulates, absolutely piercing visions from a director somehow remembered as a well of patriotism and sentimentality.