When the John Ford/John Wayne collection comes out next week, one thing worth looking for is the rather large number of shots that feature two or more characters in the same frame for an extended period of time. John Ford wasn't known for using long takes; he didn't go out of his way to stage an entire scene in one shot the way Orson Welles or Vincente Minnelli did. But Ford came from a tradition of filmmaking that emphasized getting the right look for a shot -- in terms of composition and framing -- and that meant not breaking up a good shot with a lot of coverage and cross-cutting. He'll cut between characters if that's the only way we can see both of them clearly; but his default method is to position the actors in such a way that they can occupy the same shot together, without his having to cut away or even move the camera much.
This is very different from the way most movies have looked for the past twenty years or more; the default way of doing a scene now is to cut back and forth between characters, and putting them in the same shot together for any length of time is quite rare. Remember in Heat, where Michael Mann put Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in a much-hyped scene together, but didn't show them occupying the same frame for more than a few seconds. Ford would never have done it that way -- he didn't do it, say, with John Wayne and Henry Fonda in Fort Apache. He'd have found ways to have the characters talk to each other while they're in the shot together.
The advantages of this way of shooting are twofold. One, it means that each shot is sort of a work of art in itself; instead of just picking and choosing between different bits of footage and splicing them together -- in other words, leaving a lot of the director's job to the editor (and the person who supervises the editing, who is often not the director) -- the director puts a lot of effort into making each shot look as good as possible, because each individual shot carries more weight than in a modern, fast-cutting movie. And second, the more characters are shown together in the same shot, the more you can see the way they react to each other, and how they play off each other; and because they don't need to worry as much about matching everything with the coverage, they can afford to do spontaneous things -- like John Wayne teasing his son Patrick in a shot from The Searchers.