Tuesday, December 14, 2010

#130. The Searchers (1956) - The Films of John Ford

DVD Synopsis: Working together for the 12th time, John Wayne and director John Ford forged The Searchers into a landmark Western offering an indelible image of the frontier and the men and women who challenged it. Wayne plays an ex-Confederate soldier seeking his niece, captured by Comanches who massacred his family. He won't surrender to hunger, thirst, the elements or loneliness. And in his five-year search, he encounters something unexpected: his own humanity.

John Wayne is remarkable in The Searchers. His Ethan Edwards is a man with deep-rooted prejudices and a threatening personality, driven to find his kidnapped niece not by love, but hatred. 

Ethan and his adopted nephew, Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), spend several years tracking the Comanche tribe that took Debbie (played first by Lana Wood, then her elder sister, Natalie), all the while hoping to uncover some clue that the girl is still alive. 

But as time drags on, Ethan begins to accept the fact that his niece, if she has survived, will have been assimilated into the Comanche tribe, a fate Ethan believes is worse than death itself. 

In fact, the thought of Debbie becoming a Comanche squaw is so upsetting to him that, if he does find her alive, Ethan will kill the girl himself.  

Ethan is the quintessential anti-hero, a character who simultaneously invokes our sympathies, and our wrath.  The Searchers never fully explores all of the nuances of Ethan Edwards, and spends absolutely no time whatsoever on his back story (a veteran of the Confederate Army, there is one scene that suggests he may have committed a robbery, and more than a few hints that Ethan and his sister-in-law, played by Dorothy Jordan, had been romantically involved at one point). 

But then, everything we really need to know about Ethan Edwards can be found in Wayne’s magnificent performance, which, assisted by Ford's solid direction and the picturesque landscape of Monument Valley, transforms The Searchers into one of the finest Westerns ever made.


John said...

I'm surprised no comments have been left yet for this masterpiece western. Ford's troupe of actors all shine, but especially the Duke. The closing scene is a killer.

Michael H said...

There are many, many things to love about this movie. As you mentioned, there are hints of things that are never spelled out for us, including that implication that Ethan could be Martin's father.

It's one of those films that gives you enough information to let you fill in the rest. The scene after Ethan rides out of the canyon without his coat, angry and bitter but unwilling to tell Martin and the other kid (whose name eludes me at the moment) what he saw and why his coat is gone, only to have to later fill them in as to why the girl they see isn't Debby is a chilling one.

By far Wayne's best movie and one that should be seen by everyone.