Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: Frank S. Nugent, from novel by Alan Le May
Main Cast: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood
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COWBOYS vs. INDIANS
I can remember first starting this project, back in the fall of 2009 and getting up very early on certain mornings to watch movies and write reviews. I managed to fit in The Searchers last night, right before bed, but made sure to set my alarm for 7:00am, so that I could get up while my wife was at work and put in a good effort at ticking off a few more films and reviews. I hit the snooze a few times, but here I am...
|Don't ask me why, but this might be one of the greatest opening shots I've ever seen - it just appeals to me for some reason.|
The film opens with a terrific shot of a woman opening her front door, stepping out, craning her neck and spotting John Wayne's Ethan Edwards coming out of the desert, a lone man returning to his family, post Civil War. The family consists of Ethan's brother - Aaron, Aaron's wife - Martha and their three legitimate children: Ben, Debbie and Lucy. The next morning, Rev. Capt. Samuel Clayton (Bond) comes a calling on the Edwards' clan, informing them that someone has stolen a local man's cattle and he needs men for a posse. Ethan convinces Aaron to stay behind, while he and the Edwards' adopted son Martin Pawley (Hunter) ride off to help the group. They eventually find the cattle dead and Ethan surmises that the whole affair with the cows was only a ploy to get the men away, so that Comanche Indians could attack their homesteads. Upon their arrival back at the Edwards' home, Ethan and company find the place burned to the ground, with only the remains of Aaron, Martha and Ben to be found - thus the Indians kidnapped the girls. Ethan, a lone rebel means to ride off and find him by himself, however, Martin won't hear of it, insisting to ride along beside the Duke. Add Lucy's boyfriend Brad and the trio set out to find the girls.
Except, I actually liked The Searchers this go around. Now, let me say that again...I LIKED The Searchers. I know a lot of people consider this western to be the greatest one of all time and while it would probably be up there on a list of my favorite westerns, I have a problem calling it the greatest anything. In 1992 Sight & Sound magazine voted it the fifth greatest movie of all-time, which I think is a bit much, but at least I can sort of understand the recognition. While the general feel and layout of The Searchers is very OF it's time, basically everything else is definitely not what I think of when I think "1956 movie". The one thing that really popped out to me while watching The Searchers was the absolutely awesome cinematography, an aspect of film that THE BOOK has really opened my eyes to. The camerawork here was top notch and something that could hold up today against even the most talented of cinematographers and 3D effects "artists". It seemed like every other frame I was picking out great shots, saying "ooh, that'd be a good one for the blog". Of course there's also the racial dialogue that comes from the Ethan character and is directed toward the Comanche, but you know what? While watching, I really didn't think of it as racist - let me explain. It was a cowboy saying he hated Indians - to me it wasn't racism, it was just the same old cliche story we've seen hundreds of times in hundreds of westerns. To me, on this viewing, it wasn't racism, the two were just natural enemies. But, of course, I'm wrong - it was raging racism and in watching a snippet of an interview with Martin Scorsese this morning on YouTube, he points out that "Ethan hates the Comanche so bad, that he hates them beyond the grave".
The one other aspect of The Searchers that is so fascinating is that the whole film is about nothing but the SEARCH (imagine that). And here's the thing: Martin is searching to save a life, while Ethan may be searching to end one. Why did these two guys search for FIVE YEARS PLUS to find one little girl? I mean, think about that: nowadays you get you'd get your picture slapped on the side of a milk carton after a few weeks and you'd be forgotten about by the general public soon after, thought dead. I'd say Martin didn't stop searching because he was sort of dimwitted and he didn't really have anywhere else to go. His purpose in life burnt to the ground when the Comanche burned down the Edwards' homestead, so why not stick by Ethan and roam the countryside, even if it takes forever? Ethan kept going because he was so freaking racist that he couldn't stand the thought of one of his kinfolk being contaminated by a Comanche tribe. I'd say it was his intention throughout the whole western to find her and kill her and then ride off into the sunset with maybe a tear in his eye for the eight-year-old niece that he could finally get some closure on.
If you think about it, this is just as much a detective story, as it is a western. I personally think someone (preferably talented) needs to remake The Searchers, but not as a western. I kind of have a feeling this has already been done, so comment me if it has. However, I could definitely see The Searchers set on the streets, a kidnapped girl getting picked up and a couple of detectives spending five years searching for her. I think, if done right, it could be something really great, but like I said, I somehow get the feeling that this has already happened and I'm just forgetting something.
It wasn't my favorite, by any means, but I can't in good conscience call The Searchers anything but a great, must see movie. I don't think I need to see it again and I MIGHT not put on a personal list of great movies, but let's face facts kiddies, it's good stuff on display from the John's here and if you haven't seen it, you MUST, at least once. The cinematography is something to behold and while the groundwork may certainly feel like an old fashioned western, the details are very watchable and engrossing. I think most will find a character in Ethan Edwards that is prime for dissection. I'm sure essays could be written on that character, but I'll leave that to the essay writers of the world. As for me, call it a mild win and perhaps I've finally found that truly great western, even though, in my opinion, "great" is a just a bit of a stretch.
RATING: 7/10 I can't in good conscience go higher and for the same reason, I can't go lower. I know I just said I don't need to see it again, but on the contrary, this may be one of those movies that I need to see ten more times before I really appreciate it like everyone else does.
MOVIES WATCHED: 979
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 22
October 17, 2015 8:37am