Set in Texas 3 years after the end of the Civil War, the Edwards family seems to lead a relatively quiet ranch life until Aaron Edwards’s long-lost brother, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), rides back into town. Though his nieces and nephews are thrilled to see their confederate rebel-rousing uncle, his sister-in-law conveys an awkward sexual tension that even the casual viewer can’t help but observe with unease. Before we can figure out what’s going on with that, though, Ethan rides off with the Texas Rangers in search of a cattle thief. Upon his return, he finds his family has been attacked by Comanche indians. His nieces are missing, and he’s determined to track them down. Thus, he embarks with his half-nephew, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), his niece’s boyfriend (Harry Carey Jr.), and a posse of men to find the tribe that stole away the girls. As the search party dwindles, we begin to wonder if they really ever will find the girls, and what will happen when they do.
Why I watched this one:
I wanted to watch a John Wayne film that I hadn’t seen. This was my main motivation. I also wanted to watch a John Ford film. I thought I’d seen one. As it turns out, this was my first. This also made two people’s lists of westerns that I should watch.
In doing a little research, I’ve found it was named AFI’s #1 western of all time. You can view the complete list here: http://suite101.com/article/afi-names-top-ten-western-films-of-all-time-a62021
It also made AFI’s top 100 films of all time, landing in spot #96. It wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards.
My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I struggled with this one. Even a day after watching this film I’m really not sure how to review it. The peculiarity of the movie is, though it was made in the mid-fifties, it portrays America (Texas specifically) a few years after the Civil War. In essence, then, it’s a period piece meant to represent a particular time in our history. There’s no denying that the film is horribly racist towards Native Americans, which is extremely difficult to bear throughout. No doubt, there are huge inaccuracies between the way the film portrays life in the late 1860’s and the reality of that time. No doubt, I’ll discuss this further in my later critical examination of westerns.
Racism aside, then, let me point out a few of the things I loved about this movie. The scenery, for one, is amazing. John Ford’s big sweeping open spaces are simply breathtaking. The use of color, contrast, and lighting is also exquisite. I just ate up the dusk scene right before the family was attacked by the Comanche tribe. The orange light used to represent a doom-filled-dusk was Douglas Sirk-esque in it’s over dramatic tone; I savored it. I also have to give props to John Wayne. I grew up watching John Wayne movies with my Grandpa, so I have a personal attachment to him. I see him as this super-sized hero amongst men, who always does what’s right (in the end) — A gruff gunslinger with a heart somewhere down in there. It’s hard to see him otherwise. Somehow, he pulled it off though, because in this film, he portrays a man strongly conflicted by his love of family and his hatred towards Native Americans. Though, in the end he does do the right thing (sort of), his coldness, his bloodthirsty quest for revenge, and his somewhat mixed motives for finding his niece, make him just as much the bad guy as the tribe leader, Scar, that he seeks.
If I throw all analysis aside, though, I have to say I was moved by this film. You can’t help but become invested in Martin Pawley’s character, nor in that of poor Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) who waits for him back in Texas. Thus, because of it’s cinematic excellence, the fact that it is a period piece meant to represent a far-different time in our history, and my attachment to Martin’s character, I have to clap for it. I do this with much trepidation, though. It dances along the same line as Gone with the Wind in that regard. Though the film itself is well done, what it represents is horrifying.
- The Searchers (1956) Review (oldgamereviewer.com)
- Shall we gather at the river? – (Roger Ebert and John Wayne) (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Leading Man Tournament: Week 3 – The 1950s (journeysinclassicfilm.com)
- The Searchers reviewed by Peter Bogdanovich (blogs.indiewire.com/peterbogdanovich)
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