The Searchers (1956)

He had to find her... he had to find her...

As a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable.

What makes a man to wander?
Upon returning from a trip out to find cattle thieves, Ethan Edwards finds his brother and sister-in-law murdered by Comanches and their two daughters missing. Driven by a hatred of Indians, and a motive of some determination, Edwards and his part Indian companion set off to find the missing girls - it's a perilous journey that will span many years.
The Searchers is one of the greatest Westerns ever made, in fact it's one of the finest pictures all told ever made. Its reputation as such is most definitely warranted, directed and photographed with almost peerless precision, The Searchers stands tall as a triumph of cinematic achievement. Plot wise the piece is really very basic, based on a novel by Alan LeMay, its revenge/hatred driven pursuit theme is one that will forever be trundled out to gather easy Hollywood coin, but with director John Ford pulling the strings on this picture, this is cloaked with a beauty that belies the bleakness of the main protagonist's driving force. As a character driven picture it's something of a flag bearing lesson for all other directors to make note of, for the thematic heart of it lays with Ethan Edwards (superbly played by John Wayne), an embittered man that incredibly, in spite of his evident bile, manages to keep the viewer from hating him due to the complexities of his make up and the surrounding sprawl of the American West.
The film is bookended by brilliant shots from open doorways, with both sequences impacting to almost steal the breath away, yet these are merely the crusts of an incredibly delicious sandwich. Many scenes here could be framed as pictures to define the classic Western, with Ford making the Monument Valley location one of the best Western characters to have ever graced the screen. Rolling hills and dusty odd shaped rocks are given impetus by scorching reds and oranges that themselves are aided by the everlasting fold of a vividly potent blue sky, all of it dwarfing the characters as Ford adroitly weaves the Civilization versus Wilderness thread. This is a film that positively begs repeat viewings, where each subsequent viewing brings further insights into character dissections and a lyrical lesson in racial indifference, all played out with almost hauntingly poignancy by Max Steiner's memorable score.
Back in the day the film never won any awards, presumably because the racist core of the film had many twitching in their beds, or maybe because the film doesn't rely on dialogue to make its points? (the body language and facial acting here is quite brilliant). Perhaps some just wanted a basic Western of shoot outs and shallow characters that barely have time to show some heart? Either way, what we do now know is that The Searchers is revered across the globe and often hits the best of lists formed by those with a very keen interest in cinema. Maybe it's only one for those willing to invest and observe it on numerous occasions? I am of course but a mere mortal film fan for sure, but really I feel this film is as good an experience as a film fan could have, technically and thematically the piece has few peers, it's a true American masterpiece. 10/10

C.V. Whitney Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures by John Ford, Frank S. Nugent, Alan Le May.
Stars: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond.

Genres: Adventure, Drama, Western

Keywords: brother uncle racist native american prejudice racism massacre desert cavalry reverend comanche civil war veteran abduction

05/26/1956

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