The Searchers

This 1956 film, starring John Wayne, and directed by John Ford in their 12th film has often been cited as Wayne’s best film.  The blurb on the cover reads “A great film of enormous scope and breathtaking physical beauty.” Filming is in VistaVision and Technicolor, Hollywood’s answer to the small screen, small format B&W TV, their competition.  The filming site is Monument Valley, I believe in the Arizona part.  This is a beautiful area, lending itself to the saturated Technicolor colors.  The action of the narrative is in Texas, 1968, not Monument Valley.

The first shot is a long one of Wayne, playing Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate veteran slowly riding in to visit his brother Aaron Edwards and family.  There is no dialog but the background music is the Civil War ballad “Just before the battle Mother” which was mainly a Northern army tune.  I have a music book of Civil War tunes and recognized it.  This musical theme repeats often in the film. I believe it could signal a real battle coming, or possibly an emotional, psychological battle. This scene introduces us to the main characters and the challenge to come. Wayne is definitely the alpha male here with a bit of brotherly tension showing.  The family consists of Aaron’s wife Martha, his two daughters, Debbie and Lucy, and a young man, Martin Pawley raised as a foster son.  Ethan tells him he looks like a half-breed and Martin replies he is 1/8 th Indian.  Ethan is definitely racist, we learn this early. The film was made in 1956 and this attitude may not then have seemed unusual.  There may have been some very subdued mutual attraction between Ethan and Martha, just a guess on my part.

 There may have been some very subdued mutual attraction between Ethan and Martha, just a guess on my part.

The genres of the film are Adventure, Drama and, of course, Western.  It is a cowboys and Indians film, but more finessed than the stereotyped B&W low budget films played in B-movie theaters.  And of course, a bit at the end including the US Cavalry.  The characters are believable for the most part with the possible exception of Jorgensen a “yumpin yimminy” Swede rancher and Mose, a rather low IQ older cowboy. My opinion of course. I am sure John Ford had his reasons for the casting.

The next major scene shows an attack on the Edwards farm by Comanche Indians that burn the ranch, kill Aaron, rape, and murder Martha and kidnap the girls, Lucy and Debbie.  The rest of the movie is about Ethan’s obsessive five-year quest to find the girls. He is very driven and won’t surrender to hunger, thirst, the elements, or loneliness.  That is the setting with excellent direction, performance, camerawork, and editing. This is a two-hour movie with plenty of action and a surprise ending.  A true Western classic.

I offer some comments by the experts:

The IMDB plot summary is next.

    Ethan Edwards, returned from the Civil War to the Texas ranch of his brother, hopes to find a home with his family and to be near the woman he obviously but secretly loves. But a Comanche raid destroys these plans, and Ethan sets out, along with his 1/8 Indian nephew Martin, on a years-long journey to find the niece kidnapped by the Indians under Chief Scar. But as the quest goes on, Martin begins to realize that his uncle’s hatred for the Indians is beginning to spill over onto his now-assimilated niece. Martin becomes uncertain whether Ethan plans to rescue Debbie…or kill her.- Written by Jim Beaver <>
    Wikipedia’s summary follows. The Searchers is a 1956 American Technicolor VistaVision Western film directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, set during the Texas–Indian Wars, and starring John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood), accompanied by his adoptive nephew (Jeffrey Hunter). Critic Roger Ebert found Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, “one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne ever created”.[2]
    The film was a commercial success. Since its release, it has come to be considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. It was named the greatest American Western by the American Film Institute in 2008, and it placed 12th on the same organization’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time.[3] Entertainment Weekly also named it the best western.[4] The British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine ranked it as the seventh best film of all time based on a 2012 international survey of film critics[5][6] and in 2008, the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma ranked The Searchers number 10 in their list of the 100 best films ever made.[7]
    • In 1989, The Searchers was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry; it was in the first cohort of films selected for the registry.The Searchers was the first major movie to have a purpose-filmed making-of, requested by John Ford. It deals with most aspects of making the movie, including preparation of the site, construction of props, and filming techniques.[8]
    • Time for some still shots:
    And now a trailer:

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