With 'The Searchers', John Wayne and director John Ford forged an indelible saga of the frontier and the men and women who challenged it. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate who sets out to find his niece, captured by Comanches who massacred his family. He won't surrender to hunger, thirst, the elements or loneliness. And in his obsessive quest, Ethan finds something unexpected: his own humanity. One of the most influential movies ever made.
The film has been criticised for its racist portrayal however it must be put into context, being released in the 1950’s when things were not as they are today. The Searchers does not glamorise violence, instead it graphically shows the consequences for everyone involved. John Ford’s trademark appreciation of the landscape is evident throughout the film, along with his desire to show the harsh realities of life on the frontier. Whilst shunned by the Academy and critics alike, the passing of time has confirmed The Searchers as a landmark Western and one of the great American movies, assisted by Wayne in his greatest role. Ford’s scene compositions are masterful, filling the whole frame with activity and using every inch of screen. The film has a great symmetry when you consider the opening and closing shots. The picture quality is fantastic; there is no better word for it. Warners has restored The Searchers to a truly blemish free print that harnesses the strengths of the VistaVision process. The colours on display are rich, varied and with clarity that belies the age of the movie.
Let's get this straight from the outset. I'm not a great fan of John Wayne nor am I a particularly enthusiastic watcher of westerns.
I watched this film because I felt it my duty to as Scorsese has mentioned it so favourably in many interviews. What a treat it was. The characters were engaging the story was gripping and the feeling of being transported to another time and world was powerful and entertaining. The film was not without its shocking moments too which I found brave and admirable considering the time in which it was made - Mr Waynes character and some of his actions certainly did not fit my preconceptions - which goes to show that preconceptions can be a good thing, as long as you are receptive to having them shattered and actually enjoy the process of mental re-alignment.
The portrayal of the native American characters has been criticised and not without justification but to dwell on this aspect of the film is, in my opinion, an error.
If you've not seen this film watch it. You won't be disappointed. You may even be surprised. I was.
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Difficult to stomach
- The Searchers review by Pete W
No matter how much you admire the cinematography, the storyline is unpleasant and racist. Native americans are portrayed as murderous rapists, justifying their wholesale slaughter and the desecration of their bodies. The occasional attempt at humour falls flat against the "White cowboy - Good. Red indian - bad" moral of the story.