John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Ward
time: 119 mins.
with the added attention given John Wayne's films in this,
the 100th anniversary of his birth, The Searchers took an
astonishing leap from 96 to 12 on the American Film Institute's
top 100 best American films.
of "The Duke" have long argued over whether The
Searchers or Red River (1948) is his best western. And how
about the excellent calvalry triology - Fort Apache, She Wore
a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande?
choices indeed, but I think The Searchers just about shades
it, given a hard-as-nails performance from Wayne, great direction
from the legendary John Ford, non-stop action and stunning
location shots. Let's not forget Max Steiner's thrilling score,
either. Little wonder this is a favourite of contemporary
directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.
beginning and ending are unforgettable, yet simple: a door
opens and then it closes. Between times there's joy, tragedy
is Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran returning home years
after the conflict ended to the Texas ranch he shares with
his brother (Walter Coy) and family.
agrees next day to join a band of Texas Rangers led by the
Rev Sam Clayton (Ward Bond in a great, cantankerous turn)
to pursue cattle rustlers in the area. Ethan tells his brother
to stay home to protect the ranch because he believes Indians
are responsible. Ethan is proved right: the cattle rustling
is a decoy to lure the Rangers away so the remote ranch can
be attacked. Ethan returns home to find them all massacred
- apart from the youngest Debbie (Natalie Wood) and the teenaged
Lucy (Pippa Scott), who have been taken by Chief Scar.
Hunter gives fine support as Martin Pawley, the part-cherokee
boy raised by Ethan's brother who strikes up a difficult relationship
with Ethan, who initially dislikes him.
of pursuit follow as Ethan and Martin search for his nieces
through desert heat and mountain snow. Danger lurks everywhere,
from robbers to attacks by Indians. All the time, Ethan guards
the inner secret that motivates his search.
has to be said that Indians come off very poorly in this movie,
portrayed as stereotypical savages common for westerns of
this era. It likely wouldn't get made like this today. And
there's some of Ford's trademark sentimentality that grates,
particularly the romance between Martin and Laurie (Vera Miles)
a rancher's daughter. Those reservations aside, this is thrilling
and absorbing ride.
are several editions of this fine flick, best of all being
a two-disc set loaded with extra features including location
features and other documentaries, reproductions of 1956 publicity
material, memos and correspondence, postcards and an introduction
from Wayne's son Patrick, who also appeared in the movie.