Director: John Ford
You don’t get much more classic than The Searchers, a Western to define the genre. What more could you ask for than the combination of John Ford and John Wayne, the premiere Western names of American cinematic history. John Wayne defined what it was to be a man, for good or ill, and is still seen to this day, nearly 40 years after his death, as the embodiment of bravery and masculinity. Now, he’s only an actor, these were mere roles that launched him into such idolization, and his real name is decidedly unimpressive; Marion Morrison. But the fact remains that he is the standard, and no one else filled the shoes of the hero quite like the Duke, with part talent, part voice, and part raw charm combining to create a legend.
After the Civil War, rebel officer Ethan Edwards returns home to Texas to the bosom of his family, more myth now than actual flesh and blood. His brother’s family has grown, Ethan’s nieces are unrecognizable, and the boy they raised as their own after his parents were killed in an Indian raid, Martin, is now a young man. The stage is set for an idyllic reunion in a Texas territory relatively untouched by war, until a Comanche war chief named Scar attacks the local settlements and kidnaps Ethan’s brother’s girls, Lucy & Debbie. A posse is formed, but this violent raiding party knows the land better than any settler, and most of the menfolk turn back to look after their own families. But not Ethan and Martin, they continue the search, and it doesn’t matter how many years go by, they won’t give up until they’ve brought the girls home.
This film is great on two different levels, one beneficial to nostalgia and the other aiding in longevity. The first is how well it defines the genre, how it could not possibly be any more Western. The homesteaders, the local sheriff, the loony tracker, the hard case hero, the young lovers, the evil Indians, the touch of comedy, the heap of horse riding; it’s all you could ask for from a genre Americans will always love. But the second level is just as important; how it uses subtleties to tell the story. Unlike other Westerns, every line and every piece of action isn’t spelled out, audiences have to infer quite a bit, and the plot hinges on what’s happening in the subtext. It’s rare to see that on screen any time, let alone in a John Wayne movie, and for that The Searchers should be doubly revered. Wayne is excellent, his classic “that’ll be the day” line ringing true every time he tosses it out, Hunter is a young star gone too soon, and the same can be said about Natalie Wood, who has a small part but shines with a talent that was shockingly lost. This film is a great time capsule, a display of excellent direction, and a piece of history that never gets old.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆