Betsy Speicher

The Searchers (1956)

Rate this movie   3 votes

  1. 1. Artistic Merit

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  2. 2. Sense of Life or Personal Value

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6 posts in this topic

Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

I do not have the time this morning to give this movie the type of review that I think it deserves. I will attempt to give it that review this weekend when I have the time to put together all the great things about this movie. For now I will just state a few observations about this movie that I consider to be not only the best western ever made but my favorite movie.

Many reviewers have tried to state that this movie is about "American bigotry" played out in the character of Ethan Edwards, I say hogwash. John Ford was a lover of the harshness of the American West and the type of individuals it took to survive in the west. Ethan Edwards is John Ford's archetype of that rugged individual who deals with life as it comes and no matter what he keeps on going. From the beginning to the end no one can hold down Ethan Edwards as we see at the beginning when Ethan Edwards rides up alone and at the end he is stays outside the cabin, alone, and turns and walks away. The Searchers is John Ford's tribute to the American West and the only person he thought who could pull off the role of his rugged individualist without being overcast by it was John Wayne.

With this short review I hope I have motivated a few people to go see this movie or maybe rewatch it and gain a new perspective for my favorite movie.

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With this short review I hope I have motivated a few people to go see this movie or maybe rewatch it and gain a new perspective for my favorite movie.

You got my attention. This has to be one of the very few I haven't seen or own.

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I own a copy of The Searchers on DVD, and watch it occasionally. To me, it shows how the American West and frontier was what I would call a "no bulls--- world"; people didn't worry, like today's neurotics, over whether they "existed" or not, or what the "meaning of life" was; people back then already knew.

However, I have a major complaint about John Ford's movies. They are not plot-driven; they are reaction- and association-driven. The heroes in Ford's movies are always reacting to events--rather than causing them--or reacting to the actions of people they associate with: fellow soldiers, fellow cowboys, or loved-ones and friends. That borders on Naturalism, in my book.

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Warning: There are spoilers about this movie in this post.

"What makes a man to wander

What makes a man to roam

What makes a man leave bed and board

And turn his back on home

Ride away, ride away, ride away"

And so the question is posed, through a song, of what type of man the harsh frontier of the American West demands. It takes a man as harsh as the frontier he is trying to conquer. It takes an individual that is ruggedly independent, brutal and mentally strong enough to keep going when others "go back to cutting cotton." That man is Ethan Edwards.

John Ford frames many scenes through this whole movie. The first framing is at the beginning when Martha, Ethan's sister-in-law and the only woman he loved, looks through the doorway out at the never ending western sky and the buttes that the sky mixes with. In this immense view a lone rider approaches, Ethan Edwards. Right from this first scene John Ford defines the character of Ethan Edwards, stoic, self-judging, determined, independent and as tough as the west he is conquering.

Also in this first scene, there is a subtle hint of the love that Ethan holds for Martha as his attention is directed toward her and he gives her a touching kiss on the fore-head. A few scenes later the viewer, if alert, gets another view of their love for each other when Martha gets Ethan's coat ready while longingly staring at it and hugging it before she gives it to him. And hence one of the major unspoken reasons why Ethan so ruthlessly chases down the Comanche Indians.

For five years Ethan persistently and ruthlessly chases the indians through every type of weather the harsh western frontier is known for, all so that his desires of justice and revenge can be satisfied. During this time Ethans hatred for the indians increases which the viewer can glimpse in some intense scenes. One of these scenes is when Ethan and his companion Martin are about to shoot some buffalo for food and Ethan's anger boils over, shooting every buffalo he can which will "keep their (the indians) bellies empty this winter." Another time Ethan's anger bolis over is when the viewer gets a glmpse at the intensity of his eyes and face when he sees the "white girls" that are "Comanche now." These scenes along with many others are great examples of John Wayne's ability to act and some of his very best.

In the end Ethan conquers his hatred, along with other things, and recaptures his love of humanity. But, he still remains the unattached, ruggedly independent man. And in the end the viewer gets another song.

"A man will search his heart and soul

Go search'n way out there

His peace of mind he knows he'll find

But where oh lord, lord where

Ride away, ride away, ride away"

Of course this is what I got out of the movie and do not expect everyone to agree with my perspective. But, as a boy watching this movie for the first time in the early 1980's it was very profound. No matter the hardships; cold, heat, wind, dust, indians and more, the hero never stops, ever. I have kept that with me as long as I can remember and John Wayne gave me a perfect example in a movie called The Searchers.

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Right from this first scene John Ford defines the character of Ethan Edwards, stoic, self-judging, determined, independent and as tough as the west he is conquering.

After some more thought, I have come to the conclusion that laconic would be more fitting than stoic.

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