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The Searchers (1956)

tomatometer

100

Average Rating: 8.2/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 0

No consensus yet.

audience

89

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 38,761

My Rating

Movie Info

If John Ford is the greatest Western director, The Searchers is arguably his greatest film, at once a grand outdoor spectacle like such Ford classics as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) and a film about one man's troubling moral codes, a big-screen adventure of the 1950s that anticipated the complex themes and characters that would dominate the 1970s. John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a former Confederate soldier who returns to his brother Aaron's frontier cabin three years

PG,

Western, Drama, Action & Adventure, Classics

Frank S. Nugent

May 18, 1999

Warner Bros. Pictures

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All Critics (41) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (41) | Rotten (0) | DVD (18)

Some fine vignettes of frontier life in the early southwest and a realistic presentation of the difficulties faced by the settlers in carving out a homestead in dangerous Indian country.

June 27, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Through the central image of the frontier, the meeting point of wilderness and civilization, Ford explores the divisions of our national character, with its search for order and its need for violence, its spirit of community and its quest for independence

June 27, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

There is perhaps some discrepancy in the play between Wayne's heroic image and the pathological outsider he plays here (forever excluded from home, as the doorway shots at beginning and end suggest), but it hardly matters, given the film's visual splendou

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A rip-snorting Western, as brashly entertaining as they come.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Contains scenes of magnificence, and one of John Wayne's best performances.

December 2, 2001 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The final shot of this genuine epic says everything the Western ever had to say about the price of the American frontier and those forgotten bones upon which a nation was built.

January 1, 2000
Film.com
Top Critic IconTop Critic

One of the better examples of the western genre.

August 15, 2011 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

Call Ethan one widescreen reminder of fear and guilt for a country that deserved at least one.

September 1, 2009 Full Review Source: City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul

A mature, dark, ambivalent piece that helped pave the way for the modern western.

May 13, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

An absolute must see.

December 7, 2007 Full Review Source: Eye for Film
Eye for Film

A truly great western.

September 16, 2007
ColeSmithey.com

John Wayne at his best, striking cinematography and character ambiguity makes this a powerful and thought-provoking Wild West Odyssey.

June 7, 2006 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

...a much more multi-layered Western than most other such examples of the genre, and it is surely a classic of its kind.

May 28, 2006 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

One of Ford's undisputed masterpiecs and a quintessential text of the 1950s, a rare Western that explores the deep roots of racism (and sexism) in American life, and gives John Wayne his most complex performance as the anomic hero.

May 3, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

The minute The Searchers begins, it's impossible to look away.

April 5, 2006 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

John Wayne's best film, which says a prairie-full. Haunting, unforgettable.

February 18, 2006
Video-Reviewmaster.com

It may also be the best American movie, or at least the most American movie ....

February 14, 2005 Full Review
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

THE great American western.

January 12, 2005
Tyler Morning Telegraph (Texas)

The Searchers's reputation is so widely accepted that it's a surprise to discover that the film, and Wayne's character, are more complex than the reputation suggests.

November 22, 2004 Full Review Source: Decent Films Guide
Decent Films Guide

This is a film for the ages.

November 19, 2004 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

A powerful piece of filmmaking -- one of Ford's best works -- and I'd urge anyone who hasn't seen it to do so -- and decide for themselves what the film is or isn't saying

November 26, 2003 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Damn, this is Wayne's movie.

March 10, 2003 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Audience Reviews for The Searchers

This is one of John Ford's greatest films, one of the greatest westerns of all time, and in general, one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. Given all that, you may be wondering about my rating. Well, here's the deal: yes, this is well made, very compelling, and revisionist (which I like). But, it was revisionist at the time it was made...which was long ago. So yes, the film hasn't aged (in some respects) all that well, and some of this was kinda corny, overacted, and not as realistic as I was thinking it would be. Some of my complaints are valid, but then again, this review is being written twenty minutes after my first viewing. Yeah, that's right, it has (for whatever reason) taken me this long to finally see this. Had I seen it at a younger and not as enlightened age I might be really jumping on the bandwagon as I somewhat expected I might be doing.


Okay, enough of the rambling and backstory. On to the review. It is 1868 and Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) is an ex-Confederate soldier with an intense hatred for Comanches who, after his family is slaughtered by a Comanche raiding party, goes on a five year quest to rescue his eldest niece whom the Indians took captive. With him are some Texas rangers and his nephew, but in the end, this is truly his personal quest.

In a lot of revenge films, the lead is usually likeable and relatable, and that is somewhat true here, but the great thing is that Ethan is really more of an anti-hero. You want to see him successfully complete his quest, but the way he goes about it, and his attitudes are so strong that it's kinda hard to root for him all the way. That's dark. Considering the film's age, that's really bold too. Yeah, it's not as relevatory now, but still. I figured this would be more black and white and not have as many shades of gray.

I think that's what really got me hooked, beyond the fact that I'm supposed to love this film anyway since it's expected of me as a serious film buff. I think that's what also makes it hard for me to give it a full five since, while levity isn't a bad thing, the somewhat lightheartedness of things and occasional cheesiness undercut the material and stick out more than they should.

The performances are decent enough. Wayne of course is strong, even if he was more of a movie star than a true actor. Jeffrey Hunter is fine, but the ladies in the film are really not given the long end of the stick. They do as best as they can with the material, but still, it is another slight fault of the film, perhaps due to the time period. Where the film really shines though are in Max Steiner's thrilling score, the excellent location shooting (Monument Valley, ftw), and the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. There's some truly wodnerful and memorable shots and framing here that are STILL being copied to this day, and I was really struck by the artisticness of them. Not that westerns of that era couldn't be art, but man, this really goes above and beyond to deliver something special.

I think the fact that I'm conflicted on this and rambling so much about it actually makes me love it more, and, in the end, that's all you can really ask of great art. Strong A.
June 27, 2013
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

A former Confederate soldier returns to the West where he battles the Natives responsible for a raid on his brother's property.
In one scene John Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, shoots a dead Native's eyes out so that he "can't find his way around the Spirit World." In another scene, two women are shown having lost their wits, mumbling and babbling and hysterical. Ethan says, "They're not white any more; they're savages." Native characters are aggressive, imperious, evil, savage, and the diametric opposite of the "civilized" white man who blames the Native for being on white land before the whites arrived. There are a few scenes in which other characters criticize Ethan's extreme views of Natives, fearing that he will mercilessly shoot a captive white woman who has "gone Native." But the plot saves Ethan from this decision. These criticisms are the only moments that prevent The Searchers from being the most racist film I've ever seen. The portrayal of Natives and the film's scapegoating and support of Wayne's character is shocking and impossible to ignore; one might be able to shrug away the fact that the Natives play the villains, but good God: "she ceased to be white?"
There are majestic shots and good cinematography and a tepid love plot mixed in.
Overall, this is a racist piece of shit.
June 2, 2013
hunterjt13
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

A powerful epic-scale Western with a rich story full of nuances, following a complex character of dubious motivations in a search that stretches for many years - an anguishing journey set against the imposing vastness of the Monument Valley desert with stunning panoramic shots.
November 3, 2012
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

I didn't like it. John Wayne is great as usual but the story is a bit of a mess. The only thing that is entertaining is the wedding scene. Everything else is dreadfully slow which is something you can expect from a John Ford film. You must take note that I don't normally like films this old.
October 10, 2012
Market Man
Eric Shankle

Super Reviewer

    1. Ethan Edwards: Rev., you went and got yourself surrounded.
    2. Capt. Reverend Clayton: We'll, I plan on getting myself unsurrounded!
    – Submitted by Rodney R (23 months ago)
    1. Ethan Edwards: That'll be the day.
    – Submitted by Danny C (2 years ago)
    1. Ethan Edwards: Let's go home, Debbie.
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
    1. Ethan Edwards: That'll be the day.
    – Submitted by Harold W (3 years ago)
View all quotes (4)

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Foreign Titles

  • Der schwarze Falke (DE)
  • The Searchers (1956) (UK)
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