The Searchers Reviews
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.
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.
This uses the idea of cowboys vs. Indians in a very epic way, showing the ugly side of each. While Scar is about as bloodthirsty and evil as villains come, John Wayne?s Ethan shows an equally ugly side. In many ways, the five year story is about changing a man. Racism is shown in full effect and how destructive and horrible it can become. The idea of someone killing their own family because they associated with another culture is scary. The politics of this still ring true today and work as a sort of cautionary tale. However, nothing seems heavy handed or overbearing. It?s more effective in the subtle nature it?s presented in. You see it?s effect only at the tail end of the story. In accordance to this being a story of racism, it?s also a story about family and love. Ethan and Martin?s journey to find and rescue Debbie is so powerful, even after 5 years they never even question giving up or surrendering to the easy way out. Over those five years, their bond together is so strong that they become the father and son that they always should have been. The end result of these stories is completely and utterly breathtaking. The Searchers has the greatest ending sequence of any movie in any genre. It?s power will be forever unmatched.
John Wayne will always be the biggest movie star to ever live whether you love him or hat him. He has the most extensive library and defines the meaning of a true star. His influence and impact on Hollywood is something that everyone has to acknowledge. His performance in this is in a lot of ways his greatest. It takes everything he had done before and shattered it with this honest yet complex performance. Ethan isn?t just the definition of a broken man, he?s an anti-hero in the truest sense. From when he rides up to the screen until the door shuts you can sense that something incredible has taken place.
John Ford is probably always going to be remembered as the greatest American director to ever live, no one else will ever match him in terms of originality or shear brilliance. His movies all show something grand and unforgettable. I feel that The Searchers really brings all of his strengths to one place; great storytelling, characters, and visuals. There really hasn?t been many movies to capture beauty like this does. Some of the shots are almost unbelievable and certainly unforgettable.
I don?t think anyone can truly deny this movie?s impact on the history of film. It defines why people make movies to begin with, very few capture utter brilliance like this. Not only is this a flawless film from a visual standpoint, it has a story and characters to rival anything else. In many ways it resembles human nature and our ability to change and witness love.
John Wayne was legendary American film star and big box office draw by 1956. The Searchers(1956) lends creedence to John Wayne being an exceptional actor enforced by his multi-layered performance. In a career that spanned five decades, The Searchers(1956) is the efflorescence of John Wayne. John Wayne gives a complex/flawed portrait of a man looking for redemption and salvation. One fine moment that examplifies the multi-layerness of John Wayne's performance is the look on Ethan Edwards face as he feys over what will happen to his brother and family. The Searchers(1956) was to John Wayne's career what Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948) was to Humphrey Bogart and Vertigo(1958) was to James Stewart.
Story is about drifting, trying find something which is self-meaningful. Ethan Edwards is such a drifter who is always in search of a purpose. The Searchers(1956) is really about drifting in the American Frontier and search for self-discovery. There were many drifters like Ethan Edwards in the Old West especially in the wake of the Civil War. The Cowboy drifter in the Old West is almost the equivalent of the Samurai ronin in Tokugawa Japan Era. These drifters were men who were on the go, had temporary employment, and always wondered about their existence in life.
Rare individualistic motion picture in the old studio system days when many Hollywood films were studio controlled. The Searchers(1956) defies the typical 1950s Hollywood film presentation because its a director's picture. Excells on a visual level with interesting camera placement. Camera framing also plays a psychological and visual role in representation of two conflicting worlds(Civilized West and Wild West). Helped by crisp and flawless editing that flows the plot along effortlessly. Shades of Homer's THE ODYSSEY are penetrated into the heart of the story with irony.
Deals with racial prejudice with honest and truthful gusto. Racial prejudice in The Searchers(1956) is filmed in terms of emotional and psychological depth. The racial prejudice of the protagonist echos the prejudice of many white people in the Old West felt towards native Americans. The relationship between Ethan Edwards and Martin Pawley is met by distrust, prejudice, and sarcasm. Only towards the end does Ethan Edwards begin to show some sign of acception and respect for Martin Pawley. Shows that people are willing to change if they are willing to confront the dark side of humanity.
John Ford was the one director who was able to channel the talents of John Wayne to full heights. He made it possible for John Wayne to become an American film star by casting him in Stagecoach(1939). The other major director John Wayne had great success with was Howard Hawks. The Searchers(1956) is the greatest film of the Ford-Wayne tandem. Each are at their highest and most professional peak as film artists. In film working relationship they were halves of one and one of halves.
Ethan Edwards fullfills the requirements of hero and villain in narrative plot structure. This makes him an anti-hero with human strengths and flaws so typical of this type of protagonist. Its funny that John Wayne detested Italian Westerns and yet played a character in The Searchers(1956) who fits the mold of the Spaghetti Western anti-hero. Ethan Edwards is the closet thing to a villain John Wayne played in the movies. At the beginning Ethan Edwards lives only for hate and revenge. By the end he becomes merciful and forgiving.
On-location photography gives the film its rugged character. Monument Valley is depicted with beauty, mystery, and savagery. The people in the story are represented by their environment and location. Monument Valley was a favorite film location of John Ford who was obsessed by its untamed and individualistic nature. Monument Valley site is explored on a physical, psychological, and social level. Scenery is an important character of the Classic American Western and none so more true then in The Searchers(1956).
Another major motif in The Searchers(1956) is redemption. The path of hate and vendetta is replaced by compassion and forgiveness. Its this motif as well as others that makes the story a subtle Catholic driven tale. Redemption is the saving grace for a destructive and negative character like Ethan Edwards. Revenge until the climatic moment takes importance over everything else in Ethan Edwards life. Redemption is one motif from The Searchers(1956) that influenced Scorsese and Schrader.
Martin Pawley goes with Ethan Edwards on revenge pledge as way of following path of fealty. The moment of Ethan picking up his niece and holding her with compassion is a tender one. Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley provides a nice foil to John Wayne's Ethan Edwards. Cinematography in The Searchers(1956) is forceful and graceful. In time The Searchers takes place, drifters like Ethan Edwards are dime a dozen but by the period depicted in films of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinaph, they are nearly extinct. The Searchers(1956) is a milestone in both American and World cinema.
John Wayne was excellent in the flick but the other star was a little annoying.
I could see this being remade today and being a lot stronger for the update but I dug the flick and after a while came to like the characters and care for what happened to them.
I recommend the flick.
Could the colors be anymore rich? This goes on the pedestal with Robin Hood and Wizard of Oz for pure Technicolor bliss