The Searchers Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ April 16, 2007
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.
Super Reviewer
June 2, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2012
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.
Market Man
Super Reviewer
½ September 14, 2012
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.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2011
Ford's masterpiece and John Wayne's finest hour, The Searchers is the essential western. Filled with drama, comedy and horror, and shot in beautiful Vistavision.
Super Reviewer
October 7, 2011
One of the greatest Westerns ever with a great performance from the Duke. Full review later.
Super Reviewer
June 4, 2011
The Searchers deserves the praise it has gotten as one of the best westerns ever made. It has one of the greatest stories of all time and John Wayne gives a great performance. The movie is beautifully shot. The scenery looks great and compliments the story well. Also, I love how all of the characters, besides Ethan, are really colorful. All of the characters have multiple things going on, except Ethan. Ethan only really cares about one thing and won't stop until he gets his it done.
Super Reviewer
January 10, 2011
There is no denying that The Searchers is one of the most influential films of all time, John Ford raised the bar and made a visually beautiful and original western. You could say he re-wrote the book when it comes to westerns but then again, he kind of wrote the book in the first place. The Searchers is a great film but for all the great performances there is some terrible acting. It's also hard to keep track of the passing years too, the narrative is not great. Great but not perfect, certainly not the greatest American film ever made in my opinion but a huge influence on some of the greats.
Super Reviewer
½ November 2, 2007
A good, well-shot Western concerning a Civil War veteran (John Wayne) whose niece is taken by Indians, and thus he elects to make it his life goal to find her and avenge the rest of his family's death. It is certainly not the "classic" many claim, thanks to a sometimes plodding pace and an underdeveloped romantic subplot featuring Wayne's sidekick (Jeffrey Hunter) and a woman who is attracted to him (Vera Miles), yet we really don't really understand why. The thing that makes this film worth it is the ending, which is exciting, but then turns suddenly dark and a little depressing, but I for one liked this choice. There are better, darker, more engaging Westerns out there ("Unforgiven", the re-make of "3:10 to Yuma", and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" come to mind), but this is certainly a finely done movie. I just do not see it as the 4-star, top ten of all-time masterpiece that many do.
Super Reviewer
½ September 5, 2010
I hate westerns, and Wayne is really annoying to me, so I didn't care for this movie at all. The movie is also slow and boring. The characters are pretty interesting, though, except for Wayne's, that is.
Super Reviewer
October 16, 2010
I don't know how people acted in the 1800s but everyone is a jerk in this film. Why is everyone so mean to each other? Regardless of people over emotional ties to people in this film, it was an interesting one to watch. Revenge is a powerful thing, and it fuels John Wayne's quest. It had some amazing action shots and some brave stuntmen. It was a little drawn out for me, which found it hard to follow. The journey takes place over several years, but it was hard to tell as the characters didn't change at all. It had good photography good cast. If you are into western style movies, go see this one for sure.
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2007
beautiful cinematography! traveling hundreds of miles, somehow they never manage to leave monument valley! lol. not really a fan of El Duque; aside from the man who shot liberty valance i prefer the films where he plays an evil bastard. didn't seem like much of a stretch for him tho. jus sayin :p
Super Reviewer
June 21, 2010
There?s a reason it?s considered the greatest American Western, it?s without a doubt one of the greatest movies ever made in my opinion. It showcases everything that makes John Ford revolutionist he was and John Wayne the legend he was. Taking topics and settings that are now classic, this has everything you could ever need. Not many movies have such a large scale and powerful impact, this is truly a legend of the past.

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.
Super Reviewer
April 29, 2006
"Let's go home Debbie", the greatest western of all time. The inspriation for countless of classics from Lawrence Of Arabia to Star Wars. The "Duke" John Waynes, best performance as the eternal outisder, verging on villian. A complex western masterpeice.
Super Reviewer
December 20, 2009
#1 contender, at least in my book, as the most beautiful western ever made.
Super Reviewer
½ May 24, 2009
Sorry, not big on Westerns...
Super Reviewer
March 26, 2009
Amazing film and watching it on blu ray is a commercial for the technology itself because it looks gorgeous. John Wayne is great in the film and I love the fact that he toys with his own iconography. It was one of the best characterizations I have seen in a Western. Good story and the landscapes are breathtaking. And now I know what movie they are watching in Mean Streets. And I also understand why that last shot is so legendary.
Super Reviewer
January 10, 2009
The Searchers(1956) has been reflected to death by many filmmakers in their own work with main ideas, situations, and plot as guide. Many elements of The Searchers(1956) influenced film directors ranging from Brian De Palma, George Lucus, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Sergio Leone. There are scores of other movie makers whom I cannot list at the top of my head that were affected by this one film. Obvious film influences are Once Upon a Time in the West(1968), Obsession(1976), Taxi Driver(1976), Star Wars(1977), and Hardcore(1979). It shows that great works of cinema are also able to inspire many admirers and disciples. Only films(stories) by Akira Kurosawa has been reflected more often by film directors than The Searchers(1956).

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.
Super Reviewer
January 27, 2007
There were a few parts that seemed a little silly but fun. I would have liked them a little more if not for the very serious and depressing story of the movie.
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.
Super Reviewer
April 3, 2007
This movie is amazing and I'm an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

Could the colors be anymore rich? This goes on the pedestal with Robin Hood and Wizard of Oz for pure Technicolor bliss
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