The Searchers

1956

The Searchers

Critics Consensus

The Searchers is an epic John Wayne Western that introduces dark ambivalence to the genre that remains fashionable today.

98%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 44

88%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 40,681
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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 after the end of the Civil War. Ethan still has his rebel uniform and weapons, a large stash of Yankee gold, and no explanations as to where he's been since Lee's surrender. A loner not comfortable in the bosom of his family, Ethan also harbors a bitter hatred of Indians (though he knows their lore and language well) and trusts no one but himself. Ethan and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), Aaron's adopted son, join a makeshift band of Texas Rangers fending off an assault by renegade Comanches. Before they can run off the Indians, several homes are attacked, and Ethan returns to discover his brother and sister-in-law dead and their two daughters kidnapped. While they soon learn that one of the girls is dead, the other, Debbie, is still alive, and with obsessive determination, Ethan and Martin spend the next five years in a relentless search for Debbie -- and for Scar (Henry Brandon), the fearsome Comanche chief who abducted her. But while Martin wants to save his sister and bring her home, Ethan seems primarily motivated by his hatred of the Comanches; it's hard to say if he wants to rescue Debbie or murder the girl who has lived with Indians too long to be considered "white." John Wayne gives perhaps his finest performance in a role that predated screen antiheroes of the 1970s; by the film's conclusion, his single-minded obsession seems less like heroism and more like madness. Wayne bravely refuses to soft-pedal Ethan's ugly side, and the result is a remarkable portrait of a man incapable of answering to anyone but himself, who ultimately has more in common with his despised Indians than with his more "civilized" brethren. Natalie Wood is striking in her brief role as the 16-year-old Debbie, lost between two worlds, and Winton C. Hoch's Technicolor photography captures Monument Valley's savage beauty with subtle grace. The Searchers paved the way for such revisionist Westerns as The Wild Bunch (1969) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and its influence on movies from Taxi Driver (1976) to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Star Wars (1977) testifies to its lasting importance. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Cast

John Wayne
as Ethan Edwards
Jeffrey Hunter
as Martin Pawley
Vera Miles
as Laurie Jorgensen
Natalie Wood
as Debbie Edwards
Ward Bond
as Samuel Clayton
John Qualen
as Lars Jorgensen
Olive Carey
as Mrs. Jorgensen
Henry Brandon
as Chief Scar
Ken Curtis
as Charlie McCorry
Harry Carey Jr.
as Brad Jorgensen
Antonio Moreno
as Emilio Figueroa
Hank Worden
as Mose Harper
Lana Wood
as Debbie as a Child
Walter Coy
as Aaron Edwards
Dorothy Jordan
as Martha Edwards
Pippa Scott
as Lucy Edwards
Patrick Wayne
as Lt. Greenhill
Jack Pennick
as Sergeant
Peter Mamakos
as Futterman
Cliff Lyons
as Col. Greenhill
Chuck Roberson
as Man at wedding
Ruth Clifford
as Deranged woman at fort
Mae Marsh
as Woman at fort
Chief Thundercloud
as Comanche chief
Dan Borzage
as Accordionist at Funeral
Nacho Galindo
as Mexican bartender
Away Luna
as Comanche
Billy Yellow
as Comanche
Robert Lyden
as Ben Edwards
Danny Borzage
as Accordionist at Funeral
Jack Tin Horn
as Comanche
Shooting Star
as Comanche
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Critic Reviews for The Searchers

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (9)

Audience Reviews for The Searchers

  • Nov 29, 2016
    This is an extraordinarily over-rated movie. The acting is uniformly terrible, and John Wayne is absolutely insufferable. The treatment of Native Americans is stereotypical, and they're shown to be inept, silly, and savage. Actions are routinely illogical and the attempts at comedy tossed in are poor. The story of Wayne's search for his kidnapped niece is straightforward, but the film gets painfully side-tracked with a love story and other goofiness. The only reason to watch this film is the cinematography. Director John Ford captures several absolutely gorgeous and iconic shots in Monument Valley, though he too often relies on the same rock formations in the background, stunning as they are. The scenes in deep snow and crossing an icy river are also fantastic, though it's odd how quickly we see shifts from arid desert to winter. Regardless, these are the ONLY good things about this movie. There are so many other things to hate. Wayne's mispronunciation of Comanche as "Commanch", his disparaging half-breeds, and his disdain for clearly traumatized women who were forced to live with Native Americans for years (Texas Ranger: "It's hard to believe they're white". Wayne: "They're not white anymore."). A blue-eyed Indian chief. The ridiculously accurate shooting. Wayne inexplicably thinking of shooting his niece when he finds her, since she doesn't want to return with him, despite years of searching for her. (Oh wait, that is explainable; he's racist and she's now "one of them"). Lastly, I almost threw up in my mouth when Wayne sauntered off at the end. Perhaps that was triggered while also thinking of his real-life comments in a 1971 interview with Playboy Magazine: PLAYBOY: For years American Indians have played an important - if subordinate - role in your Westerns. Do you feel any empathy with them? WAYNE: I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves. Ugh.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 02, 2015
    Between 4.5 and 5. A true classic.
    Kyle M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 02, 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 <i>The Searchers</i> 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.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Apr 28, 2013
    "The Searchers" is a competent Western that features one of John Wayne's best performances and some beautiful photography set in Monument Valley, but I don't believe it to be the masterpiece that it is claimed to be. There are some scenes of good drama and action, but overall, John Ford has made better, more ambitious films.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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