The Searchers Reviews
Strangely enough, although the main character is shown to hate Comanches, and laughs at them at best, he knows their language and their culture. That's hardly brought up.
The film tries to be fair to Native Americans and women, but can be shockingly offensive to Native American women. Jacqueline Voorhees from 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' is politically correct by comparison.
Ethan's acts of revenge are horrific- savage, even, and it's meant to make us feel uncomfortable, but he never considers his actions, never realizes the effect of white violence on Native Americans, only realizes his own "whiteness" that he needs to bring his niece back home, and the film peters out afterwards.
I can't entirely hate 'The Searchers'. It's really well made. The cinematography is beautiful and the search itself is captivating.
View several times, last time in the Filmoteca española (The Spanish Film Library, Madrid)
One of the biggest highlights of the film is not only the performance by John Wayne but the way it handles his character being a Western protagonist who isn't necessarily a "hero" of sorts. There are many things he says and does at key moments over the course of the film that establish him as being someone who isn't a white collar, save the day good guy..... it helps to blur the lines between good and bad and gets you thinking. So much of this movie depended on the viewer not necessarily liking Ethan but rather responding to him and his behaviour. And he was a very engaging character with some great meaningful dialogue and an arc that may or may not be resolved by the closing scene but it is a damn interesting one.
One thing i occasionally touch on in some reviews but don't ever really comment on is in fact mis-en-scene, but here, especially for a film as influential as this one you can't not talk about it. Every detail in every shot in this film feels so meticulously planned out by John Ford that just watching a scene as simple as people moving about a house is just as impressive and stunning as an outdoor sweeping shot of a beautiful vista. There is so much detail to pick out of every scene in every set that it all just adds to the authenticity of what you are watching possibly maybe being real... One recurring shot choice throughout the film that it opens and closes with is a camera directed out the door of a house looking out into the immediate and distant environment and typically framing a particular character or characters. This iconic doorway shot choice is flawlessly pristine and it sets up location and context and character in a very artistic manner that you can't help but admire. The use of this 'doorway camera' in the film is greatly executed forever tied to the success of this film.
So in the end, looking past the fact that this movie is in some ways pretty racist it is still beautifully shot, extremely well directed, features great dialogue, and develops an engaging and entertaining story very well. It paved the way influencing many films to come throughout the 70's, and not only the Western genre, Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' (1976) also takes inspiration from the John Ford classic.
Great performances, spectacular directing, and a powerful story? No wonder many directors and writers use this film for inspiration for other great films.
Original rating: 11-29-2012 (8/10)
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.
Few films grab you immediately from the opening shot, but John Ford's THE SEARCHERS does it better than anyone else.