Tag Archives: Western

No. 12 THE SEARCHERS (1956)

Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb.

It is time to get back to the mission and who better to lead the way than the ultimate man’s man – John Wayne – in a movie that has been quoted as one of the most influential movies ever made. The Searchers is number twelve on the AFI’s list of the 100 best movies and it sure has earned its place there.

                                                         Lone Star

It tells the story of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), who returns home from the Civil War to his brother’s ranch in Texas. There he hopes to find peace close to the woman – his brother’s wife – whom he is in love with. But peace is not in the cards for poor Ethan. While he is out riding with his 1/8 Native American nephew Martin, a Comanche raid kills most of his brother’s family. Only little Debbie “survives” and is kidnapped by the evil Chief Scar. From here begins a five-year mission for Ethan and Martin to find Debbie and bring her back or as Ethan puts it – most likely to kill her, if she has been “brainwashed” by the Indians.

                                                             Do you know what Ethan will do if he has a chance? He’ll put a bullet in her brain.

Some of the dialogue and subject matter makes you gasp for the same reasons as Mad Men. One of the movie’s best lines comes from Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) when he and Uncle Ethan find Martin’s accidental Indian wife killed by the US soldiers: “What did them soldiers have to go and kill her for. She never done nobody any harm”. I suppose that was the time when you shot first and then asked questions. At the time most of the moviegoers missed that it’s hinted throughout the movie that Uncle Ethan might have had an affair with his brother’s wife. And who knew who really was Debbie’s (Natalie Wood) father.

 No words needed

An additional explanation for Ethan’s fury towards the Comanche is explained in the scene where he finds Debbie’s doll next to his own mother’s tombstone. On the tombstone it reads that Ethan’s own mother was killed by the Comanche.

The Searchers is an impressive Western. It was filmed in Monument Valley, Utah. As that time there were no roads there, the film crew built roads. They also built a whole town for the 250 odd crew and cast. As the closest town was 175 miles away, everything had to be brought in – water, electricity etc. What a hassle that must have been even before they got into filming, but the director, John Ford, was adamant to film at the home of the Navajo.

                                                      That’ll be the day

This movie is a cinematic portrayal of the hard life of the settlers. The screenplay is moving and the story is told with drops of humour mixed in with the dramatic story line. Acting is good all around. John Wayne is perfect as Uncle Ethan who is tortured by his own experiences, but who at the end reconnects with his humanity. The Monument Valley offers a spellbinding backdrop. I can see myself riding there in the Olden Days. Even though I don’t think my life would have been long at all – if it had not been childbirth that would have killed me, it would have probably been a suicide. Just look at the gravestones at an old graveyard in Tombstone, AZ – most of the women there were killed by either one of those.

The Searchers is a movie that does make you think about the fairness and unfairness of the treatment of Native Americans. It is well worth of watching. Even though Rio Bravo still remains as my favourite Western of all time.

Some day this country is gonna be a swell place to live in ~ Well said, my man!