THE SEARCHERS (1956) C widescreen 119m dir: John Ford
w/John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr.
A vigorous, multi-layered classic regarded by many as the model western. Embittered by acts of Native American savagery against his family, Ethan (Wayne) singlemindedly tracks down his niece (Wood) who'd been kidnapped as a child. A complex film, shaded by ambiguities.
From The Movie Guide: "'What makes a man to wander?/What makes a man to roam?/What makes a man leave bed and board and turn his back on home?/Ride away, ride away, ride away.'
"This sad and beautiful song accompanies the opening credits of what may be the finest and most ambitious film from director John Ford, America's premiere poet of the Western. Part of what makes this classic film so remarkable is that these questions are never answered directly --- an oddity for a product of Hollywood where loose ends are rarely allowed. This is the ultimate cult film for the new Hollywood. It is quoted and alluded to in numerous films such as HARDCORE, TAXI DRIVER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STAR WARS. ...
"THE SEARCHERS is an extremely rich film that continues to reveal new nuances with each viewing. The genre's traditional opposition between 'Civilization' and 'Wilderness' has rarely been as powerfully represented dramatically or visually. Ethan sees himself as an agent of civilization but his skills ally him with the forces of wilderness. He can find nowhere he can be at peace and accepted. His difficulty in accepting a Native American as part of his family mirrors America's tensions regarding civil rights and integration in the 1950s. In a genre that has often be [sic] justly condemned for its racism, THE SEARCHERS --- while hardly politically correct by modern standards --- was a major breakthrough for Ford, Wayne, and the genre. The traditional Western hero and the Cavalry is [sic] shown in an unusually critical light. Furthermore the Native American point of view is considered for a change. By balancing points of view, Ford deepens and informs our understanding of the story. Equally well managed is the film's balance of drama and humor. THE SEARCHERS is essentially a tragedy, and without its humorous [sic] passages the film would have been almost too grim to bear (as was Alan LeMay's novel). The humor grows out of and illuminates character; even the hard-driven Ethan reveals a sense of irony and wit.
"Ford's poetic visual sensibility has never been more richly demonstrated. The film provides an opportunity for numerous striking portraits of John Wayne set against the western vistas in color and widescreen. If you had to pick an ultimate Western still, it would probably come from this film. THE SEARCHERS is also that rare sound film in which more is revealed through facial expression, physical stance, and subtle gesture than through dialogue. Deep and complex insights into characters are all beautifully conveyed by body language. All in all, this is about as good as Hollywood filmmaking gets. A deeply emotional experience that is also a grand entertainment, THE SEARCHERS is a true American masterpiece."