For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Westerns, here’s a review of The Searchers (1956) by S.G. of Rhyme and Reason
Thanks again to Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sean of SeanMunger.com We will be reviewing our favorite Nautical Film.
“Loosely defined as anything taking place in, on or under the sea or heavily involving the sea.
Representative examples might include stuff like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hunt For Red October, The Enemy Below, Damn the Defiant!, Cast Away, that sort of thing.”
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Feb by sending them to email@example.com
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Sean!
Let’s see what S.G. thought of this movie:
My brother and his wife are dead,
My nieces snatched away.
I’ve now a cause beyond what laws
Or cowardice may say.
My heart and gun are primed to fight,
To seek both thief and prey.
To those who think I’ll stop to blink—
Well, that’ll be the day.
MPAA rating: PG
I’ve never been particularly a fan of westerns, save for the few I grew up watching, like True Grit, Silverado, and The Quick and the Dead (the Sam Elliott one, not the Sharon Stone one). Even with classics like Stagecoach and 3:10 to Yuma, I can’t help but feel that the huge number of cowboy movies from decades past are just too similar to be worth watching. If you’ve seen one John Wayne or Clint Eastwood vehicle, you’ve seen them all, right? Well, perhaps not, because The Searchers explores the Old West in a different way than I’ve seen before and stands as not only a great western but a great film overall.
John Wayne plays a tough-as-nails Civil War veteran named Ethan Edwards, who has never fully accepted the loss of the Confederacy and returns to his brother’s Texas ranch house with a bag full of gold and a massive chip on his shoulder. When he and the local Texas Rangers are drawn away to investigate missing cattle, he returns to find that Comanche Indians have murdered his family and stolen away his nieces, forcing him to seek them to the farthest reaches of the West with no back-talk or interference accepted. He’s accompanied by his brother’s adopted son Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), who is just as committed to finding the girls, even to the neglect of his own enamored girlfriend (Vera Miles).
Wayne himself is one of the film’s greatest assets, especially his character’s no-nonsense racism, reflected in his complex relationship with Martin. Due to Martin’s distant Indian lineage, Ethan keeps him at arm’s length most of the time, often refusing to consider him family or even acknowledge his investment in searching for Debbie (Natalie Wood). Despite knowing the Comanche language and tactics, Ethan is dismissive and ruthless with them, and when confronted with the prospect of Indians assimilating his family as one of their own, his reaction is one of a man blinded by prejudice.
Yet his character does grow over the course of the search, more than one would expect from his grudging manner, and Wayne sells it all with a candor and doggedness that should have been worthy of an Oscar, if he had even been nominated. Plus, Ethan’s skills and stubborn command make for a cool and ultra-capable leader, and I loved every utterance of his tough catchphrase: “That’ll be the day.” How is that not a more famous movie quote, on par with “Go ahead, make my day”?
In addition to Wayne’s scene chewing, John Ford’s confident direction and the grandeur of the West are on full display throughout. The value of Ford’s on-location shooting is fully felt as both posses and individual riders traverse the dusty landscape, especially in a tensely constructed scene where Wayne and company become surrounded by the enemy before getting “unsurrounded.” It’s interesting to note how the film has widely influenced filmmakers since, such as the scene of Ethan returning to discover his brother’s home torched, not unlike Luke Skywalker finding his homestead destroyed.
The Searchers is a masterpiece of a Western, reflected by its classic status and 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. Except for a cringing overly dramatic scream early on, the acting is beyond fault, and the entire production and story are brilliantly realized, both in its tragedy and moments of levity. It’s probably one of my favorite Westerns now, but it can’t touch the aforementioned three I grew up with. Maybe further viewings will earn The Searchers a place on my top 365 list, but for now it’s a great film I will appreciate outside of my official favorites.
Best line: (Ethan, several times, like when someone tells him they hope he dies) “That’ll be the day!”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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