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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 30.36%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 1.79%
Total Crap: 1.79%

2 reviews, 44 user ratings

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Searchers, The
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by Justin Helmer

"A sweeping revenger's tragedy."
4 stars

I can remember being in a theatre class in college, discussing the films of John Wayne. The professor had taken the popular position that Wayne was a talent-less hack. A no talent performer who simply rested on his laurels while he played the same character over and over again. I had taken the opposite position, and as is usually the case when arguing with professors, I won the battle but it cost me the war. I was forever labeled as the Duke fan in the class and every time one of his more laughable productions (Which I admit there are more than a few.) came up, he would look pointedly in my direction. I stand behind my initial argument to this day, and “The Searchers” is always among my first exhibits.

Based on a short story of the same name, that first appeared in the “Saturday Evening Post” The Searchers tells the story of Ethan Edwards. (Wayne) The civil war has been over for a little while when Edwards finally returns home to his brother’s family farm. He has been off doing god-knows what in the time since Appomattox. It’s clear from his demeanor, as much from the freshly minted gold pieces that he’s carrying, that he has no interest in answering any questions.

His extended family has a hardscrabble life, one of the few families who are still trying eek out a living on the Texas plain. Living, as they do, on the edge of territory that belongs to the Comanche tribe; they spend their lives watching the horizon for unfriendly characters. There is a raid in which all of the Edwards family is wiped out except for Ethan, his half-Indian nephew Martin (Jeffery Hunter) and his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) who has been kidnapped by the Comanche raiding party.

I should mention at this point that one thing that John Wayne was not noted for, was his forward thinking attitude. The native-American culture is presented here in a particularly unflattering light. The story runs on stereotypes, not just about the Indians, but about the people who are chasing them as well. I don’t attempt to make any excuses for the racism that is inherent in parts of the story, it was a fact of life at the time; one can only hope that we have learned since then. Every time I have been tempted to write the film off as ‘racist’ I have to remind myself, that my favorite film Casablanca also contains many stereotypes that would have been perfectly acceptable at the time.

Ethan and Martin set out on a quest to find Debbie, their travels take them many years, and over many different parts of the country. Here is a place where John Ford’s camera can be at it’s best. The film is shot with such love for the landscape that the visuals can be breathtaking at times. Making the utmost use of the ‘Vista Vision’ process, the cinematography is almost worth the time alone. When Ethan says “We’ll find them as surely as the turning of the earth.” We get the sense that he’s talking about something he feels as much as his obsession.

The other driving force at work is Wayne’s performance; Ethan Edwards was one of the more dark characterizations of his career. The grim determination for revenge etches itself into every line on his face. Throughout the movie he becomes more and more wasted as the hatred eats at him. So much so, that when he and Martin catch up with the Comanche and find the now grown Debbie, it’s not immediately clear what he plans to do. Recalling the moral codes of ancient Rome, Edwards seems to believe that in some ways Debbie would have been better off had she been killed in the initial raid.

Many consider this film to be the masterwork of both Wayne and John Ford, seeing it now that it has been restored and letterboxed I would be inclined to agree.

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originally posted: 01/24/03 06:04:53
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User Comments

9/01/15 Billy34 Visual poetry. A movie that refuses to compromise itself and The Duke is terrific. 5 stars
4/07/15 stanley welles a powerful wild west odyssey 5 stars
10/08/14 Lisa C Beautifully filmed, multi-layered masterpiece 5 stars
1/20/14 Pj hannah Greatest ever western 5 stars
8/23/13 David Marsden Possibly the greatest western ever committed to celluloid. 5 stars
4/26/12 tan hongtao the several movies that you can say it is art. 5 stars
2/15/11 reuben reuben A masterpiece. Watch it at least once a year. Best western movie by a mile 5 stars
7/16/10 forest gump Greatest movie ever made 5 stars
6/01/10 User Name John Ford's greatest western; hell, it may even be THE greates western. 5 stars
5/15/10 foster kane anthony hernandez must have watched another movie 5 stars
11/11/09 harry wills A masterpiece. One of the great American movies 5 stars
9/29/09 harry lime how is "awsome" only 56% when 25 out of 32 voted "awsome" anyway great movie 5 stars
9/01/09 good fella If Jim Bean is "the bourbin" "The Searchers" is the movie. 5 stars
8/05/09 chicken george greatest ever western. maybe greatest ever movie 5 stars
6/03/09 chicka fergy This is the best western ever. Nothing else comes close 5 stars
5/22/09 bud cham all time favourite movie 5 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Timeless classic. THE great american western 5 stars
6/13/07 fools♫gold A very solid 9/10, perhaps more. "THE western?" Sure, butonlyone of THE westerns. Watch it. 4 stars
4/11/07 todd t stunning cinematography 5 stars
7/04/06 roger harris best film i have ever seen 5 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Disjointed editing doesn't taint the achievements here. Quite possibly THE western. 5 stars
5/14/06 mr.mike wayne and ford's best 5 stars
6/23/05 Nobody Very overrated film. Uneven, disjointed plot, bad ending, unremarkable acting, etc. 2 stars
2/22/04 art eckstein it really is Ford's masterpiece, and Wayne's greatest acting. 5 stars
12/26/03 tim super 5 stars
12/09/03 john a deeply felt film - John Wayne has never been better not even in True Grit 5 stars
9/29/03 Kyle One of the better westerns. 4 stars
9/17/03 Alan Wayne's best movie. Possibly Ford's best. 5 stars
7/24/03 Max I agree that this is the best work of Ford and Wayne. 5 stars
6/30/03 Ken A complex study of obssession. Ford and Wayne are superlative. 5 stars
3/13/03 Josh C One of the best westerns ever made! 5 stars
3/04/03 Bruce Silot Like Shane, a poignant picture about someone unable to fit in with society. 5 stars
9/07/02 Ramblin Wreck There is a reason the Duke is so fondly remembered........this is one of them!! 5 stars
12/19/01 wrench_b182 It's cool 4 stars
12/05/01 Lucy Alligan Inner torment perfectly played by John Wayne 5 stars
8/14/01 Mr. Hat This movie is pretty good. 4 stars
7/05/01 Barbara Williamson-Wood I would like to kknow who played old moese harper in this film 5 stars
2/20/01 Steve in Prague Lucas said THIS is the movie that inspired Star Wars....'nuff for me 5 stars
2/09/01 billy bob brubake That'll be the day! 5 stars
1/04/01 R.W. Welch One of Wayne's best, but a notch below Stagecoach and Red River 4 stars
7/11/00 Matthew Bartley Stunning and moving 5 stars
5/13/00 Anthony hernandez Total crap 1 stars
3/26/00 MICHAEL SKY-EAGLE SMITH The best damn western ever. The Duke is pure gold. 5 stars
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Directed by
  John Ford

Written by
  Frank S. Nugent

  John Wayne
  Jeffrey Hunter
  Vera Miles
  Ward Bond
  Natalie Wood
  John Qualen

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