#17. The Searchers (1956)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Frank S. Nugent (based on The Searchers by Alan Le May)
Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood
John Ford’s epic, trailblazing The Searchers is without a doubt my favorite discovery that I can accredit to my time blogging here at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Film Club. The Searchers tells the story of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), a Civil War veteran returning home for the first time in eight years. Ethan is very soon forced to seek vengeance for the murder of much of his family by a Comanche tribe. He and two other men set out to find the tribe responsible, and to bring back young Debbie (Natalie Wood) at any cost necessary. John Ford’s film is undoubtedly one of the great western films ever made, creating a complex and multidimensional character in John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, and at the same time exploring chilling themes about revenge and prejudice. Ethan is at all times blinded by his hatred of the Comanche people, and hell-bent on revenge, never stopping to mourn the loss of his family members or second-guess his own brutal actions. John Ford has created a character who is very difficult to root for, essentially making Ethan one of cinema’s most effective anti heroes. While I never felt bad for John Wayne’s Ethan, it’s easy to see the immense pain and pressure that he is under – I’ll maintain that John Wayne’s performance in The Searchers is his greatest performance. On top of the incredible character study director John Ford has managed to craft, his classic western action set-pieces are incredible as usual. Ford’s wide-angle cameras capture entire battlefields, with his unflinching directing style never pulling too far away from the action. The most memorable moment in The Searchers comes very early on, seeing Ethan and company stumble upon the charred remains of the Edwards home. This scene has been the subject of more than a few homages and tributes, most notably George Lucas’ iconic Star Wars. Ford’s film is far ahead of its time in terms of themes and resonance, and will go down as the great director’s most complex narrative feature. The Searchers is a challenging and poignant western that still feels relevant and exciting more than sixty years later. To read my full thoughts of John Ford’s The Searchers, check out my review here.