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The Searchers Movie Review

ethan john ford debbie

1956 – John Ford –

Director John Ford once said in describing himself, “My name's John Ford. I make westerns.” Ford may have simplified his own legend, but if so, the legend, not unlike his favorite scenery, is monumental. By this decade Ford's attitude toward the western was changing. He was becoming more introspective and melancholy. These feelings culminated in one of the finest westerns to date. Today The Searchers is considered one of Ford's greatest achievements and probably the best western if not one of the most influential films ever made. It is not a typical sprawling western extravaganza. Though filmed in the majestic settings of Monument Valley, it is, thanks to its psychology, something of a confined epic. Contemporary critics have justifiably noted The Searchers as not just a film of a fine adventure story but also a mythic story of obsession.

The story tells of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), an ex-Confederate war hero, a loner, and an outsider. Three years after the Civil War, he returns to a family who attempts to accept him. They realize that he is the eternal wanderer, closer in spirit to his adversaries the Indians than to the ways of civilization. John Wayne infuses his role with psychological intensity and haunting depth of feeling, making the character quite unlike any other Ford protagonist. After his family is slaughtered by Comanches, Ethan goes on a five-year search fed by passionate revenge to find his young niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), who has been taken captive. Ethan reluctantly allows his adopted nephew Martin (Jeffery Hunter) to accompany him. Knowing that Debbie has been adopted by the Comanches and has probably been made a squaw, Ethan becomes obsessed with racial hatred and vengeance. He would rather see his niece dead than allow her to live as an Indian. Martin stays with the search for fear of what may happen if Debbie is found. Ethan's own savagery rivals that of the Indians he hates.

When Ethan's quest ends, we see a tragic, sensitive side of this hero. Yet as the final scenes reveal, this does not mean that Ethan has resolved his duality. He does not enter the house that embodied the warmth of his family and chooses to turn his back on the civilization that has alienated him and to return to the freedom of wilderness.

Cast: John Wayne (Ethan Edwards), Jeffery Hunter (Martin Pawley), Vera Miles (Laurie Jorgensen), Natalie Wood (Debbie Edwards), Ward Bond (Capt. Rev. Samuel Clayton), John Qualen (Lars Jorgensen), Harry Carey, Jr. (Brad Jorgensen), Olive Carey (Mrs. Jorgensen), Antonio Moreno (Emililo Figueroa), Henry Brandon (Chief Scar), Hank Wordon (Mose Harper), Walter Coy(Aaron Edwards), Lana Wood (Debbie as a Child), Dorthy Jordan (Martha Edwards), Patrick Wayne (Lieutenant Greenhill) Screenwriter: Winton Hoch, Frank S. Nugent Composer: Max Steiner Producer: Merian C. Cooper for C.V. Whitney Pictures Running Time: 119 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Box Office: $4.9M.

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