The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, is considered an all time classic. After watching, I can understand why. This film sets the standard for the Western genre. The depth of the characters and plot lines are far above that of old ‘B-movie’ Westerns.
Taking place in
Texas in the year 1868, The Searchers tells the tale of Ethan (played by John Wayne), returning home from the Civil War. Shortly after Ethan arrives, he and a group of men ride off to find out who was taking their neighbor’s cattle. Ethan figures that this was a trick by the Natives, and they return home to find the house burned down, Lucy and Debbie gone, and the rest killed. The dead included his sister-in-law and Martha, who Ethan showed a love interest to. Ethan, his nephew Martin, and the rest of the Rangers set out to find the two abducted girls. After fending off an attack by the Indians, the Rangers leave the search to Ethan, Martin, and Brad, who is Lucy’s fiance. Brad thought that he saw Lucy in a Comanche camp, but Ethan tells him that he had already found her dead body and had not told him. Brad didn’t react calmly, and rode off into the Comanche camp and was killed, but Martin and Ethan continued on. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that Ethan doesn’t intend to save Debbie, but implies that he wants to kill her. The setting portrayed in the movie of Texas in the 1860’s feels like Texas in the 1860’s, even though it isn’t. The landscape makes you believe it’s the American West. Although it was filmed in the scenic but inaccurate Monument Valley along the Utah/Arizona border, it just seems too real. Every detail was captured to make it appear as the American Southwest. It’s truly immersive. This film is gorgeous, even in before the days of hi-definition. This is due in large part to the previously mentioned
Valley. The huge rock formations in the distance are beautiful. The towering rocks over a group of men on horseback gives perspective. John Ford clearly recognized this, as in many shots it seemed like the scenery was the vocal point, not the dialogue or actions. The expanse of the Southwest makes the story monumental. The Searchers doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, which is why I like it. The main character, Ethan, is a complete racist; he hates Indians. His hatred stems from the atrocities that have been committed against those that he loved. Indians are still somewhat portrayed as the bad guys, although much of that comes from Ethan’s own point of view. I see why this is labeled as one of the best movies of all time, Western or not. Great movie.