'The Searchers' Review: "That'll Be The Day"
When a film is deemed "one of the best of all time", those are mighty big expectations to live up to. The Searchers is one of those films, and it lives up to those expectations. It's definitely one of those films that has gone on to influence countless others, be it westerns or other genres. However, it's a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate the genius of John Ford.
The film follows Ethan Edwards, a confederate soldier who is tasked with finding his niece who had been abducted by Native Americans on the frontier of Texas. He is joined by his nephew Martin, who is half Native American, as they search for over five years all over the south and southwest. Along the way, they have to tangle with double crossing traders, accidentally purchasing Native American wives, and their own racism. Their search across the frontier is similar to other films that I've watched this month, but honestly the simplicity of the plot is what makes the film so great. It allows for John Ford to focus on the imagery and shot design of the film more than creating an action packed western.
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of John Wayne. Frankly the only time I've enjoyed his performances are when it is poking fun at himself, like in True Grit. I did enjoy him though as Ethan Edwards, primarily due to the fact that he is fully fleshed out and not just a straight hero. While he wants to save his niece, he also cannot accept the fact that she has been indoctrinated into the Native American culture. He is a dyed in the wool racist who goes as far as to disregard his adopted nephew as barely human due to his mixed ethnicity. The flawed, complex nature of his psyche drives the later part of the film, and makes for a memorable performance. Even more surprising, he doesn't really grow or change at the end of the film; stubborn and unyielding until the final shot.
The most impressive aspect of the film are the landscape shots that John Ford was able to capture. While the movie was shot in Monument Valley, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, it is set in Texas. The beautiful red dirt and stunning mountainous vistas are truly breathtaking. Ford should be applauded for being able to capture the desolate, wide-open nature of the West in a way that no other director has since.
The Searchers is a film that, for good reason, is required viewing for many a film student. It has a complex main character, some of the most beautifully shot scenery of any western, and it's directed by one of the greatest auteurs in cinema. While it won't appeal to a wide audience like many other "best films" ever will, it is the one I would point to as contender for best of the genre. It's classic John Wayne and John Ford at his finest.
Final Say: Watch It