“The Searchers” (1956)

My husband G. Grod and I have some major gaps in our film viewing, and given G’s love of Westerns, it’s odd we hadn’t seen The Searchers before. Something recently reminded G of this, so we borrowed it from the library, then had one of those “hit myself in the head for not having seen this before” moments.

The Searchers
was a collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne, with the latter as Ethan Edwards, a long-lost brother who returns to his family just prior to their attack by a group of Comanche native Americans. Ford and the family’s foster son Martin track the group over five years, searching for the remaining girl.

Ethan: Our turnin’ back don’t mean nothin’, not in the long run. She’s alive, she’s safe… for a while. They’ll keep her to raise her as one of their own till, until she’s of an age to…

Martin: Don’t you think there’s a chance we still might find her?

Ethan: Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ‘em in the end, I promise you. We’ll find ‘em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

Wayne is surprising, but not quite believable, as the bitter outsider. He’s angry at the kidnappers, but willing to kill the girl after she’s been with the tribe so long. In the final confrontation, he has to confront his own hatred, with moving results.

The film is beautiful to look at, Wayne is totally at home in the duds and the saddle, and best of all, it doesn’t offer answers up to the viewer on a platter. Details of the relationships are shown, not told and some only hinted at, like that between Ethan and the family’s foster son Martin.

Some fun bits of trivia from IMDB:

Natalie Wood was in still in high school, and John Wayne sometimes picked her up there for a ride to the set.

Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day” was inspired by Ethan’s catchphrase.

This was Wayne’s favorite role; he named a son Ethan afterwards.

If you, like us, haven’t seen it, seek it out. This may well be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

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