Thursday, 19 May 2011

AFI 100 Movies #96 The Searchers (1956)

The Searchers starts in 1868, John Wayne stars as Ethan Edwards, who has just returned to his brother Aaron's homestead from fighting for the Confederacy in the civil war.

Not long after Ethans return, Aaron's Neighbours the Jorgensens have their cattle stolen by rustlers. Ethan, Captain Samuel Clayton and a band of Texas rangers set out to try and track down the thieves.

Upon their return to the homestead they are horrified to discover the ranch ablaze. They find Aaron, his wife Martha, and their son Ben, murdered by comanches, and Aaron's two daughters, Lucy and Debbie (Natalie Wood) are missing, presumed abducted by the natives.

In the film, although it is never explicitly spoken of,  you get the impression that Ethan was closer to his brother's wife than he should have been, and that Ethan might secretly be the youngest daughter Debbie's father.

A group of men is quickly assembled to track down the comanches and rescue the girls. When they find their camp it is deserted, they continue searching and are almost done for when the natives stage an attack.

Although the group survive the comanche assault, only three men go on to continue the search; Ethan, Brad Jorgensen (Lucy's fiance) and Martin Pawley (the girl's adopted brother) played by Harry Carey Jr and Jeffrey Hunter respectively.

The three men's journey goes on for many years, however, three soon become two, when Ethan discovers Lucy's body (there is an inference that more than murder has occurred) Brad goes into a rage and storms into the native camp and is killed.

Something that struck me, watching this film in 2011, is the racism displayed by many of the characters. John Wayne's character Ethan, discovers that Debbie has been indoctrinated in to the comanche tribe, he would rather see her dead than live as an "Indian". Even one of the more sympathetic female characters tells Martin that Debbie's mother would have approved of Ethan's threat to "put a bullet in her brain". The director, John Ford, has commented on this element of the film, suggesting that this kind of racism was rife in the old west, and I suppose he has a point, but it's still a little unsettling.

On a more positive note, the remastered Blu Ray print looks pristine, and monument valley, used as a backdrop in 2011's series of Doctor Who looks as epic as it ever has.

So, to conclude, even with some striking cinematography, this was probably my least favourite movie in the AFI 100 so far.

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