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Best Western of all time? Fifty years old and good enough for another fifty years!,
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This review is from: The Searchers  [DVD] (DVD)
I first saw this film as a young eighteen year-old Western aficionado on its first theatrical release to the English provinces in 1956. I came to it with great expectations fresh from reading Alan Le May's book of the same name. I came away knowing I'd seen a great film but I was disappointed on two counts first the search lasts for ten years in the book and second, Wayne's character Ethan is killed off in the penultimate battle with the Indians. In the subsequent years I've seen this film dozens of times and it never fails to amaze me that on each fresh viewing I never fail to notice something new!
John Ford and John Wayne collaborated on several films most of them westerns. Although this was their first Western for six years since they completed the last of the Cavalry Trilogy RIO GRANDE (1950). As with the trilogy, Ford once again choose to shoot the most of the film in Monument Valley Utah, when using this his favourite location Ford became an acclaimed visual poet of the West. With Ford's "Western Director" to Wayne's "Western Star" they were unequalled in the making of Westerns producing an outstanding body of work between 1939 and 1962! Although THE SEARCHERS remained totally unrecognised by The Academy Awards for 1956. Fifty-odd years later it still stands at the top of the many peoples list as the greatest Western of all time. Also appearing in most if not all of The Greatest 100 Movies Of All Time Lists.
Three years after the Civil War Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) a dark brooding mysterious character returns home to his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) homestead. Ethan takes his brother place on a posse led by Texas Ranger Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton (Ward Bond) on the trail of a raiding party, coming across some slaughtered cattle they realise they've been lured away whilst the main Indian party attacked either the Edwards or Jorgensen Homesteads.
The main body of the posse head back towards Jorgensen's place whilst Ethan along with Mose Harper (Hank Worden) rest their horses before heading back to the Edwards homestead, meanwhile Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) who had raised by the Edwards as their own raced on ahead against Ethan's advice. Arriving back at the smoking Edwards homestead their worse fears are founded, the two girls Lucy (Pippa Scott) and young Debbie (Lana Wood) have been taken captive and the rest killed. After the burial of his family a demented Ethan sets out after the Indians with a posse led by Captain Clayton. Following a skirmish with the Indians at the river, Clayton elects to take the wounded back home.
Ethan reckons on going on alone but Martin and Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr.) insist on going too, not least because they fear what Ethan might do the girls. So the three (later two) searchers set out on the trail of the Indians for five long years a couple of trips back to the Jorgensen homestead when the trail was lost and twice pointed in the right direction by Shakespearian Fool Mose Harper, that leads to a band of Comanche led by a chief called Scar (Henry Brandon). At the camp they discover the older Debbie (Natalie Wood) dressed as an Indian girl of marriageable age. Will Ethan carry out his threat to kill her or will Martin be able to stop him?
John Ford was the master of conveying terrible events to his audience through suggested violence, like the returning posse coming across the burnt out homestead with Martha's dress laying on the ground outside indicating the horrors that lay inside. Again when Ethan returns to Martin and Brad from finding Lucy's remains we just see the haunted look on his face as he plunges his knife in the earth to remove the Indian blood from the blade, all powerful stuff but left to our own imagination!
And not only suggested violence but also suggested love too, hardly a word pass between Ethan and Martha but the viewer is left with little doubt of a passed tender relationship between the two. The long narrative is held together by a couple of visits back to the Jorgensen Homestead and a letter from Martin to Laurie, read out to one and all! Ford's ending of the film has turned out in the end to be one of the most iconic endings in movie history. How could I have been so presumptuous as to think anything else?
This Two-Disc Special Edition includes new digital transfer from restored Vista Vision Picture with an introduction by Co-Star Patrick Wayne. Plus: The Searchers: An Appreciation and other extras. Don't miss John Ford's Masterpiece all at a bargain price from Amazon. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED