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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 31 July 2013
If you know The Searchers only as the John Ford film, but always wondered about the central story of a white European girl kidnapped and adopted by the Comanches, then this book fills the gaps. It's really four books. Firstly, the story of Cynthia Parker, the abducted child whose story was the kernel of the western novel, screenplay and film. Next, it's the story of her son, the war chief Quannah Parker, whose story takes us into the early 20th century. The next part of the book focuses on the creation of the western novel, The Searchers by Alan Le May and then on to the making of the John Ford film. All the four stories are superbly told by Frankel, who doesn't pull his punches, particularly on John Ford. It's worth reading this book in conjunction with SC Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon, which tells the full story about the Comanches and Comancheria - absolutely brilliant.
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I really enjoyed this book. The first sections all deal with the 'true story'. It's fascinating and gives a real insight into life on the frontier. The second section is all about the people who made the film. I learnt a lot about Hollywood and have a renewed respect for the film industry from this book. It's recommended for anyone who is interested in US history.
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on 25 April 2014
The issue I have with this otherwise very fine and meticulously researched book, and why I didn’t award it 5 stars, is the misleading nature of its title ‘The Searchers. The Making of an American Legend’. In a substantive book which runs to 405 pages, the potential reader should be aware that discussion of the actual film does not really start until page 245. Prior to this we get the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, her son Quanah Parker, a mini biography of Alan Lemay who wrote the original novel on which the film was based, and mini biographies of both John Ford and John Wayne, much of which can be found elsewhere. Indeed, Frankel quotes from a number of the best respected sources. That said, it was inevitable that given the thoroughness of his own research, Frankel also comes up with some new pieces of information of his own, which I certainly have not read elsewhere.

Quite why Glenn Frankel devotes so much time to the Cynthia Parker story (though he clearly enjoyed researching it and meeting the descendants of the two sides of the family) is not altogether clear, as he himself admits in the extensive Notes that controversy remains as to whether or not Lemay based his novel on Cynthia Parker’s experience at the hands of the Comanche, or whether his source material was Brit Johnson’s wife, also taken by the Comanche, or Millie Durgan, who was captured by the Kiowa. What is clear is that the taking of white women and children was very common in frontier times.

Frankel, in his Notes on Sources, also laments that there are surprisingly few books on ‘The Searchers’. What a pity then that he could not have devoted a lot more of his 405 pages to the film itself.

My one other quibble, is that although he produces a few previously unpublished photographs, these are sparsely scattered through the text, and small in size. A glossy mid-section, decently produced photographs, is sadly lacking. (Here the BFI Film Classics Series ‘The Searchers’, by Edward Buscombe, shows how it should be done).

For anyone who just wants to read one book about ‘The Searchers’ however, this is an excellent source, and even for the aficionados they will find some new snippets of information to add to their body of knowledge.
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on 4 November 2013
What makes this book fascinating is the narrative arc it makes between Cynthia Ann Parker's capture by the Comanches in the 1836 and John Ford's greatest film, The Searchers, released in 1956. The Parker narrative may be reasonably familiar to American historians of the West, and Frankel recycles material that is familiar to Fordians. But the putting them together is new, which Frankel has done in a clear, continuous narrative.

In effect this is a 120-year history from the facts of the Indian Wars in Texas to the way they were dramatized, epic-ized one might say, on the big screen in the twentieth century. What is more, my guess is that in writing this narrative, Frankel, who is a journalist, turns up a number of new elements or angles on the story. Certainly, while some of the Ford material is familiar, his account of the logistics of shooting a film in Monument Valley, a long way from domestic comforts, is novel and compelling. And it is good to have Alan Lemay, whose novel the film came from, restored to the picture.

Finally, for a European reader, this is in effect a book of history from an exotic country in so many ways. I am used to history as famous people - so Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln et alii - or `history from below' - how ordinary people lived ordinary lives at the time. But here, the obscure, shadowy Cynthia Ann Parker and her complicated uncle James obsessively searching for her among the Comanches combine a small anonymous story with a big history-making story in which you can watch the truth becoming American myth rooted in truth.

The book reads very well on Kindle, but the photos are inevitably just a bit too small and grey.

Tim Cawkwell ([...]
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on 13 December 2013
A cleverly constructed book which covers the real story as well as all aspects of the film
The Searchers itself. This is a must for film buffs, but also for those who are genuinely interested
in what really happened in the West. At times the writing seems a little disjointed, but mostly this is
an insightful and fascinating book.
In particular, I was interested in the take on John Wayne - often criticised for his wooden acting these days- but seen here
as an outstanding actor working with a brilliant but irascible director. If the background story is new to the reader,
it offers a perspective on the relationships between white culture and the women who were 'tainted' by their capture
and inclusion in Native American culture.
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on 3 November 2014
To use an expression of the author’s, “mash-up” seems a fairly apt description of this book. Divided into four sections, it tells the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah in the first two and of Alan LeMay’s novel “The Searchers” and the making of John Ford’s film of the same name based on it, in the last two. It is a strange mix. The author, Glenn Frankel, acknowledges that LeMay’s novel was a result of considerable research of a number of child abductions by Comanche Indians, and yet chooses to tell only the story of Cynthia Ann, which was somewhat different from that depicted in the film. And it is difficult to see how Quanah’s story relates to the film at all.

The heart of the book however is undoubtedly the making of the film, and intriguing it is too. How could a rather unpleasant and autocratic man such as Ford make such a stunning film? He seems to have taken pleasure in abusing anyone of any significance on the set, not even excluding John Wayne. He was fond of portraying punch-ups on screen, and sometimes didn’t mind throwing a few himself off screen, either.

Although visually it is a stunning film, it is also flawed. This is partly due to Ford’s weakness shown in some of his other films for folksy humour and sentimentality. But more importantly by the story being taken over by Ethan’s perceived racism. Would he really have spent seven years obsessively searching for someone just to kill her because she had been contaminated by a Comanche Indian? Wouldn't anyone have tried to get Debbie back, no matter who had taken her? Cynthia Ann’s story and her fate simply do not sit well with the film. If Ethan was a racist then surely Scar the Comanche was one also, and it simply isn't a useful concept.

In the form in which the author presents them, the detailed stories of Cynthia Ann and Quanah are unnecessary and relatively familiar. A more general assessment of the Comanche and their abduction of white children and their fate would have been more appropriate. But the story of how the film was made is both absorbing and revealing.
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on 1 June 2013
Glenn Frankel takes John Ford's classic Western back to its roots in the abduction stories of the 19th century. This was the inspiration for Alan Le May's novel, on which Ford based the film. Frankel notes that Le May did an exhaustive search of abduction stories in the Comancheria of North Texas and Oklahoma, including that of Cynthia Ann Parker, which Frankel opens with in his book.

Frankel chooses to deal with the subject matter chronologically with four sections devoted to Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah Parker (her son by the Comanche warrior who abducted her), Alan Le May, and finally the film itself. Much of this material was new to me so I found it fascinating, but wished that Frankel had took a looser approach like Edward Bascombe did with his pamphlet on the film for the BFI series.

Ford himself was apparently interested in making a film about Quanah Parker, who is widely regarded as saving the remaining Comanche tribes by negotiating settlements with the United States. Quanah earned the respect of no less than Teddy Roosevelt himself who stayed at his Star House in Oklahoma on one of his hunting forays in the Plains state. But, Ford liked the theme of The Searchers better, which focused more on one man's search for an abducted child, than on the nature of the range wars that were prevalent on High Plains at the time, which led to these abductions.

Frankel discusses the turbulent relationship between Ford and John Wayne, notably the antipathy Ford seemed to have toward Wayne for opting of WWII, when many Hollywood actors and directors chose to serve in the war. Wayne was just beginning to enjoy a film career, thanks to his role in Ford's Stagecoach, and didn't want to start over again. Apparently, Ford was merciless in his abuse of Wayne on the film set, but Wayne swallowed his pride and took it, because he felt Ford drew the best out of him, and he later cherished his role as Ethan Edwards as his best role.
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on 8 January 2015
I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone interested in the American west or movie history. I am interested in both and this book gives a detailed,factual account of this period of American history as well as a detailed,affectionate account of a classic movie, it's stars, famous director and also everyone associated with the movies concept and eventual production.
'The searchers is an excellent film which still manages to provoke much discussion and interpretation over 50 years since it was made. This is probably due in the main to the movies director,which in turn led to superb acting and production and the legacy this movie has ultimately achieved. As time has passed it has quite rightly been generally recognised as definitely the best western movie and also one of the greatest movies ever made of any genre.
I would definitely recommend reading this excellent book.
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on 8 February 2015
A series of stories within a story, all are riveting. The heart breaking story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the story of her son Quanah, the stories of the flawed characters who made the film, the story of the relationship between John Wayne and John Ford the story of the author of the book the film was based on, the story of the making of a myth, the making of a classic film - more than just a western. This book is on my shelve of best reads ever. If you are interested in American history, if you are interested in films, in Hollywood, in American culture this is a book you should read.
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on 26 May 2013
John Ford's "The Searchers" is a classic Western, probably one of the best by John Wayne, and this book covers the film from a wide range of aspects: the history behind the book, the writer, John Ford, John Wayne, and the film itself.
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