Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
“Show, don’t tell is the ... filmmaker's(sic) first commandment.”
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.