After three long years, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home a veteran of the American Civil War, only to embark on a multiple year quest of revenge and retribution in hopes of finding his abducted nine-year old niece. Who’s responsible? Chief Scar (Henry Brandon) and his fellow Comanche, who have been seeking their own revenge for the murder of their people. A superb throwback to 1956 with this classic western movie with one or two comedic moments thrown in there too.
Director: John Ford
Writers: Frank S. Nugent, Alan Le May
Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Henry Brandon
Admittedly, I’m not somebody with the largest amount of John Wayne film experience but after sitting down and watching The Searchers in its entirety this past weekend, it’s fair to say that I’ll be watching more of his filmography over the coming months and years that follow.
Straight away, the one thing that impressed me was the stunning and picturesque cinematography set in the heart of the Arizona desert, which I later found out to be Momentum Valley, a location used frequently in films of this nature. Surrounded by nothing but high canyons and wide-open space, as a viewer you were able to truly appreciate what was put before me, especially considering the fact the experience was in full coloured high definition quality.
One major strength of the flick had to come in the way the filmmakers managed to convey some genuinely suspenseful and equally as frightening moments too, especially early on when the Camache invaded and consequently captured the niece of Ethan Edwards, setting the viewer up for the remainder of the film. Though we don’t see much action in the traditional sense of the word, the after-effects of such events are presented to us as being dramatic and shocking at the same time – a fine art of filmmaking.
Something else that struck me was the way in which this story was told over several years, not just days or weeks like many movies of this kind. Despite the large jump in timeframe at times, the story still managed to keep you enthralled and invested with the dangerous mission undertaken by the main characters. That being said, I do feel like The Searchers suffered a little from such an effective and explosive opening act, as the latter part of the film struggled to maintain the pacing at times, especially with a hefty runtime of one-hundred and twenty minutes.
John Wayne adopted the role of Ethan Edwards and was impressive as the lead. Elsewhere, Jeffrey Hunter starred as Martin Pawley, Ethan’s right-hand man, and as mentioned, Henry Brandon was tasked with the appointment of Chief Scar’s character, the head of the Comanche. As with many western movies, there was an extensive support cast too, which featured the likes of Vera Miles, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey and many more.
On a whole, The Searchers is widely regarded as one of John Wayne’s finest accomplishments and one of the greatest westerns ever released and I’d struggle to argue against that. Hopefully soon I will explore more John Wayne classics and hopefully they are half as good as this was.
“That’ll be the day…”Ethan Edwards – The Searchers