When I saw this movie on the list I was excited to get to watch this incredible John Wayne/John Ford collaboration again. I remember watching this movie as a kid because my Dad was a big John Wayne fan and that rubbed off on me and John Wayne has remained one of my favorite actors over the years. As a kid the incredible depth and maturity of the story of “The Searchers” went right over my head, but anyone who gives this movie a chance can’t help but admire it. This movie did not win any awards but that has not stopped it from consistently being listed as one of the top 100 American films of all time by the American Film Institute. It was also rated by the AFI as the top western of all time beating out another great western, “High Noon,” for the top spot. The film has been studied by many over the years and has been imitated by the likes directors George Lucas and Martin Scorecese.
Should this film be considered a classic? There is no doubt in my mind that this film deserves all the accolades it has been given over the years. I watched my HD-DVD version of the film and it is a spectacularly beautiful film. The outdoor locations are breathtakingly rugged and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. Besides succeeding at a technical level, this movie boasts arguably one of John Wayne’s best performances as he goes against his usual straight arrow good guy role to play a violent, hate-filled man who is consumed by his desire for revenge. The driving force behind the story of this movie is the unbridled desire for vengeance and hate of the Comanches that nearly drives him to killing his own niece out of hate for her adoption into a Comanche tribe. The movie shows that hatred and violence towards a person or group of people because of their race is a truly despicable thing and can drive people on both sides to do truly terrible things to each other. Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, is (I believe) ultimately redeemed in the end when in the final moments of the film he is able to see past his niece’s outward adoption of Comanche clothes and traditions to her humanity and delivers her safely back to her family.
This film is also very compelling because it shows a balanced view of the struggles between the settlers of the Texas countryside and the Comanches. It frowns equally upon the horrible raiding parties in which Edward’s family members were raped and murdered and the indiscriminate and unnecessary killing of the American soldiers of a harmless and peaceful Comanche woman. Ford and the writers of the script pulled this delicate balance off masterfully.
Would I own this film? I already do. I highly recommend picking up an HD copy of this movie so that you can enjoy the incredible camera work and vibrant outdoor shots. The film holds up remarkably well even though it is over sixty years old. The powerful performances of John Wayne and the supporting cast elevate this movie above lighter western fare. The powerful stories of the folly of vengeance and racial hatred are themes that span the human experience and make this movie easy to relate to by new generations of movie watchers. This is truly one of the great American films and a genre defining one at that. Do yourself a favor and if you haven’t seen this piece of classic cinema yet, buy the Blu-Ray and prepare to be amazed.