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Movie Review: John Ford's The Searchers


The Searchers isn't my favorite John Wayne movie, but it was certainly good. The setting is the obligatory open prairie. The music swells in all the appropriate places, and the actors do what needs to be done. The pacing skips back and forth between serious scenes where people are brutalized and then humorous scenes that, to me, got in the way.
There are also some very ingenious scenes. The scene leading up to the attack where the Comanche wipe out Wayne's family is foreboding in every way. The colors of the sky just look evil and without saying much at all, the characters demonstrate the sense of doom and dread they are feeling. The director here is John Ford, of course, and he uses all of the tricks that made him famous in the 1930s. They still work in the 1950s and in the 2000s. Sometimes I think we were better off without all the special effects. Ford does certain things very well.
1. Landscape shots--There is nothing more beautiful than a Ford landscape complete with a fade from scene to scene.
2. Economy shots--Ford uses the camera well and uses one shot/take to do many things at once. At the beginning, he introduces all of the characters in just 3 takes. And few words are used. The woman Martha, Wayne's sister-in-law in this film, walks out of the house and watches Wayne approach. Then we see the rest of the family emerge onto the porch. Lastly, they all walk into the house. The only words spoken are "Ethan?", "That's your Uncle Ethan," and "Welcome home, Ethan." Yet we know several things: Ethan (Wayne) and Martha love one another romantically, Ethan has been gone for a long time, the kids are glad to see him, and the brother isn't sure how he feels. Ford does this all with his actors' faces. It's marvelous.
The basics of the plots are that Ethan comes home 3 years after the surrender of the Confederates to the Yankees. He plans to stay with his family until he can set up a place of his own. Then a tribe of Comanche Indians brutally burns his brother's house and kills the couple and possibly the son. The tribe also kidnaps both girls, one a teenager and the other about 8 years old. Ethan is determined to hunt down the tribe that killed his family and rescue the little girl. He is accompanied by his adopted nephew, a boy he doesn't trust because he is partially Cherokee and Ethan is a racist through and through. They search for the little girl FOR NINE YEARS. And when they find her . . . well you'll have to watch it to see. Wayne/Ford fans will certainly enjoy a viewing, and those modern cinephiles that appreciated (re)discovering True Grit will find a couple o' hours entertainment in The Searchers.

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