Ethan Edwards, returned from the Civil War to the Texas ranch of his brother, hopes to find a home with his family and to be near the woman he obviously but secretly loves. But a Comanche raid destroys these plans, and Ethan sets out, along with his 1/8 Indian nephew Martin, on a years-long journey to find the niece kidnapped by the Indians under Chief Scar. But as the quest goes on, Martin begins to realize that his uncle's hatred for the Indians is beginning to spill over onto his now-assimilated niece. Martin becomes uncertain whether Ethan plans to rescue Debbie...or kill her. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Searchers(1956) has been reflected to death by many filmmakers in their own work with main ideas, situations, and plot as guide. Many elements of The Searchers(1956) influenced film directors ranging from Brian De Palma, George Lucus, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Sergio Leone. There are scores of other movie makers whom I cannot list at the top of my head that were affected by this one film. Obvious film influences are Once Upon a Time in the West(1968), Obsession(1976), Taxi Driver(1976), Star Wars(1977), and Hardcore(1979). It shows that great works of cinema are also able to inspire many admirers and disciples. Only films(stories) by Akira Kurosawa has been reflected more often by film directors than The Searchers(1956).
John Wayne was legendary American film star and big box office draw by 1956. The Searchers(1956) lends creedence to John Wayne being an exceptional actor enforced by his multi-layered performance. In a career that spanned five decades, The Searchers(1956) is the efflorescence of John Wayne. John Wayne gives a complex/flawed portrait of a man looking for redemption and salvation. One fine moment that examplifies the multi-layerness of John Wayne's performance is the look on Ethan Edwards face as he feys over what will happen to his brother and family. The Searchers(1956) was to John Wayne's career what Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948) was to Humphrey Bogart and Vertigo(1958) was to James Stewart.
Story is about drifting, trying find something which is self-meaningful. Ethan Edwards is such a drifter who is always in search of a purpose. The Searchers(1956) is really about drifting in the American Frontier and search for self-discovery. There were many drifters like Ethan Edwards in the Old West especially in the wake of the Civil War. The Cowboy drifter in the Old West is almost the equivalent of the Samurai ronin in Tokugawa Japan Era. These drifters were men who were on the go, had temporary employment, and always wondered about their existence in life.
Rare individualistic motion picture in the old studio system days when many Hollywood films were studio controlled. The Searchers(1956) defies the typical 1950s Hollywood film presentation because its a director's picture. Excells on a visual level with interesting camera placement. Camera framing also plays a psychological and visual role in representation of two conflicting worlds(Civilized West and Wild West). Helped by crisp and flawless editing that flows the plot along effortlessly. Shades of Homer's THE ODYSSEY are penetrated into the heart of the story with irony.
Deals with racial prejudice with honest and truthful gusto. Racial prejudice in The Searchers(1956) is filmed in terms of emotional and psychological depth. The racial prejudice of the protagonist echos the prejudice of many white people in the Old West felt towards native Americans. The relationship between Ethan Edwards and Martin Pawley is met by distrust, prejudice, and sarcasm. Only towards the end does Ethan Edwards begin to show some sign of acception and respect for Martin Pawley. Shows that people are willing to change if they are willing to confront the dark side of humanity.
John Ford was the one director who was able to channel the talents of John Wayne to full heights. He made it possible for John Wayne to become an American film star by casting him in Stagecoach(1939). The other major director John Wayne had great success with was Howard Hawks. The Searchers(1956) is the greatest film of the Ford-Wayne tandem. Each are at their highest and most professional peak as film artists. In film working relationship they were halves of one and one of halves.
Ethan Edwards fullfills the requirements of hero and villain in narrative plot structure. This makes him an anti-hero with human strengths and flaws so typical of this type of protagonist. Its funny that John Wayne detested Italian Westerns and yet played a character in The Searchers(1956) who fits the mold of the Spaghetti Western anti-hero. Ethan Edwards is the closet thing to a villain John Wayne played in the movies. At the beginning Ethan Edwards lives only for hate and revenge. By the end he becomes merciful and forgiving.
On-location photography gives the film its rugged character. Monument Valley is depicted with beauty, mystery, and savagery. The people in the story are represented by their environment and location. Monument Valley was a favorite film location of John Ford who was obsessed by its untamed and individualistic nature. Monument Valley site is explored on a physical, psychological, and social level. Scenery is an important character of the Classic American Western and none so more true then in The Searchers(1956).
Another major motif in The Searchers(1956) is redemption. The path of hate and vengeance is replaced by compassion and forgiveness. Its this motif as well as others that makes the story a subtle Catholic driven tale. Redemption is the saving grace for a destructive and negative character like Ethan Edwards. Revenge until the climatic moment takes importance over everything else in Ethan Edwards life. Redemption is one motif from The Searchers(1956) that influenced Scorsese and Schrader.
Martin Pawley goes with Ethan Edwards on revenge pledge as way of following path of fealty. The moment of Ethan picking up his niece and holding her with compassion is a tender one. Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley provides a nice foil to John Wayne's Ethan Edwards. Cinematography in The Searchers(1956) is forceful and graceful. In time The Searchers takes place, drifters like Ethan Edwards are dime a dozen but by the period depicted in films of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinaph, they are nearly extinct. The Searchers(1956) is a milestone in both American and World cinema.
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