Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
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 <email@example.com>
When Clayton's posse is crossing the river, you can clearly see the Indian war party following behind on the river bank. When the posse gets to the other side, the war party is not visible on the opposite bank or in the river. See more »
About ten minutes into the film, there is a shot which begins with Captain Clayton (Ward Bond) slamming a door behind two children who were teasing two young lovers, Lucy and Brad. There follows a wordless interior shot, lasting maybe a minute, wherein Aunt Martha takes out Ethan's Confederate overcoat, tenderly caressing it before she hands it to Ethan. I noticed the sequence when I recently watched the film again, and I had to rewind and play it once more because I found it so stunning--all of the information and emotions conveyed without a word. I'd watched the film previously maybe a dozen times and had never noticed the power of this sequence.
Don't for a second tell me that Ethan is a stereotype, because there is so much more at work here. Obviously we are not supposed to sympathize with Ethan's prejudices, but notice that Ethan is not the only one who feels that way. Laurie (not at all disapprovingly) tells Martin that Aunt Martha would have preferred her daughter to be killed after being defiled. Interestingly, Martin is one-eighth Cherokee, which under the old racial percentages of the Confederacy would make him the equivalent of an octoroon, and therefore non-white. Martin's intended marriage to Laurie, on racial terms, would have been as taboo as Debbie marrying Scar: Laurie believes that death is preferable for Debbie, but she intends to do likewise with Martin. The contrast is that Debbie was abducted, whereas Laurie would willingly go. And note at the end that Laurie walks right by Debbie, as she heads for Martin.
The final shot is famous, but I noted the doorway theme throughout the film: the message of an open or closed door, whether the character enters the door or just looks in, at other times, the character is inside looking out. And all of this in a 50's western.
The movie is not perfect: I could have done without some of the comic relief. However, this is John Wayne's best work (The Shootist is a close second). Those who think this is the best film of all time have good reason to support their belief.
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