July 30, 2010

The Searchers (1956)
Grade: 79/100

Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Ward Bond

What it's about. Set principally in Texas circa 1868 to 1873. Ornery and rugged Confederate veteran John Wayne searches for his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), who has been kidnapped by a Comanche tribe led by brooding Chief Scar (Henry Brandon). Wayne is accompanied in his lengthy mission by Jeffrey Hunter, Debbie's adopted brother.

Wayne hates the Comanche, and is determined to rescue Debbie from a fate he considers worse than death. Hunter tags along to prevent Wayne from murdering Debbie once he finds her.

A secondary story involves hunky Hunter's longtime romance with Vera Miles, who waits for him for years to return from his adventures with Wayne. Miles is the daughter of plainspoken Norwegian immigrants John Qualen and Olive Carey. In Hunter's absence, she is courted by obnoxious guitarist Ken Curtis.

Supporting characters include Hank Worden as an eccentric obsessed with rocking chairs, Beulah Archuletta as Hunter's would-be Indian wife, Antonio Moreno as an elderly Mexican who sets up a pivotal meeting with Scar, and blustering Ward Bond, the man in charge and he makes certain that you know it.

How others will see it. The Searchers is generally regarded as one of the greatest Westerns ever made. It also provided Wayne with one of his most famous roles, even though his character is so filled with hate for the Comanches that he draws a gun on his own niece, who in Patty Hearst fashion has adapted to her environment in order to survive.

The imdb.com ratings are extremely high, although a significant gap exists between men and women. The movie is tailored for men, despite the presence of Hunter. Women have much to dislike, for example, Hunter kicks his Indian wife so that she rolls down a hillside, while Wayne roars with laughter. Later, all the womenfolk, especially Vera Miles, watch with a gleam in their eyes while Hunter and Curtis fight for the right to marry (or is it, not marry) Vera Miles. Then there's the basic plot, which involves Cowboys and Indians killing each other for little apparent reason.

How I felt about it. I have seen this film on several occasions, and Hunter's timing never fails to amaze me. He returns home after years of searching for Debbie. His return, by remarkable coincidence, occurs not merely on the same day of Vera Miles' wedding, but just prior to the ceremony!

We also find it strange that Wayne and Hunter are cornered by the braves of an entire Indian tribe, then we cut to that evening, and both are still alive. Scar must be a crummy chief to keep sending braves to our two leading men only to the extent that they can be picked off. This also happened earlier in the movie, when Scar has the tribe cross a deep stream in front of a dozen armed cowboys. What is he thinking? Doesn't he ever learn?

We also wonder why Natalie Wood runs half a mile to Hunter, just to tell him that she doesn't want to leave the tribe. And how Wayne is such a crack shot that he can shoot the eyes out of an Indian with his pistol from ten feet away. And where does Wayne get all his money? He never earns a penny in the entire movie, which covers several years, yet he always has bags of gold or silver. And would Emilio Gabriel Fernandez y Figueroa really return the money? I think not.

We also believe that if Hank Worden wants a rocking chair that much, there are easier ways to obtain it (craigslist.org, for example) than to eat dirt and grass to fool murderous Injuns.

But we do have nice cinematography. And it is a Ford Western starring John Wayne. What more do you want?