The Searchers (1956)

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Pansy Puff
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The Searchers (1956)

Postby Pansy Puff » 14 Aug 2018, 20:23

A film I have loved since I first saw it, as a child. Of course it now has critical acclaim from all quarters, and the more I watch it the more I understand that. It's an incredible film. I'm watching it again as I'm reading a book about the way the white settlers treated (and systematically murdered) the native Indians. This film, set in 1868, takes place right in the heart of that book.
John Wayne's greatest achievement, the downright nasty Ethan Edwards, rules the film. A Confederate soldier, I now can see him as part of the army raids that killed the native Americans indiscriminately and his hatred of the Commanche is what drives his character. Note how he understands the Commanche language.

As a non-expert, I imagine it's a textbook example of how to make a film, and how to use the language of film to tell a story. Martha gently stroking Ethan's coat and the way Rev Clayton (Ward Bond) just looks into space as Ethan and Martha have one last moment;; Ethan losing his coat and looking shellshocked after leaving the canyon; the look on Ethan and Martin's face when Debbie is in the teepee.
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It's on the cusp of the standard studio picture and the work of auteurs. So it does have odd comical moments, but they don't detract from the whole, and Mose Harper is a vital part in the story.

The Commanche are portrayed humanely, the trading scenes for example, and it's clear that their murderous actions are in response to the actions they have suffered over many years.

John Wayne has never been better. There's an incredible moment when Marty wonders if they should as "Look" if she has heard of war chief Scar. "She heard you," he says, as he throws his drink away. It's a brilliant moment.

Godard called it the fourth-greatest American movie of the sound era according to Wikipedia. I would definitely call it the greatest western ever made.
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"It's hard to believe they're white."
"They ain't white, any more."
The whole film is summed up in the black eyes of Ethan at that moment as he stares at the girl liberated from the Commanche.
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“He’s got the memory of an elephant ... and the trophy cabinet of one too.”

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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby Pansy Puff » 14 Aug 2018, 21:02

An addition:

I've read lots of reappraisals recently and many worry that the final battle is slightly jingoistic but having just watched it, u was struck by something else. These White Texans have done this before. Raiding an Indian camp is something they're used to. And they're not heroes, at one point Rev Clayton knocks a woman over with his horse. They believe Commanche are animals and treat them like animals. Or worse.
“He’s got the memory of an elephant ... and the trophy cabinet of one too.”

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Matt Wilson
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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby Matt Wilson » 14 Aug 2018, 21:12

A masterpiece to be sure, and influential to so many filmmakers as well. Kurosawa, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorcese, etc. The humor rather detracts from the overall excellence of the picture to me, and the scenes with Look strike me as being, well, racist, to be honest - so I try to overlook that when viewing the film. Also, this film seems to get all the kudos, but Ford made a handful of others which, if not just as good, are damn near close: The Quiet Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, Stagecoach, How Green was my Valley, et al. Then there's another whole category of movies whose quality might be just below that top tier, but are still great: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Young Mr Lincoln, Fort Apache, The Long Voyage Home, Drums Along the Mohawk, Rio Grande, The Iron Horse, The Informer, They Were Expendable, Wagon Master, etc. That last bunch would be an A-list career for anyone else.

Welles said he ran Stagecoach many times while preparing for Citizen Kane.
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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby Pansy Puff » 14 Aug 2018, 21:34

Matt Wilson wrote:, and the scenes with Look strike me as being, well, racist, to be honest - so I try to overlook that when viewing the film..

Are the scenes racist or are the characters racist? Ethan obviously is, and Marty might be one-eighth Cherokee but he's imbibed in a white way of viewing the world too.
“He’s got the memory of an elephant ... and the trophy cabinet of one too.”

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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby Matt Wilson » 15 Aug 2018, 15:54

Pansy Puff wrote:
Matt Wilson wrote:, and the scenes with Look strike me as being, well, racist, to be honest - so I try to overlook that when viewing the film..

Are the scenes racist or are the characters racist? Ethan obviously is, and Marty might be one-eighth Cherokee but he's imbibed in a white way of viewing the world too.


You're supposed to think it's funny how they treat her. When she tries to come into Martin's bed area at night because she think's they're married, and he kicks her out and she falls down the hill - it's played for laughs. You're supposed to think it's amusing how an overweight, American Indian would presume that a decent, God-fearing white man would consider sleeping with her.

Like I said before, it's the supposed humor of the picture which doesn't work.
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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby Pansy Puff » 15 Aug 2018, 22:52

Matt, this is an interesting snippet. It's no secret that Scorsese loves the film, of course.

“He’s got the memory of an elephant ... and the trophy cabinet of one too.”

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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 16 Aug 2018, 00:47

Great movie, never get tired of it. Prefer Stagecoach as far as Ford westerns go but that's just a preference not a judgement on the better movie. The small touches, the framing, the landscapes, subtle use of the camera, the familiar stock company actors. It's all there in Stagecoach as well. Ford worked and treated Wayne like a dog (hate that phrase) but got the performance he wanted
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Re: The Searchers (1956)

Postby The Modernist » 18 Aug 2018, 11:14

I have to say I've always found it overlong and monotonous. It's a brave film for the time, and has all sorts of interesting sub-texts, so I can get how it's come by its reputation, but it's not a film I particularly enjoy.