out of 4
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|*Also starring: ||Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Harry Carey Jr., Antonio Moreno, Henry Brandon, Hank Worden, Lana Wood, Dorothy Jordan, Patrick Wayne||
Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4
"The Searchers" is a very good western, directed by
John Ford and starring John Wayne, one of many films
that they made together. Considered by many to be
one of the best western films ever made, it falls
short of that lofty standard. However, it is very
entertaining, with Wayne as commanding a presence
The story begins in 1868. Ethan Edwards (Wayne) is a
former confederate soldier, finally returning home after
three years of wandering. He stays with his brother
and his family, which includes a wife, children Debbie,
Lucy and Ben, and adopted son Martin (Jeffrey Hunter).
An attack by Comanche indians results in the kidnapping
of ten-year-old Debbie. Ethan and Martin then spend
seven years searching for Debbie. Ethan, while familiar
with the ways of the Comanche, despises them. Martin
fears that when Ethan finally encounters Debbie (Natalie
Wood) that he will kill her for becoming a Comanche.
There are many good things to say about "The Searchers".
The cinematography (Winton Hoch) is excellent. Wayne
proves again that, despite his reputation, he can act.
Hank Worden is an entertaining character actor. The
script is good, and there is much suspense.
But what keeps "The Searchers" from being an outstanding
film? Perhaps the focus is too heavily on Wayne, who is
obligated to carry the film. When they finally find Debbie,
she doesn't want to leave the tribe. When they find her
again, shortly later, she is eager to leave. These lines
are Wood's only dialogue in the film, and her character
isn't further explored. Wayne's motivation to find Debbie
is questionable. He obsessively searches for her for seven
years, when he is likely to kill her when he finds her.
Then there is the character of Laurie (Vera Miles), a
hot-tempered Swedish woman who waits for Martin for years.
Her character is similar to, but lacks the depth of, Maureen
O'Hara's in "The Quiet Man", another Ford-Wayne collaboration.
By an amazing coincidence, Ethan and Martin finally return
home during Laurie's wedding ceremony. In an unlikely
development, her hayseed groom (Ken Curtis) decides not to
marry her. Finally, Martin manages to penetrate an indian
village, kill Chief Scar (Henry Brandon), and flee with
the now-willing Debbie, all promptly before the cavalry
arrives to wipe out the village. Martin, whose character
is clumsy and has comic elements, has never demonstrated
the ability to succeed in such an adventure before, and it
is not part of his character.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller
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