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The Searchers

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Searchers

Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter
Director: John Ford
Rated: NR
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: March 1956
Genres: Action, Drama, Western, Classic

*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 as ever.

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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