December 08, 2013

The Searchers

The Searchers (1956) has often been cited as a great Western, particularly because of the spare Texas vistas captured by Winton Hoch's camera and the surefooted, straightforward yet thoughtful direction of John Ford. In The Searchers John Wayne spends a good many years trying to track down his two nieces, who were captured by the Comanches. In most Westerns, the cowboy is a kind of active agent that affects everyone and everything around him. In The Searchers, we watch how the cowboy copes--or doesn't cop--with being rendered a passive failure for much of the film. It's an interesting twist, and yet the movie feels like nothing much happens. It is entertaining and funny up to a point, but I don't see the brilliance that people claim is there. John Wayne shows his usual adeptness at dishing out the one-liners, and he runs circles around his charmingly befuddled sidekick, Jeffrey Hunter (who may have the most piercing blue eyes in cinema history, perhaps even bluer than Paul Newman's). Hunter is prominently featured in one of the film's most memorable (to me at least) shots, in which he runs toward his family's ravaged homestead and we the audience see the look of terror mixed with grief and fear in his face. It's such a powerful little moment. The supporting cast includes Vera Miles (who overacts somethin' fierce), Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon (as Scar), Ken Curtis, Harry Carey, Jr., and Hank Worden, who steals every scene he's in. I could never tell if he was crazy, kidding, drunk, or a combination of all three, but he makes for good comic relief. ½

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