A Dreamer Walking

The Searchers

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 23, 2013

The Searchers (1956): Directed by John Ford

The Searchers is a beautiful movie. There is no time in the movie where I rather be somewhere else. Ford never dwindles too long and has enough interesting characters to make everything feel worth it. However most of the characters feel one dimensional. They have personality but they lack the depth needed to have a lasting effect on the audience.  The only cahracter with any depth is John Wayne’s Ethan. We see his past in his eyes. He is a war veteran for a side that lost. He is a man turned cold through seeing too much violence and death. The moment of great emotion are usually shown through Wayne’s character. He is a man full of hatred and demons. He can barely tolerate his partly Indian blood partner Martin.  The story revolves around both Ethan and Martin’s search for a family member taken by the Comanche. However, we have no idea whether or not Ethan’s hatred for the Indian will mean the death of his converted niece. Ethan’s hatred for the Indian is seen through out the film, it is breaking at the seems and expressed so vividly through subtle action. One of the greatest close ups in cinema is done through a push into Ethan’s face when looking with malice at a middle aged converted white woman.

Ford is able to say volumes with a little. He holds the camera still, refrains from showing too much action, and resists using the close-up too often. Doorways, windows, people, and the great landscape of Monument Valley are used to great effect as framing devices. The eye travels effortlessly to the people Ford wants us to see.

We are not given a story with a clear bad and a clear good. Though I think Ford shows the stereotypical and one dimensional perspective of the Indian he also shows how the evils of the “white man” were  just as extreme as the evils of the Comanche.  There is great emotions coming from the characters when we see the burning of Ethan’s brothers home at the beginning of the film and yet Ford gives us just as dramatic of a image of an Indian camp being burnt to the ground with little emotion expressed from the films antagonists.  The villian of the movie Scare says he kills because the white man killed his loved ones first. Scare is a direct reflection of the main character Ethan. The same hatred that drives Scare drives Ethan.  I don’t know whether or not I like Scare being played by a dressed up white man. However, this could be a further commentary by Ford on how the savage Indian we have in our minds when we think about the West has less to do with reality and more to do with Hollywood’s manipulation.

As cynical as The Searchers is it also has a great sense of humor. From Ethan’s unwanted partnership with Martin, to the head strong Lori who just can’t help but be in love with Martin, to the over the top reverend played by the great Ward Bond, Ford keeps us entertained while not taking us away from the seriousness of Ethan’s wrath. Ford has the power to play one fight as a sort of comedy relief and a few minutes later play another piece of action as a serious piece of action full of suspense.

We do see Ford’s very cynical and shallow opinion of youth in the film. Martin really doesn’t develop in the story. He is constantly made fun of and is treated like a little incapable kid by most of the other characters. Lori is portrayed as a restless over tempered girl. Martin is barely capable partner with hardly any openings to give us something to relate to. And Ethan’s niece Debbie, the girl Martin and Ethan are searching for, is only used as a plotting device and nothing more.

Though Ford delivers on the turnaround of John Wayne’s character Ethan I see little authenticity in the development of the secondary characters. The love story between Martin and Lori is shallow and nobody but Ethan is given room to really grow through out the film. However, the characters are full of entertainment and Wayne is able to give Ethan a great amount of empathy. Ethan holds plenty of depth to keep the audience interested through out. Ford has confidence with his storytelling skills. He rarely misses a beat. At the end of the film Ford manages to deliver on our hopes and bash them at the same time. The music drives the story forward and visuals are a wonder to behold. Ford brings humor, suspense, action, horror, and happiness to the film and gives us a truly great story. John Wayne’s Ethan seems to be a direct reflection of John Ford. He often seems cold and will never be able to live on the inside with the rest of us, yet deep down his heart is in the right place full of the humanity that keeps us going back to the movies.