“No Lars. It just so happens we be Texicans. Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next, and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Someday this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.”
‘The Searchers’, directed by John Ford in 1956, is a Western set in 1868. John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a soldier returning home after the civil war who immediately becomes embroiled in an attack by the Comanche. His niece is kidnapped and Edwards, along with adopted family member Martin Pawley, set off in a pursuit that will last for years. Politically it jars, especially in the treatment of the Native American characters on-screen and the actors off-screen, but also in morally ambiguous character of Edwards. However, the positioning of Edwards as a character as brutal as the Comanche but driven by hatred, and then in the end of the film redeemed, perhaps indicates a more nuanced critique of the racism that was evident in the earlier Westerns. ‘The Searchers’ is a film in which the white characters are shown to slowly transform into what they believe the Comanche are whilst they pursue them. Ford’s perfect sense of how to frame the landscape of the western states, in this case Monument Valley in Utah, raises the movie above the standard. As well as being a panoramic director, Ford also knows how to frame individuals in this broad and picturesque landscape. The movie is really a series of action set-pieces, violent and harsh but when seen as part of Ford’s social commentary, entirely necessary. The tension is expertly built throughout the movie so that when Edward’s niece is finally found and rescued, a rescue that also serves to resolve the flaws in Edward’s character, the sense of relief and satisfaction makes a perfect ending. It’s a Western in which the climax isn’t a gunfight, but a character discovering that he doesn’t need to hate anymore.
Would I recommend it? It’s my first Western in the blog, and one of the few I’ve watched full stop. It’s never been a genre that has appealed to me, but watching this tempts me to cherry-pick some of the better ones. So – yes, I’d recommend it.