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The Searchers

The Searchers

Director:John Ford
Cast:John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood
Release Date:1956
Genre:Drama, Western, Classic

By Lee Gardner | Posted 7/9/2008

Few things are as iconically American as Monument Valley, John Wayne, and racism. No wonder, then, that John Ford's 1956 western The Searchers is a classic. No sooner does prodigal brother Ethan Edwards (Wayne) bring his own personal black cloud back to the family farm than Comanches murder his brother and sister-in-law and kidnap his young niece. After the initial posse peters out, Ethan and adoptive family member Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) crisscross the West for years, beyond all hope, in order to find her--Martin to rescue his closest living relation, Ethan so that he can kill his savage-sullied kin. The Searchers features its share of standard-issue studio falderal, including some corn-pone comic relief and a romantic subplot involving Vera Miles, but its first 20 minutes are a master class in visual storytelling economy as Ford telegraphs reams of backstory and nuance about the characters and their brutal world with a minimum of dialogue or fuss. What holds the remainder of the film together is Wayne, in perhaps his finest hour as an actor, playing as compelling a hateful, violent racist as the screen has ever produced.

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