Director: John Ford
Writers: Frank S. Nugent (screenplay), Alan Le May (from the novel by) (as Alan LeMay)
Cast: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles
Storyline “A Civil War veteran embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe.” IMDB
I’m fairly ambivalent about this movie, the cowboy genre is not a favorite of mine, however I do remember loving Young Guns and Young Guns 2 when I was growing up. My only other exposure to this genre was watching Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie on a Sunday afternoon when I was a small child.
I have never seen this movie before (or any other John Wayne film for that matter), but it looks to be your run of the mill standard Western. I remember my Grandpa watching a lot of Westerns when I was little. They didn’t interest me then, and they still don’t interest me now. Regardless, this is one of the reasons Brit Boy and I like this blog, because it pushes us both into unfamiliar territory and watching a Western is definitely unfamiliar for me!
Set the Scene
With our newborn daughter and toddler sleeping quietly in their beds, and all six of our “big kids” away at their respective other parents’ houses, Brit Boy and I actually had some time on our hands! We decided to snuggle up and watch this title, which we have both been dreading for a few months now, but we didn’t want it to hang us up any longer. So with beers in hand we had a mini-date with John Wayne…
Considering I had nothing but dread leading up to watching this movie, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained throughout, and albeit I had some occasional Candy Crush playing in the background, I was genuinely engaged with the plot. A family is murdered by “Injuns”, and two of their daughters are kidnapped. In comes their Uncle (played by John Wayne) and his band of merry men to track down the culprits and save the young women. A simple enough plot, filled with plenty of stereotypes, machismo, and all types of political incorrectness.
Well I wouldn’t quite say that this was an enjoyable 2 hours of movie watching, in fact for the first time I did actually nod off for a good 15 minutes. The plot was slow and drawn out and never really went anywhere. Several times I felt the movie was going to come to a climax and it limped along for what seemed like an eternity. It will be interesting to see if we have any further films from this era, as it may just be the genre combined with movie making of that time.
It may be my generation, as I was born 22 years after this movie was released, but I was shocked at how Indians, women, and men were portrayed in this time! Even the relationships between mothers and their children in this movie shocked me. On at least one occasion a mother slaps her teenage daughter completely across the face. A man literally kicks a woman out of his bed. A “white” woman that was “saved” from the “injuns” is seen completely crazy, cradling a log as though it were a baby, rocking and singing to it. What makes all of this even worse is that these scenes are shown to be funny, not disturbing as I saw them…. John Wayne’s character marched around the place with no sense of compassion or human consideration. I am not sure if this arrogance is present in most of his roles, or if it was just especially strong for this particular character. Regardless, one thing I definitely took away from this movie is how far our society has come in the representation of minorities. If this movie were made today it would spark outrage.
John Wayne who I know is regarded as a mans man just came across as an unfeeling ignorant bully. This is the first time I have knowingly watched one of his films and I am assuming that he went to the Arnold Schwarzenegger school of acting, I think what you see is what you get and his other films have similar characterization.
I too was very surprised how archaic the storyline was and more importantly the views of the characters. Within the first 10 minutes we saw the other lead character referred to as a half-breed because he had mixed native American and American ancestry. The Native Americans were portrayed as no more than savages who killed cattle and raped or kidnapped the honest hard-working Texan women.
Thinking about this a little more I should not be so harsh as this was a fair portrayal of how the Texans behaved towards their women and the native americans at that time (19th Century America), and the film was I expect a true representation. Maybe I just didn’t like John Wayne because it seemed like he believed all of the dross which was coming out of his mouth (and this wasn’t because of his excellent acting ability).
While I was constantly aghast at the political incorrectness, I did however thoroughly enjoy the cinematography. This was not filmed in front of green screens with lots of special effects. It has genuine desert countryside and it was beautiful. I loved the costumes, the hairstyles, I even found myself studying what the homes of that time looked like. I could even picture why kids of that generation loved playing “cowboys and Indians”. It was exciting and fun to watch, I just couldn’t get over that it was all at the expense of one race.
The backdrop for the movie was stunning with amazing cinematography but that only goes so far during the film’s 2 hour duration. I will not be watching this film again and as I struggle to understand why it made the list, maybe it is regarded as a John Wayne classic, I think some googling is in order…..
Even though I struggled with a lot of the context of this movie, I do feel it deserves a spot on the list if for no other reason to act as a time capsule. It beautifully captures what America looked like in this time, and it even captured the culture, good, bad, and otherwise. I don’t want to watch another Western anytime soon, but being that Westerns were such a mainstay in popular culture in the 50’s (and beyond), I do think it is fair for a John Wayne classic to have made the list. I just hope there aren’t anymore.
Once again American Girl it appears you have nailed it. “In 1989, The Searchers was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry; it was in the first cohort of films selected for the registry.” – Wikipedia . I stick by my review but maybe once the pain has worn off I will give it another try.
Footnote – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough
John Wayne and Sir Richard Attenborough both appeared in the 1975 film “Brannigan”.