Hm. I wasn’t especially keen on The Searchers either at one point but I’ve looked again and found a lot of merit in there. But, even leaving aside my alternate opinion on the movie at hand (which is neither here nor there), I have to say that that is a… it doesn’t read at all like a John Welles critique as I’ve become accustomed to them. I see that it’s six years old and it’s entirely unnecessary to pull up a post of that age, but I’ll say that imho John Welles has undergone a mammoth improvement in his critical ability and style in the intervening years. I wish you’d share your secrets with me there fella, because I’d love my reviews on movies to be as good as yours are now, and Mickey’s for that matter (and I’ve told both of you how awesome I think you guys are for that). Me, I’m stuck at “Reverend Danite” levels of rambling, raving incoherence.
I was talking on another forum about The Searchers only very recently, on a thread about the greatest films ever made and in specific response to someone who said he couldn’t see the fuss about the movie, just as I had at one point. I’d link to it but it’s behind a registration wall so I’ll c+p here (with apologies for the out-of-context references to forum members on another site altogether). It’s not up to the standards of you gentlemen on here but it’s my dribblings, for what they’re worth:
I genuinely thought The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or Unforgiven were much better westerns (than [b][i]The Searchers[/i][/b])
They are much better westerns ( CRS and I have had this exchange of views once or twice over the years).
The Searchers though: I’m not a John Wayne fan either by any stretch, but even as recently as a couple of years ago I felt about The Searchers exactly as you did. As much as I like westerns I’m simply not as keen on those “Golden Era” Hollywood westerns of the 30’s/40’s/50’s, and John Wayne striding about in that f*cking double-breasted Confederate uniform - in every bloody movie, mind you - didn’t exactly sweeten the deal.
But I gave The Searchers a bit more of a try - at least in part out of deference to CRS’s insistence that it’s worth the trouble as much as the wider critical acclaim it receives pretty much across the board - and whilst I’m still not convinced by The Duke, there is a LOT to find in The Searchers. Some of it is stuff which maybe lacks the punch it would undoubtedly have had at the time simply because it’s been done so often since. The photography of Monument Valley in Utah/Arizona, utilized by John Ford over and over, was never bettered than in The Searchers, by Ford or anybody else. It was shot in VistaVision (a sort of early IMAX if you like; that’s a lazy comparison but, you know, sort-of); it wasn’t the first film to be filmed using this process but, again, it hadn’t been used to such stunning effect. Incredible depth of field even across enormous wide frames meant that hardly any closeups were required, but so much could be piled into medium and wide shots without sacrificing detail. And John Ford really exploited that, and packed detail into every frame, in terms of both set design and character “business”.
It wasn’t just the (for it’s time) technical artistry and breathtaking scenery either; The westerns which came before The Searchers were simple morality plays pitting the “goodies” with their white hat, white skin, white horse and anything else white that they could pile upon him, against the “baddies”, who were generally either those pesky Injuns or, in the absence of any redskins, the guy in the black hat. By the mid-sixties the westerns still being churned out were revisionist pieces (A Man Called Horse, Little Big Man etc.) recognising that the Native Americans actually got a fcking raw deal out of the white man’s expansion into the new continent, and that the Good Ol’ Boys of old were often far from the milk of human kindness and rarely broke into song every ten minutes as previously suggested, and that 19th century America was often a vicious and hostile environment. The Searchers is like a sort-of link between those two styles of western, a prototypical revisionist western if you like. John Ford seems to be presenting an almost revelatory understanding that things weren’t as clear-cut as Hollywood had always portrayed, and that, as a leading auteur in that field, he maybe feels a responsibility to portray his protagonists through a muddier yet more honest lens. In that respect, his leading man and protege, John Wayne, was absolutely the guy needed to portray the complicated, conflicted Ethan Edwards. I mean, Wayne is the unequivocal embodiment of what’s good and what’s right, right? In fact, things are only good or right because John fcking Wayne says so, right? Well, no, not in the real world, not at all. A good man can still be wrong, and a wrong man can still learn to change, or at least accept. Ethan Edwards is a deeply flawed individual, a nasty piece of work in many ways. It seems so obvious these days to paint your protagonist in many different shades, and to fill him with doubts and insecurities to which we can relate. But it wasn’t the done thing back then, and it certainly wasn’t done by larger-than-life supermen like The Duke. Looked at in that light, for it’s time, The Searchers is very transgressive and quite dark, made all the darker for forcing its audience to look at John Wayne and realising that he might just be wrong here; like, really wrong.
Give it another go, one day.
Still not a John Wayne fan though, and don’t know if I ever will be. Then again, I grew to love Anthony Steffen, and Dick Spitfire. Sort-of.