1956, NR, 119 min. Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, Henry Brandon, Pat Wayne, Harry Carey Jr..
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Oct. 1, 1993
A brand new, 35mm CinemaScope print has been struck of this 1956 Western directed by John Ford and regarded by many as his masterpiece and one of the greatest films of all time. A meditation on survival, The Searchers is about the loss of faith and the death of heroes. The classic Western heroes, those who helped break the wilderness so that it could be civilized were, almost by definition, crazy. They were of the wilderness, otherwise they could not tame it, but they helped destroy the only world in which they could survive. Returning from the Civil War, John Wayne is soon on the trail of the Indians who massacred his brother and sister-in-law and kidnapped their children. There isn't much plot, it's mostly pursuit: John Wayne and the half-breed Jeffrey Hunter chasing the Indian named Scar through the seasons and across the country. The genius of the film is in the way Ford lets Wayne touch a coat or hold a gaze. Jean-Luc Godard once said that he hated John Wayne, the political human being, but loved him as almost nothing else when he picks up Natalie Wood at the end of this movie. Harry Carey Sr., who, according to Wayne, taught him everything he knew, used to take his left hand and rub it against his right arm. At the end of The Searchers, framed in a doorway into the house you and I live in, the house of civilization, the house Wayne can't enter, he rubs his left hand against his right arm and turns away. Damn, this is Wayne's movie. John Ford gave it to him and, regardless of politics, it's all about John Wayne loving and there is no more terrible a thing.