John Wayne gave a peerless turn as Ethan Edwards and John Ford directed a movie that stands head and shoulders above any other western. It was a perfection of the genre and a film that it is doubtful will ever be bettered.
The film even managed to improve on it's source novel - Alan LeMay's The Searchers - by adding a prologue to the story in which we see Ethan ride into the Edwards homestead. Right from the start Ethan has an air of mystery about him and Wayne gives a fully nuanced turn and he is backed up by a perfect supporting cast which included Ward Bone, Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood. To my mind Wayne has never been better - he plays Ethan Edwards with vigour and brings his tortured soul to the forefront; he is both darkness and light at the same time. It is clear that Ethan Edwards has been damaged by his war experiences and even when surrounded by family, as in the opening scenes of the movie, he is still very much alone. When he stands it is as if there is a force field around him that no-one can penetrate - though it is clear that someone once penetrated it and got close to him, but that someone is his own brother's wife and so Ethan Edwards must walk a lonely road. Is it in fact his niece he is searching for or is it his own daughter? And when he clutches the girl tenderly at the end of the picture is it because she reminds him of his own forbidden love or is she a direct result of that love? In the source novel the missing girl is clearly Edwards' niece but the film is much more ambiguous.
|Years in the saddle, years in searching|
Many Wayne fans argue between this movie and Red River as to which is the best Wayne performance, but whilst Red River is an absolute classic with a stand-out turn from Wayne, The Searchers is in a class of its own. Stick the film on and look into Wayne's eyes when he screams the line at Brad and Martin after he confesses to finding Lucy's body and then I dare you to say, that he always played the same character.
It also helps that the film is spread out on such an epic scale with the Vistavision landscapes being nothing short of breathtaking. The lighter moments are also perfectly balanced and slot seamlessly into what is in effect a dark dark movie. This is pure western noir with Wayne giving us an anti-hero of real substance.
|There's real hatred in those eyes|