Searchers, The

Director: John Ford

1956. Colour. 119 mins.

The Searchers is one of director John Ford’s finest films and thus one of the greatest Westerns ever made. It provides a much more complex treatment of the American frontier myth than Ford managed in his earlier depictions of the Old West as a conflict between notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘wilderness’. John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Homeric figure who embarks on a grim odyssey to track down the Indians who abducted his niece. Ethan sees himself as an agent of white civilisation but in reality he is an outsider who is associated with the wilderness, forever excluded from home, as brilliantly suggested by Ford in the film’s famous opening and closing shots. Despite his knowledge of the Indians, he is pathological in his hatred of miscegenation up until the wonderful moment of epiphany when his racism is purged as he is reunited with his niece. The film marked a turning point in Ford’s attitude as well, and he was to spend the rest of his career revising his outlook on the West. A masterpiece, and one of the most influential of American films.

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