My Review of ‘The Searchers’ (1956)

It’s fascinating to review the many opinions film critics have held about this movie. While Newsweek called it “remarkable”, Variety found it “handsomely mounted and in the tradition of Shane“, but “somewhat disappointing” due to its length and repetitiousness.

Frankly, I think it may be one of the (if not the) most complex and emotionally layered Westerns ever.

We start off with the return of Ethan Edwards (played grouchily and with nary a thought to political correctness by John Wayne), who’s come home to his brother Aaron and family after fighting the Civil War—for the Confederacy. He has a whole mess of gold (and God knows where that came from). There also seems to be a weird vibe between Ethan and Aaron’s wife, Martha. There is the subtle suggestion that Martha and Ethan did the nasty got it on had intimate relations and that the youngest of the family, Debbie (played at different ages by real-life sisters Lana and Natalie Wood) is their offspring.

On top of that, Ethan looks down his nose at Martin Pawley, aka Marty (played by Jeffrey Hunter), the adopted orphan son who happens to be part-Indian. He also refuses to forsake his oath to the Confederacy in order to swear allegiance to the Texas Rangers.

But the dog likes him. So, I guess Ethan (racist grouch that he is) can’t be all bad.

After Comanches brutally kill Aaron, Martha, and their son, Ben, and abduct the girls, Lucy and Debbie, Ethan becomes driven to find the Indians who committed the atrocity.

Marty and Brad Jorgensen (played by Ford favorite Harry Carey, Jr.) insist on joining Ethan in his quest, much to his dismay.

This quest becomes an odyssey and an obsession for Ethan, who’s clearly out for revenge. And after a certain point, finding Debbie becomes less about saving her life then taking it, because she’s done what the British would call “gone native”.

Ethan’s nastiness and the gravity of this storyline are punctuated at points with moments of light humor—primarily in a romantic subplot between Marty and the Jorgensens’ daughter, Laurie, among other things. 🙂

I won’t reveal the end, except to say that Ethan is forced to choose between his prejudices and his family. It’s deeply moving and resonates with me in a way no other Western has.

That’s a wrap! 🙂

For any movie lover, Western or otherwise, this one’s a must-see! 🙂

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13 Responses to My Review of ‘The Searchers’ (1956)

  1. Thanks for your great review of a genuine epic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Eddy says:

    Good review. Might just add that that shot you attached – of Wayne standing framed in the doorway (a John Ford favorite) with one hand holding the elbow on his other arm – is actually a tribute to Harry Carey Sr. – a bit of an homage to one of senior’s signature poses from his many films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      Thanks for the comment. Seems like I heard that somewhere. Probably from Robert Osborne on TCM. There’s a guy who knew movies! 🙂

      For me, that shot is so iconic and bittersweet.


  3. I need to see this again. I saw it several years ago and, while I found some scenes haunting (and unforgettable), I felt somewhat conflicted by it. You’ve convinced me to see it again, keeping in mind the points you made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Eddy says:

      It was a tough film at the time, because as has been said before, Wayne’s character comes off as a racist (against the Native Americans). This was a criticism leveled many times against Ford during his career for his treatment of the Indian characters in his films. His mea culpa – “Cheyenne Autumn” – where he tried to make up for some of his history (on film) – was not well received.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Debbi says:

        Another movie Ford made that touched on racism was Sergeant Rutledge, another Western with Jeffrey Hunter and the great Woody Strode. I remember liking it. 🙂


  4. Debbi says:

    Wonderful! There is so much to say about this movie that it’s hard to do it justice without giving away the ending. So, I urge you to see it again.


  5. Michael Eddy says:

    Good point. Jeffrey Hunter was also the original Star Trek commander in the first series. He died after shooting the pilot and was replaced by William Shatner. They used the pilot and integrated it into the series at one point as a standalone episode. And Woody Strode was a star football player at UCLA. Went on to a pretty good movie career in movies like “The Professionals” and one of my favorites – “The Last Voyage” – where the producers bought a real luxury liner about to be mothballed and blew it up for the movie. Strode played a ship worker who tries to help Robert Stack free his wife (Dorothy Malone) after she’s trapped in their cabin following an explosion on board during a cruise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      I remember the Star Trek episode. To this day, I still think of Hunter as being as being a starship captain. 🙂

      The Professionals is another Western I love. Have you seen Strode in Posse? Now, there’s a Western that takes the subject of race head-on.


      • Michael Eddy says:

        Never saw POSSE. Mario Van Peebles? The Professionals has one of my all time favorite lines. At the end – when the hired guns renege on the deal because they realize what’s going on – and the husband calls Lancaster a “bastard”, he replies, “In my case, an accident of birth. But you sir – you’re a self-made man”.

        As to Strode – the same year he made Sgt. Rutledge (1960) – he also starred in The Last Voyage – and my favorite role of his – the gladiator who fights Kirk Douglas but refuse to kill him at the end of their match – in SPARTACUS.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mike A says:

      Hunter died in 1969, several years after shooting the Star Trek pilot, actually several days before the final episode aired. It was his decision not to do the series as he was still more interested in acting in movies rather than television. Both he and Strode and underrated actors. Besides, the movies mentioned, Strode was also a standout in Lewis Milestone’s Korean War classic Pork Chop Hill, which also incorporated a subtheme about race involving his character.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Debbi says:

        Hunter and Strode were both outstanding. I loved both in Sergeant Rutledge.

        I know I’ve seen parts of Pork Chop Hill, but have yet to see the whole thing.

        I highly recommend Posse, if you’re looking for a Western that deals head-on with race.


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