Three by Three
Three things I liked about The Searchers.
- The pretty pictures. Suddenly, all of the praise heaped on John Ford that I've read over the years makes sense. I'd never seen a Ford (or John Wayne) film before, and in this one is way with the landscape and the people in it is evident. From the way he bookends the film with shots looking out at Wayne out in the land, as framed by dark doorways, to the way he has the niece running down a sandy hill while Wayne and his cousin argue, oblivious to her, it's clear he has a great cinematic eye.
- Wayne - I'll admit to a little bit of disconnect with the Wayne voice and persona - when you've absorbed countless imitations and impressions without knowing the real thing, finally being introduced to the rel thing can feel odd, like you're seeing a really great impression. But once I adjusted, I started to get the iconography of Wayne, and appreciate how he takes what could otherwise be a pretty two-dimensional figure into something pretty complex.
- The character parts. From the simple slowness of the handicapped Moses to the Swedish sweetness of Lars, the supporting players transcended the obvious stereotypes for me to become real people.
Three things I did not like about The Searchers.
- Not the racism, which certainly felt era-appropriate, but the lack of insight given to the Cherokee - I would have loved to see more of Debbie in Cherokee captivity, for example.
- The passage of time - Ethan and Martin are out in the mountains looking for Laurie for 5 years, but we never really feel that passage of time. Indeed, after one of the time-jumps I was actually confused.
- The detail given to life on the frontier - in line with the second complaint above, there was no sense of Ethan and Martin suffering hardship or sacrifice during their nomadic existence. The film made spending five years searching in the wilderness look a little too easy.