John Ford created perhaps the greatest of all westerns with this tale of a Civil War veteran doggedly hunting the Comanche who have kidnapped his niece.
“The Searchers manages to be both a rousing adventure movie and a melancholy film poem exploring the American values at the heart of the Western genre.”
Ed Lowry, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1990
Cinema’s poet of the Wild West, John Ford already had countless westerns (among over 100 films) under his belt before reteaming with regular star John Wayne for this disturbing story of racism, obsession and revenge.
Intending to kill his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood) when he finds her, assuming her long since defiled by her Comanche kidnappers, morally complex Ethan Edwards is the role that convinced many that Wayne could truly act. Ford sets the hulking actor against the awe-inspiringly rugged terrain of Arizona’s Monument Valley and, in the iconic final shot, frames him within the doorway of a homestead, standing outside on the cusp of a civilisation where he can never fit in. It is one of the medium’s most unforgettable images of isolation.
A lifelong fan of Ford’s film, Martin Scorsese created in Taxi Driver (1976) a kindred tale of an obsessive avenger attempting to rescue a young girl from malign influence.