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The Searchers (1956)

“The Searchers” is regarded as one of the best westerns ever made. Some even say the greatest. I know it is my favorite.

It stars the genre’s most known star, John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards. A civil war veteran, he comes home to his brother’s family only to find them massacred by Indians. The lone survivor is his niece Debbie, whom he (and adopted nephew Martin Pawley, played by Jeffrey Hunter) go on the look for.

There are so many things that give this movie its deserved title as masterpiece. One of the first is Wayne. He is a definitive hard man. Hard lined, hard to like. He hates anything to do with Indians. One of the reasons Pawley is tagging along is to make sure that, if they find Debbie has turned complete Indian, Edwards does not kill her.

The other reason this movie is so wonderful is the director, Mr. John Ford. He had an eye (no pun intended, as he lost an eye in real life in a hunting accident) for cinema rivaled by very few (he won four best director Oscars, more than any other person). There is an aesthetic beauty in every frame, every shot that Ford uses.

In every indoor setting, I kept getting this feeling that I was in a museum, and everything was preserved as it had been back in 1868. I was in awe, not wanting to touch or break anything.

The outdoor scenes are some of the most breathtaking ever put to celluloid. Consider scenes in any western where characters are (obviously) thirsty. There is a sense that there really is no other water around, not even on a trailer behind the camera.

Comedy is also found in this movie, and it is laugh out loud. Most of these are when Marty makes a trade he did not want with Indians, and one of the funniest fist fight scenes in memory.

Parents, if you have a child who wants to see a western, this is an ideal one (some young characters do die at the beginning, but it is not shown on screen). There is nothing else bad, besides some shooting (I mean, it is a Western).

The music, done by legendary composer Max Steiner, ends the film the way it started. It starts with us opening a door to a world long gone, and the same music is present when the door closes on the world at the end. It is one not soon to be forgot.

Overall: 5 Stars *****

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