KinoNoir: The Searchers
KinoNoir: The Searchers
dir. John Ford | 119 min | 1956 | Followed by a conversation led by Kinonik
Ford’s masterpiece, The Searchers was named the greatest American western by the American Film Institute in 2008 as well as being number 12 on AFI’s list of greatest movies. One critic notes “…more than just making a social statement like other Westerns of the period were apt to do, Ford instills in The Searchers a visual poetry and a sense of melancholy that is rare in American films and rarer still to Westerns.” For our 16mm film presenting partner Kinonik, this is a rare color film from their almost entirely black & white archive.
In this revered Western, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home after the Civil War to track down his surviving niece amidst the Texas-Indian wars, embarking on a dangerous mission. Ford’s magnum opus has been influential to generations of films makers since and serves as an important reminder to evaluate Hollywood’s role in a proliferation of negative stereotypes of Native Americans.
Returning home to Texas to the news that members of his brother's family have been killed or abducted by members of the Comanche tribe, Edwards vows to track down his surviving relatives and bring them home. Eventually, he gets word that his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) is alive, and, along with her adopted brother, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), he embarks on a dangerous mission to find her, journeying deep into Comanche territory.
"John Ford's The Searchers contains scenes of magnificence and one of John Wayne's best performances. There are shots that are astonishingly beautiful. A cover story in New York Magazine called it the most influential movie in American history. And yet at its center is a difficult question, because the Wayne character is racist without apology--and so, in a less outspoken way, are the other white characters. Is the film intended to endorse their attitudes, or to dramatize and regret them? Today we can see it through enlightened eyes.... In The Searchers I think Ford was trying, imperfectly, even nervously, to depict racism that justified genocide; the comic relief may be an unconscious attempt to soften the message. Many members of the original audience probably missed his purpose; Ethan's racism was invisible to them, because they bought into his view. Eight years later, in Cheyenne Autumn, his last film, Ford was more clear. But in the flawed vision of The Searchers we can see Ford, Wayne and the Western archetype itself, awkwardly learning that a man who hates Indians can no longer be an uncomplicated hero." - Roger Ebert