The Essential Movie Library #63: The Searchers - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Essential Movie Library #63: The Searchers

John Wayne gives his greatest and most complex performance and as a result the Western had no choice but to change, submitting to the force of his stardom

Watching John Wayne in The Searchers is a revelation for anyone who can see beyond the caricature that Wayne himself helped create. By the mid 1950s he so embodied the Western that when he gave his greatest and most complex performance, the Western had no choice but to change, submitting to the force of his stardom. As an ex-Confederate on the hunt for a niece orphaned by an Indian massacre, with the intent of either rescuing her or delivering her from defilement by executing her, Wayne is driven by more warring dark impulses than he or we can fully comprehend: revenge, racism, redemption, and the barely implicit suggestion that Natalie Wood may not be his niece at all but his daughter. 

Wayne is so dominant in The Searchers that only the surrounding Monument Valley can share the screen with him as equal. Whenever the movie leaves either of them—for, say, the romantic triangle of Vera Hunt, Jeffrey Hunter, and Ken Curtis—the picture heads south of its own border; though his mastery of everything else about the form was incontestable, director John Ford, unlike fellow master Howard Hawks, never knew what to make of the womenfolk and their doings. As with The Third Man (Essential Movie Library #4) and City Lights (Essential Movie Library #15), the shattering final shot of Wayne framed in a door that’s about to close on him forever overwhelms everything that’s preceded it—the single most elegiac moment in that most authentic of American genres, a genre that is about nothing if not elegy. 

Read them all:

The Essential Movie Library #62: The Conformist
The Essential Movie Library #61: Bonnie & Clyde
The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her

The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L'Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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