Film Spotlight: The Searchers


When I read Martin Scorsese’s review of John Ford’s The Searchers(1956) starring John Wayne, I admit it helped me understand the film in a way only a filmmaker could explain.  I’m a movie buff that has a hard time appreciating the genre of the western. I expect clichés, cardboard characters, and predictable plots. That’s not what I got from watching The Searchers. The cinematography was  easy to love. The storyline was unique and the characters complicated.  After reading Scorsese’s review, I have a thirst to read the book from which the film derives, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel.  Here is  Martin Scorsese’s article from March 2013, The Hollywood Reporter:

The captivity story is a fascinating subject in American history and literature. Native Americans raiding homesteaders, killing families on the prairie and abducting females as slaves are true stories. However, many tribes like the Hopi, were peaceful tribes and not interested in warring.  In the Western film, all too often the Indian is attributed with the degrading stereotype of an imbecile savage.  It rarely occurred to the government or its citizens who traveled west to settle that they invaded a territory already inhabited and worth defending.

This is where The Searchers becomes interesting for me.


The film is based upon the 1954 novel by Alan Le May. The screenplay written by Frank Nugent, incorporated the historical account of Texan, Cynthia Ann Parker, a nine-year old girl abducted and  assimilated into the Comanche culture, married a Comanche chief, had  3 children, and was ”found” 24 years later by Texas Rangers who returned to her white relatives. That Cynthia Ann Parker grieved after her return to white culture is ironic and a truth ignored—sometimes, the abducted preferred the culture of the Native American. However, this part her story is not told in the screenplay. Honestly, I find the historical story more interesting than the film.

Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, son of Cynthia Anne Parker or Naduah.

In the film, John Wayne plays a Civil War veteran who has a hatred for Indians. During the Texas-Indian Wars, Ethan Edwards and his adoptive nephew Marty, played by Jeffrey Hunter, go on a search for years to find his abducted niece played by teenager Natalie Wood. John Wayne tried his best to act and there were moments when you see his pain or feel his anger. There’s a strong scene when an Indian buried under a rock was found dead and Ethan Edwards shoots out the eyes so the Indian will walk the after world blind.  Martin Scorsese said, “No one in his posse understands the meaning of the gesture: He hates the Comanche so much that he actually has bothered to learn their beliefs to violate them.”


The Searchers is a mystery story of a loner who spends years of his life searching for someone. Abruptly, his job done, the famous ending shot of Ethan standing in doorway alone is arresting.

While the story is supposed to be set in the panhandle of Texas, John Ford filmed The Searchers in Monument Valley, AZ/Utah (other parts in Colorado). The endless landscape and the western sky and his ability to capture the light makes the setting breathtaking. The subplots and ending shot of Ethan Edwards holding his niece in his arms all the way home is tender.


The Searchers is a masterpiece and treasured as well as ranked 12th on AFI’s top 100 films. Even if you don’t care much for Westerns, this one you should see. If you love Westerns, you already knew that The Searchers is great. What do you like best about the film?

Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne

It’s my pleasure to contribute a post to a virtual friend featuring a funny lady in film before 1970. Check out Gwen’s blog at:

I chose the feisty Maureen O’Hara.

The chemistry between O’Hara and The Duke was legendary. They were life long friends and grew into one of the best partnerships in film. They starred in five together, and it all began with the The Quiet Man (1952). John Ford won the Academy Award for Best Director.

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Set in the Emerald Isle, it was a charming, funny classic that romanticized everything Irish. How many years growing up did I watch it on television around St. Patrick’s Day? The film became more than just a whimsical story; It became a part of my collective memory. You’ve never seen it? Well, it’s worth your time. You’ll want to book a flight to Dublin for your holiday afterwards.

Their type of humor

Maureen O’Hara cultivated the stereotype of the hot-headed, redhead Irish woman on film. She was tall and strong and wouldn’t take sass from anyone, even tall, strong tough guy, John Wayne. This was the time when women were taught to be demure and submissive if they were to catch a man for marriage.  Maureen’s wide-set eyes and expressive face fought against cultural expectations. Her actions were tomboyish and passionate. O’Hara’s characters demanded respect, and John Wayne’s characters mocked her pride while submitting to her whims. This tug-of-war comradery was funny to watch when they swiped at each other or townsfolk followed them like a parade while they made spectacles of themselves. In the battle of the sexes, both sides were proud and both sides were loyal. There was never a doubt they loved each other.

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One minute Mary Kate Danaher looks shy and innocent, the next minute her passion consumes her and she’s the aggressor.

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Mary Kate stands up to any man who interferes with her goals.

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In 1939, Maureen O’Hara played in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Jamaica Inn, as well as the beautiful Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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John Ford’s 1941 film How Green Is My Valley won Academy awards for Best Picture, Director, Supporting-Actor (young Roddy McDowall), Cinematography, and Art-Direction. In 1947, Maureen O’Hara starred in the super-classic, Miracle on 34th Street. 


McLintock! (1963) is John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara’s funniest pairing in the western version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The sympathy all goes to G.W., played by John Wayne who has to tame his wife, his daughter, and the politicians who aim to wrestle the land from G.W. McLintock, the wealthiest man in the area. There’s the John Wayne mystique in action.


Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne had fun in their films. Their characters took turns looking silly while maintaining their respectability in their provincial worlds. Ah, the folly of humanity–both genders. They took turns exposing their faults to others while protecting each other when things got out of hand and outsider’s threatened. That was their humor and charisma, and audiences ate it up.

Hail, Maureen! She will turn 92 on August 17.


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