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Searching through The Searchers


misswonderly3
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I could have put this in the "I Just Watched" thread, since I did "just watch"  The Searchers last night. But I wanted discussion of this (for me, anyway) problematic film to extend beyond that thread, because this is such a "big" movie in so many ways.

 

So. I'm going to say, right up-front: I don't get The Searchers. I own the DVD  (it came in a set), I've seen it many times, and it was analyzed in depth in a film course I took (on Westerns, yet) . But despite all its accolades and its position in the top ten, which it enjoys on many " Best Movies Ever Made" lists, I'm missing something. I just don't understand why this film is so venerated.

 

Don't Read This If You're Worried About Spoilers.

 

Pro:   Ok, yes, it's got beautiful location shooting, and along with that, lovely cinematography. It's got a fine score. The acting is pretty darn good (except for Lucy, but then the poor girl is only in the film for all of five minutes),  even from The Duke himself.  Yes, one has to admire the structure and the metaphor in the use of dark doorways (and also cave apertures) opening out onto brightly lit exteriors. And the final scene, wherein Ethan chooses not to kill Debby but to take her "home", is, I suppose, emotionally surprising and powerful.

 

But:

 

Con:  I get weary of watching these two guys riding around in circles for seven years . (I figured it out: I used to think it was ten years, but last night I paid attention. Ethan and Martin are away for two years, then  return to the Jorgensen's home (for like, one night !) and then are away for another five years.)  I don't usually like films that span a long period of time. I know, I know, that's the point, that's what The Searchers is all about, Ethan's persistence and obsession. But still.  Poor old Martin, that's seven years of his life - his youth - spent, wandering around with crazy hate-filled old Ethan. Still, it's his choice to do so.

 

Another Con: John Ford can not do funny. His sense of humour is not his strong point. The scenes with that poor young Comanche woman ("Look" ) are not even remotely funny, they're kind of disturbing and sad. Also the scenes with Lori scolding Martin in the bath don't make me laugh or even smile. Give the guy some privacy.

 

Con 3: This is the main problem I have with The Searchers: The whole issue of white children who were adopted by Indians.

 (I don't say "Indians" in normal discourse, I say "aboriginal" or "First Nations". But in the context of The Searchers, "Indian" just seems the natural word to use.)

 

Why, for instance, when at one point Ethan and Martin are told the Cavalry has found and captured back 3 white girls from a Comanche settlement, and they go to see if any of them are Debby, are these girls jabbering idiots? What part of living with the Comanches for years would make them developmentally challenged? They might not remember English anymore, but would that make them incapable of speech of any kind? Why is that one woman (quite a bit older than the other two) ranting and moaning like that?  And why are the two young girls, children really, grinning foolishly at Ethan? All three seem to have no intelligence whatsoever. Are we supposed to think this is what happens to white people who live with Indians for years?  It makes no sense, not even in the world of The Searchers; especially since later, when they do find Debby, she clearly is an intelligent young woman, who even remembers how to speak English- without a hitch.

Also- when Martin sneaks into her tent and tells her he's going to "rescue" her, she immediately agrees, "Oh yes, oh yes, ,take me back..."  But she'd actually be very confused and ambivalent about her "rescue".

 

Also:  Ok, Debby's back in  the white world. What now? She was captured at 8 (or so?) and is now around 16. This means she's spent fully half her young life with the Comanches. Why would she necessarily want to return to white society?  And even if she did, she'd still be frightened, I'm sure, and would have a myriad of problems to deal with. Poor Debby, what's to become of her ?

 

I could overlook all these problems I have with The Searchers if I just plain enjoyed it more. But honestly, there are lots of Westerns I think are better and more entertaining. And even more profound. 

Is there anyone else out there who is a fellow Searchers doubter?

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I don't think I am a "doubter" in the sense you mean, but I also don't disregard any of your reservations [sorry it just came out with no pun intended] about the film.

 

But I do dig this movie, and think that it says volumes that even in England, the rock group the Searchers were so taken with this film that they named themselves after it. But I digress.

 

Having hung out in my youth with many boys in the neighborhood, I can state quite unequivocally that they all loved this film. I think it is the adventure element and Wayne's performance, meaning that to many they can divorce themselves from the very pertinent arguments you make about flaws in the logic and just go along with the storyline. Now of course, Debbie being played by Natalie Wood is going to be hard pressed to seem to have had much change from living with the natives. As we know, even in stories like the Roanoke one which remained unsolved, there was some belief that women who had been kidnapped seemed not so disenchanted with their later lives. But regardless, we see that Wayne is portrayed as a man with strict guidelines to his moral strata and in his sensibilities, Debbie would be better off dead than alive. Someone I do not remember said once, that though he hated Wayne and his politics that he was immeasurably moved by the scene when one thinks Wayne may kill Debbie but instead has a change of heart and lifts her up in his arms. This change of character is perhaps the crux of the film, and it served as a basis for later films like the one with George C. Scott called "Hardcore" wherein he is seeking to find his daughter who had descended into more sordid activities.

 

I think though you discount the cinematography, that it is essential to the film's greatness as Monument Valley was in general to Ford, being that it shows a time and place that is ravaged by danger and the wilderness, and where a family can be killed at a moment's notice and that attracts people whose lives are lived in much safer environs.

 

The film probably has many logical flaws but the setting and performances if one allows it, can sweep away such doubts and one just goes with the flow. There are many humorous bits too, with Ford regulars and the bits with Vera Miles fed up with Hunter and his supposed marriage to the squaw lend comic relief, as does the fight scene which she provokes and enjoys to the hilt.

 

I think perhaps you are taking it a bit too seriously, and need to go down a notch, have a couple shots from the Long Branch Saloon and forget that Scar is not really a true native American, and just let the horse take you for a ride instead of attempting to rein in your steed.

 

Keep repeating, it is just a movie, it is just a movie. Better to be more critical of something like "The Sorrow and the Pity" and just drink while watching any John Wayne movies, unless you are a tee-totaller and then I would suggest to take some Nyquil before watching and let the film seep over you as you dose off.

 

Hope this helps! Just my take, and it may be completely invalid, Miss W.!

P.S. I forgot to ask, what are some of the westerns that you are more fond of, Miss Wonderly?

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I don't think I am a "doubter" in the sense you mean, but I also don't disregard any of your reservations [sorry it just came out with no pun intended] about the film.

 

But I do dig this movie, and think that it says volumes that even in England, the rock group the Searchers were so taken with this film that they named themselves after it. But I digress.

 

Having hung out in my youth with many boys in the neighborhood, I can state quite unequivocally that they all loved this film. I think it is the adventure element and Wayne's performance, meaning that to many they can divorce themselves from the very pertinent arguments you make about flaws in the logic and just go along with the storyline. Now of course, Debbie being played by Natalie Wood is going to be hard pressed to seem to have had much change from living with the natives. As we know, even in stories like the Roanoke oen which remained unsolved, there was some belief that women who had been kidnapped seemed not so disenchanted with their later lives. But regardless, we see that Wayne is portrayed as a man with strict guidelines to his moral strata and in his sensibilities, Debbie would be better off dead than alive. Someone I do not remember said once, that though he hated Wayne and his politics that he was immeasurably moved by the scene when one thinks Wayne may kill Debbie but instead has a change of heart and lifts her up in his arms. This change of character is perhaps the crux of the film, and it served as a basis for later films like the one with George C. Scott seeking to find his daughter who had descended into more sordid activities.

 

I think though you discount the cinematography, that it is essential to the film's greatness as Monument Valley was in general to Ford, being that it shows a time and place that is ravaged by danger and the wilderness, and where a family can be killed at a moment's notice and that attracts people whose lives are lived in much safer environs.

 

The film probably has many logical flaws but the setting and performances if one allows it, can sweep away such doubts and one just goes with the flow. There are many humorous bits too, with Ford regulars and the bits with Vera Miles fed up with Hunter and his supposed marriage to the squaw lend comic relief, as does the fight scene which she provokes and enjoys to the hilt.

 

I think perhaps you are taking it a bit too seriously, and need to go down a notch, have a couple shots from the Long Branch Saloon and forget that Scar is not really a true native American, and just let the horse take you for a ride instead of attempting to rein in your steed.

 

Keep repeating, it is just a movie, it is just a movie. Better to be more critical of something like "The Sorrow and the Pity" and just drink while watching any John Wayne movies, unless you are a teetotaller and then I would suggest to take some Nyquil before watching and let the film seep over you as you dose off.

 

Hope this helps! Just my take, and it may be completely invalid, Miss W.!

 

Cave Girl: Thanks for your considered response to my thoughts on The Searchers. Overall, I respect your take on the film. But just for the sake of discussion, I'd like to counter a few of your points. I've bolded to the colour blue- Lorna-style --  the comments you made which I address.

 

I did not "discount" the cinematography or the setting, au contraire, it was the first of the (few) positive things I said about the film. Ok, maybe one sentence for such a magnificent location and such sensitive and visually arresting cinematography is not doing it justice, since this IS a major strength of The Searchers. Still, although I maybe could have and should have praised the Monument Valley location and shooting more than I did, I did not "discount" it. I gave credit where credit is due.

 

You mention the "humourous" bits in the film. I, too, mentioned them, but did explain why I thought they were NOT funny. I don't think Martin's "marriage" to poor little "Look" is funny at all, but sad and even somewhat disturbing, especially the part where Martin kind of shoves her over and she topples down the hill. True, Martin did not mean for that to happen, and "Look" is not hurt-- but her dignity is. I am not at all one of those poe-faced disapprovers who cannot see the humour in what would now be considered politically incorrect depictions and situations in old movies; it's not that. It's just that the"squaw" is not accorded any respect or compassion at all, she's just supposed to be a source for comic relief.

As for Vera Miles, I also addressed her "funny" scenes; she just seems kind of desperate and bossy to me. 

 

Fact is, as I said before, I just don't think John Ford could do humour. His supposedly comic scenes in his movies never make me laugh or even smile, they just make me roll my eyes.

 

As for "taking it a bit too seriously", the whole reason why I started this post was because The Searchers is esteemed, venerated even, as a very serious film that deserves to be taken very, uh, seriously. I've never heard it spoken of as merely a piece of light entertainment. It's often called "one of the greatest films of all time". With a reputation like that, I'm not going to tone down my expectations of it.   It's not the sort of film that one is told to "lighten up" about.

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Cave Girl: Thanks for your considered response to my thoughts on The Searchers. Overall, I respect your take on the film. But just for the sake of discussion, I'd like to counter a few of your points. I've bolded to the colour blue- Lorna-style --  the comments you made which I address.

 

I did not "discount" the cinematography or the setting, au contraire, it was the first of the (few) positive things I said about the film. Ok, maybe one sentence for such a magnificent location and such sensitive and visually arresting cinematography is not doing it justice, since this IS a major strength of The Searchers. Still, although I maybe could have and should have praised the Monument Valley location and shooting more than I did, I did not "discount" it. I gave credit where credit is due.

 

You mention the "humourous" bits in the film. I, too, mentioned them, but did explain why I thought they were NOT funny. I don't think Martin's "marriage" to poor little "Look" is funny at all, but sad and even somewhat disturbing, especially the part where Martin kind of shoves her over and she topples down the hill. True, Martin did not mean for that to happen, and "Look" is not hurt-- but her dignity is. I am not at all one of those poe-faced disapprovers who cannot see the humour in what would now be considered politically incorrect depictions and situations in old movies; it's not that. It's just that the"squaw" is not accorded any respect or compassion at all, she's just supposed to be a source for comic relief.

As for Vera Miles, I also addressed her "funny" scenes; she just seems kind of desperate and bossy to me. 

 

Fact is, as I said before, I just don't think John Ford could do humour. His supposedly comic scenes in his movies never make me laugh or even smile, they just make me roll my eyes.

 

As for "taking it a bit too seriously", the whole reason why I started this post was because The Searchers is esteemed, venerated even, as a very serious film that deserves to be taken very, uh, seriously. I've never heard it spoken of as merely a piece of light entertainment. It's often called "one of the greatest films of all time". With a reputation like that, I'm not going to tone down my expectations of it.   It's not the sort of film that one is told to "lighten up" about.

After I posted my response, I reread your post and realized I had not dealt with certain parts of your critique so thanks for giving me another chance.

 

What I would like to say first though is, that what I think you have introduced with your post is not so much ostensibly about "The Searchers" per se, as much as it is about John Ford films in general and I can agree with you on that.

 

I've always thought that his epitaph would be the line from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" which states ""When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." I think that nothing says more than this commentary about Ford's relationship on film to truth as opposed to what he thought should be entertainment in films.

 

Therefore to take Ford to task for not being really on target about many things that seem abbreviated or untrue to the time period, is also to question Ford's total filmic raison d'etre and do I think that is valid? Yes, I do.

 

I think to say he is one of the great directors and not take such criticism into account is to bow to sacred cows and I don't believe in  that. Meaning that this film is considered to be great, only if one agrees with the John Ford legend that he is great.

 

Maybe he's not so great. Maybe the points you bring up prove that.

 

Your comments about his treatment of the native element in his films might be a beginning point. Does he subvert the truth of history just to make what he feels the public wants as entertainment. Is his humor derogatory instead of being light, and does that detract from his status as a great director in general.

 

I really don't know. I do know that the idea in TMWSLV always bothered me, since I can take obfuscation of general principles in art but don't like the total recasting of a truth, and the idea that since people believe Liberty was the hero means that one should not discount that, bothered me. Again, it is like the sacred cow argument that some are too big to criticize.

 

So I shall have to think a bit more before I discuss the most salient aspects of your belief that perhaps, just perhaps "The Searchers" is not such a great film. Following Ford's logic it is, but following your logic, it is not.

 

Therein lies the rub.

 

And by the way, the only reason I would laugh at the scene with Hunter marrying the squaw is due to him looking the fool, not the poor squaw, since he seems a bit daft through the whole film. As you say, maybe humor is not Ford's strong talent.

 

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Is this a competition for who can do the longest posts? It's a competition in which I would have my head handed to me.

What fun!

 

If you become disattached to your head, could Miss Wonderly and I play catch with it?

 

All of a sudden I am reminded of the scene in "Eraserhead" where they start throwing that head around and back and forth.

 

Thanks, Down for your thoughts!

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Is this a competition for who can do the longest posts? It's a competition in which I would have my head handed to me.

 

 

Down, are you totally insensitive to fine things?

:D

 

The misswonderly-cavegirl (or is it cavegirl-misswonderly) connection has been IMMENSELY satisfying. Wonderful discussion. Truly.

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Down, are you totally insensitive to fine things?

:D

 

The misswonderly-cavegirl (or is it cavegirl-misswonderly) connection has been IMMENSELY satisfying. Wonderful discussion. Truly.

Yeah, that mean old Down had to spoil all my fun. I can't speak for Miss Wonderly who may not have been enjoying the exegesis of the Ford ouevre as much as I.

 

How often does one get to extrapolate on a John Wayne film at length anyway in the real world.

 

It's not like we were chatting longer than the filibuster of Jimmy Stewart in that movie, about Mister Smith.

 

Down is being a buzzkill. I learned that word yesterday while on the Sid Vicious Memorial Site.

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Yeah, that mean old Down had to spoil all my fun. I can't speak for Miss Wonderly who may not have been enjoying the exegesis of the Ford ouevre as much as I.

 

How often does one get to extrapolate on a John Wayne film at length anyway in the real world.

 

It's not like we were chatting longer than the filibuster of Jimmy Stewart in that movie, about Mister Smith.

 

Down is being a buzzkill. I learned that word yesterday while on the Sid Vicious Memorial Site.

As someone who went through college reading cliff notes, you should see where I'm coming from.

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Yeah, that mean old Down had to spoil all my fun. I can't speak for Miss Wonderly who may not have been enjoying the exegesis of the Ford ouevre as much as I.

 

How often does one get to extrapolate on a John Wayne film at length anyway in the real world.

 

It's not like we were chatting longer than the filibuster of Jimmy Stewart in that movie, about Mister Smith.

 

Down is being a buzzkill. I learned that word yesterday while on the Sid Vicious Memorial Site.

 

exegesis

 

extrapolate

 

buzzkill

 

We need you in Words.

 

Request indulgence for the interstitial nature of this post.

 

B)

 

=

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Uh,

 

exegesis

 

extrapolate

 

buzzkill

 

We need you in Words.

 

Request indulgence for the interstitial nature of this post.

 

B)

 

=

 Uh, what's "Words"?

 

Is it a place, like Wonderland where all the nice words go and get cut off from their Latin roots like George Bernard Shaw wanted with only phonemes?
 

Copy, Roger and out!

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The other inhabitants of the cave refer to her as the Human Dictionary.

 

Since she has been writing definitions on the wall, folks have forgotten all about Lescaux.

 

MissWonderly is no slouch either with regard to woids.

 

:)

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Uh,

 

 Uh, what's "Words"?

 

Is it a place, like Wonderland where all the nice words go and get cut off from their Latin roots like George Bernard Shaw wanted with only phonemes?

Copy, Roger and out!

 

Not so wondrous as all that. We don't allow smart-alecs like GBS and his ilk to act out. (I looked this up and found a tome which was described as only an excerpt of some monumental article on the English language. Thank you, no ... but maybe later.)

 

A shameless plug is what it is. Since I am old I am immune to 'shameless' why give a damn any more.

 

To find just allow your cursor to drift down South to non-movie land and you will certainly find it.

 

B)

 

(uh, laffite, lose the shades, you shameless twit)

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I don't take many John Ford films seriously because it's hard to accept his version of masculinity. But I do like The Searchers because it's an interesting take on a man that has seen too much and will never be part of decent society. He only goes on his quest because of a sense of loyalty to the only woman he ever loved. And I think the acting is top rate, even if the humor is crude and some of the characters are over the top.

 

Every time I think about Ford I can't help but think about how cruel he was to actors. For that reason it's hard to have any affection for his films. There are a couple I like and I've seen a lot of his films so it's not like I haven't been exposed to his work.

 

ETA: I realize what I've just written probably makes no sense, but I'm just not very good at expressing myself. I've never taken any film courses and I don't look at films much beyond the superficial.

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I could have put this in the "I Just Watched" thread, since I did "just watch" The Searchers last night. But I wanted discussion of this (for me, anyway) problematic film to extend beyond that thread, because this is such a "big" movie in so many ways.

 

So. I'm going to say, right up-front: I don't get The Searchers. I own the DVD (it came in a set), I've seen it many times, and it was analyzed in depth in a film course I took (on Westerns, yet) . But despite all its accolades and its position in the top ten, which it enjoys on many " Best Movies Ever Made" lists, I'm missing something. I just don't understand why this film is so venerated.

 

Don't Read This If You're Worried About Spoilers.

 

Pro: Ok, yes, it's got beautiful location shooting, and along with that, lovely cinematography. It's got a fine score. The acting is pretty darn good (except for Lucy, but then the poor girl is only in the film for all of five minutes), even from The Duke himself. Yes, one has to admire the structure and the metaphor in the use of dark doorways (and also cave apertures) opening out onto brightly lit exteriors. And the final scene, wherein Ethan chooses not to kill Debby but to take her "home", is, I suppose, emotionally surprising and powerful.

 

But:

 

Con: I get weary of watching these two guys riding around in circles for seven years . (I figured it out: I used to think it was ten years, but last night I paid attention. Ethan and Martin are away for two years, then return to the Jorgensen's home (for like, one night !) and then are away for another five years.) I don't usually like films that span a long period of time. I know, I know, that's the point, that's what The Searchers is all about, Ethan's persistence and obsession. But still. Poor old Martin, that's seven years of his life - his youth - spent, wandering around with crazy hate-filled old Ethan. Still, it's his choice to do so.

 

Another Con: John Ford can not do funny. His sense of humour is not his strong point. The scenes with that poor young Comanche woman ("Look" ) are not even remotely funny, they're kind of disturbing and sad. Also the scenes with Lori scolding Martin in the bath don't make me laugh or even smile. Give the guy some privacy.

 

Con 3: This is the main problem I have with The Searchers: The whole issue of white children who were adopted by Indians.

(I don't say "Indians" in normal discourse, I say "aboriginal" or "First Nations". But in the context of The Searchers, "Indian" just seems the natural word to use.)

 

Why, for instance, when at one point Ethan and Martin are told the Cavalry has found and captured back 3 white girls from a Comanche settlement, and they go to see if any of them are Debby, are these girls jabbering idiots? What part of living with the Comanches for years would make them developmentally challenged? They might not remember English anymore, but would that make them incapable of speech of any kind? Why is that one woman (quite a bit older than the other two) ranting and moaning like that? And why are the two young girls, children really, grinning foolishly at Ethan? All three seem to have no intelligence whatsoever. Are we supposed to think this is what happens to white people who live with Indians for years? It makes no sense, not even in the world of The Searchers; especially since later, when they do find Debby, she clearly is an intelligent young woman, who even remembers how to speak English- without a hitch.

Also- when Martin sneaks into her tent and tells her he's going to "rescue" her, she immediately agrees, "Oh yes, oh yes, ,take me back..." But she'd actually be very confused and ambivalent about her "rescue".

 

Also: Ok, Debby's back in the white world. What now? She was captured at 8 (or so?) and is now around 16. This means she's spent fully half her young life with the Comanches. Why would she necessarily want to return to white society? And even if she did, she'd still be frightened, I'm sure, and would have a myriad of problems to deal with. Poor Debby, what's to become of her ?

 

I could overlook all these problems I have with The Searchers if I just plain enjoyed it more. But honestly, there are lots of Westerns I think are better and more entertaining. And even more profound.

Is there anyone else out there who is a fellow Searchers doubter?

Miss-- you've done a wonderful overview and critique of this movie.

 

But honestly I'm going to have to be frank with you about why you don't like this movie and the Americans do.

 

When I was growing up in the 1950s we had a common phrase in the United States that's "the only good Indian is a dead Indian".

 

It wasn't a joke ; it wasn't something people said every day-- it was just ingrained in your psychic.

 

We grew up watching every kind of Western there was-- old movies on TV, TV western series, Western serials etc.

 

In some of these westerns it was just the Cowboys, but most were Cowboys and Indians. And the good Indian was always the one who sided with the white people.

 

Broken Lance is a western by Edward Dmytryk,starring Spencer Tracy, that really does explore what happens when a white man marries an Indian woman and has a child, in this case is Robert Wagner. You might take a look at that movie for a little more realism on this issue.

 

American audiences will accept a lot in a movie like The Searchers, not just in the 1950s, but for good because they have a different understanding and background of the situation.

 

It's difficult to explain to an outsider, but these things are acceptable to an American audience.

 

I saw the documentary with John Ford where he talked about how Legend becomes truth. Later in his career he had an apologia film for the Native Americans called Cheyenne Autumn. It starred Richard Widmark and it's a good thing-- you should see that as well, if you already haven't.

 

In Kansas, the Kansa, or Kaw Indians the natives of Kansas, that's where we get the name, were forced out of the state by whites to live in Oklahoma. And many Native American children were forced into federally-sponsored boarding schools. I've been in one that still exists as a museum in Kansas. They were to be taught the white man's ways. " Kill The Indian in him--save the man" was the motto for these schools. This is a part of our history.

 

Like American slavery, the genocide of the Native American will always be with us and it's something that we have to address and not just talk about when we see an old John Ford movie or Gone with the Wind.

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With regards to the question of "What part of living with the Comanches for years would make them developmentally challenged? They might not remember English anymore, but would that make them incapable of speech of any kind? Why is that one woman (quite a bit older than the other two) ranting and moaning like that".

 

I have always assumed the girls were abused in various ways that really messed with their mental abilities.

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I never think it's fair, or even right to judge some movie in which the story takes place in some period of American history by current day standards.

 

One must consider the attitudes and beliefs people had in those days, be it either THE SERCHERS or GONE WITH THE WIND, and realize the film maker was trying to capture the actuality of those attitudes and beliefs and NOT intend it as an agreement or endorsement of those mind sets.  The intent being to show people how it WAS, and NOT how it SHOULD have been.

 

 

Sepiatone

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I never think it's fair, or even right to judge some movie in which the story takes place in some period of American history by current day standards.

 

One must consider the attitudes and beliefs people had in those days, be it either THE SERCHERS or GONE WITH THE WIND, and realize the film maker was trying to capture the actuality of those attitudes and beliefs and NOT intend it as an agreement or endorsement of those mind sets.  The intent being to show people how it WAS, and NOT how it SHOULD have been.

 

 

Sepiatone

I got to thinking the same thing overnight while contemplating Miss Wonderly's original post, Sepia.

 

Ford was portraying societal standards that did probably exist at the time of the setting for "The Searchers". 

 

As said most astutely by Princess of Tap, this film probably has more resonance with American viewers than someone outside the US, and even Buddy Holly and the Crickets referenced it in the song "That'll Be the Day" which shows how prevalent it was in the psyches of many young people who saw it for the first time in the 1950's.

 

I can see its faults, but I can also see its drawing power.

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misswonderly3--Regarding John Ford and humor:  Ford's major fault.  When he tried to be funny, he laid on the humor with a trowel (too many films to list), used unintelligible accents ("Judge Priest" (1934) and "The Plough and the Stars" (1937, to name two), mixed ethnic accents to disastrous effect (1934's "Judge Priest mixed Irish and Southern accents to disastrous effect--everyone except star Will Rogers and the Ingenue tried that).  

 

Even in the rare cases where he lets the humor grow out of the situation (1952's "The Quiet Man") he lays on the Blarney from the Auld Sod too thick, and I wince instead of laugh at Victor McLaglen.

 

The rare cases where humor Did work--See Edna May Oliver in "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939), and Thomas Mitchell in the first half of "Stagecoach" (1939), to name two actors who were funny in his films.

 

Fords' many other strengths make up for this weakness, I think.  The cinematography in his films was almost always at least good, if not exceptional.  The music in his films  was always good, especially in "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), "Rio Grande" (1950) and "How the West Was Won" (1963) (I know, only a third of HTWWW is his but the films' score is exceptional).

 

Ford was trying to lighten a serious film; "The Searchers" is about racism, and how it has no place in the civilized West, as is shown by the door closing in Ethan's face and his walking away.  I can't fault Ford for trying to insert a little humor.

 

As Princess of Tap said, Ford made "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) as an apologia for his film treatment of the Indian; I second her recommendation of the film. 

 

"The Searchers" isn't perfect, but it's a dam good film, and Ford's filmography speaks for itself.

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In response to this thread, I would recommend reading Glenn Frankel's The Searchers:  The Making of an American Legend.  The first half of the book deals with the historical basis for the novel The Searchers and the film that evolved from it.  Texas was a battleground between settlers and Comanches, with raids and massacres occurring on both sides.  The Comanches were an extremely fierce warrior tribe, known for brutal behavior toward enemies, and they were feared not just by settlers, but by other tribes.  They were known for not merely slaughtering, but mutilating their victims, and of course, rape.  However, the Comanches were extremely compassionate to each other, and also to children they captured.  Children who were captured were incorporated into a tribe and often given to a family who had lost a child.  Debbie's story is based on that of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted at age 9 and incorporated into the tribe.  She later married a brave and had children by him, including a boy, Quanah, who eventually became a great warrior chief (Quanah actually has some parallels with Scar.).  Cynthia's uncle, James Parker, an Indian hunter and itinerant preacher, went in search of her.  James had another daughter, Rachel, who was married and a young mother, also captured by Indians.  Rachel was rescued within months after her capture, but she eventually died in childbirth after her return home.  By all accounts, Parker was an erratic character,  untrustworthy and violent; his "character" might have been separated in the film between Ethan and the preacher played by Ward Bond.  

 

Parker never found Cynthia.  She and her infant girl, Prairie Flower, were eventually "rescued" by Texas Rangers and restored to her white family (an uncle and aunt).  I use "rescued " because Cynthia Ann never adapted to white society and was very unhappy with her white family. She and her child both died of an illness, possibly influenza.

 

I highly recommend Glenn Frankel's book because the story behind the film, and his account of the relationship between Indians, settlers, and later the government, are fascinating.  I read it on my way to Monument Valley last summer, which was magnificent beyond all imagining -- no wonder Ford chose it -- a place of beauty and yet almost terrifying vastness. As I watched the film last night, I felt very awed that I had been in that place, but also felt the fear of settlers willing to live in such a desolate but awesome (excuse this overused word  -- but perhaps its original meaning applies here) place.    

 

Like other posters here, I found on my re-viewing of the film, that the "humorous" moments were jarring and even tiresome.  The movie's greatness is in its story of racism and reconciliation, amid a stunning yet unforgiving natural backdrop.  It is a movie of its time, but telling a story that goes beyond its time.  (Those feelings don't exist today?  Maybe not about native Americans, but think of some other groups.)  I think it is a greater film that Gone with the Wind, an expression of the dark side of American myth, and a classic.

Excuse this huge post!

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misswonderly3--Regarding John Ford and humor:  Ford's major fault.  When he tried to be funny, he laid on the humor with a trowel (too many films to list), used unintelligible accents ("Judge Priest" (1934) and "The Plough and the Stars" (1937, to name two), mixed ethnic accents to disastrous effect (1934's "Judge Priest mixed Irish and Southern accents to disastrous effect--everyone except star Will Rogers and the Ingenue tried that).  

 

Even in the rare cases where he lets the humor grow out of the situation (1952's "The Quiet Man") he lays on the Blarney from the Auld Sod too thick, and I wince instead of laugh at Victor McLaglen.

 

The rare cases where humor Did work--See Edna May Oliver in "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939), and Thomas Mitchell in the first half of "Stagecoach" (1939), to name two actors who were funny in his films.

 

Fords' many other strengths make up for this weakness, I think.  The cinematography in his films was almost always at least good, if not exceptional.  The music in his films  was always good, especially in "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), "Rio Grande" (1950) and "How the West Was Won" (1963) (I know, only a third of HTWWW is his but the films' score is exceptional).

 

Ford was trying to lighten a serious film; "The Searchers" is about racism, and how it has no place in the civilized West, as is shown by the door closing in Ethan's face and his walking away.  I can't fault Ford for trying to insert a little humor.

 

As Princess of Tap said, Ford made "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) as an apologia for his film treatment of the Indian; I second her recommendation of the film. 

 

"The Searchers" isn't perfect, but it's a dam good film, and Ford's filmography speaks for itself.

THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is a good Ford comedy with a light touch.

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Now 

 

In response to this thread, I would recommend reading Glenn Frankel's The Searchers:  The Making of an American Legend.  The first half of the book deals with the historical basis for the novel The Searchers and the film that evolved from it.  Texas was a battleground between settlers and Comanches, with raids and massacres occurring on both sides.  The Comanches were an extremely fierce warrior tribe, known for brutal behavior toward enemies, and they were feared not just by settlers, but by other tribes.  They were known for not merely slaughtering, but mutilating their victims, and of course, rape.  However, the Comanches were extremely compassionate to each other, and also to children they captured.  Children who were captured were incorporated into a tribe and often given to a family who had lost a child.  Debbie's story is based on that of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted at age 9 and incorporated into the tribe.  She later married a brave and had children by him, including a boy, Quanah, who eventually became a great warrior chief (Quanah actually has some parallels with Scar.).  Cynthia's uncle, James Parker, an Indian hunter and itinerant preacher, went in search of her.  James had another daughter, Rachel, who was married and a young mother, also captured by Indians.  Rachel was rescued within months after her capture, but she eventually died in childbirth after her return home.  By all accounts, Parker was an erratic character,  untrustworthy and violent; his "character" might have been separated in the film between Ethan and the preacher played by Ward Bond.  

 

Parker never found Cynthia.  She and her infant girl, Prairie Flower, were eventually "rescued" by Texas Rangers and restored to her white family (an uncle and aunt).  I use "rescued " because Cynthia Ann never adapted to white society and was very unhappy with her white family. She and her child both died of an illness, possibly influenza.

 

I highly recommend Glenn Frankel's book because the story behind the film, and his account of the relationship between Indians, settlers, and later the government, are fascinating.  I read it on my way to Monument Valley last summer, which was magnificent beyond all imagining -- no wonder Ford chose it -- a place of beauty and yet almost terrifying vastness. As I watched the film last night, I felt very awed that I had been in that place, but also felt the fear of settlers willing to live in such a desolate but awesome (excuse this overused word  -- but perhaps its original meaning applies here) place.    

 

Like other posters here, I found on my re-viewing of the film, that the "humorous" moments were jarring and even tiresome.  The movie's greatness is in its story of racism and reconciliation, amid a stunning yet unforgiving natural backdrop.  It is a movie of its time, but telling a story that goes beyond its time.  (Those feelings don't exist today?  Maybe not about native Americans, but think of some other groups.)  I think it is a greater film that Gone with the Wind, an expression of the dark side of American myth, and a classic.

Excuse this huge post!

Now Rosebette, what would constrain you to offer a sound theory [based on historical fact and after reading a really well documented book with specific credibility] in counterpoint to any argument at the TCM lounge?

 

I am aghast at the impertinence of using sane logic and proven fact in this discussion about Ford, the film and the time period. Just what were you thinking?

 

This is just anathema! And by the way, Down will also get on you for writing such a long and informative post.
 

I am sorry to say that I cannot abide people having actual facts to back up their argumentation and information, and you should be ashamed of yourself for being so well informed and well read.

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A lot to say, but i am using my phone and I hate say a lot using my phone because it misunderstands half of what I say...

 

If you have the same box Edition that I do, MISS WONDERLY THEen there's a really interesting comic book adaptation of the movie included. It's smaller, but an exact reproduction of the comic book that came out to coincide with THE SEARCHERS release in 1956.

 

I like it a lot, and highly recommend giving it a full read. It may enhance your appreciation of the movie.

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