The Searchers (1956)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Epic Western, Revisionist Western  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Described by the director as a "psychological epic," The Searchers (1956) is John Ford's most revered Western, for its visual richness and profoundly ambiguous critique of the genre's (and America's) racism. Ford pushed John Wayne's archetypal Westerner into the realm of antiheroism, as Ethan's five-year quest to rescue his niece from Comanche chief Scar mutates into killing her when he discovers her living placidly as Scar's bride. While Ethan's lethal racism signals his insanity, Wayne's charismatic presence and Ethan's desire to salvage the family unit of "civilized" settlers carries its own sheen of Western heroism. Still, the famous final image of Ethan's departure into the desert reveals that "civilization" has no place for such an uncompromising figure. Shot on location in Colorado and Monument Valley, Ford's vividly arid Technicolor vistas render Ethan a man of the magnificent and punishing landscape, unable to reconcile his inner savagery with domestic constraints. Greeted in America as just another quality Ford oater, the film was first reclaimed by French critics for the unresolved tensions and evocative style of Ford's narrative, elevating it to the status of cinematic art. With U.S. cinephiles following suit, The Searchers deeply influenced the 1970s "film school" generation (Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader transformed it into Taxi Driver in 1976) and has since taken its place among the greatest Westerns ever made.