Apparently when I add movies to the Netflix queue I do so in handfuls by director or genre. This isn't by any means a bad thing, and one can hardly complain about getting two John Ford films in a row. Last night I recieved and watched John Ford's The Searchers. Tons has been written on this film and most of it by people far more learned than myself, but that has never stopped me before.
First off, when you read or hear about this movie you hear two things. First, it's one of the most influential and important American Films ever made. Second, it's John Ford's powerful statement against racism and prejudice.
Let's talk about the supposed statement first. The way that Ethan (John Wayne) is portrayed in this film, sometimes it is hard to see this as a statement against racism. And that is always gonna be a problem when a larger than life man (Wayne) is cast as a hero but spends a great majority of the film showing a very prejudiced attitude against Native Americans (specifically Comanche, here). And there are scenes that are meant to override the great majority of the film where Ethan seems proud to be racist against the Native Americans. Whether or not these scenes work to overide the majority of the film is entirely dependent upon the viewer. For me, it was very uncomfortable to watch at times, given the outward racism of the character. And, in the end I am not entirely sure that I would say that this film is a powerful statement against racism. Love of family and brotherhood are apparent, but I uncomfortable saying that was enough to make the entire film a statement against racism. I have no doubt in my mind that Ford's inentions were to make a statement, I just don't believe that it comes across entirely, or unmuddled. Is unmuddled a word?
As for the film itself, and the performances, it's incredible. A film like this deserves to be seen in an anormous theater or at least a great widescreen televison. Unfortunately, for me, it was viewed on a ridiculously old Quasar television, but at least in the widescreen format. Ford's repuation is deserved when it comes to shooting landscapes. And, there are definitely shots in this film that deserve their place in American cinema history. Wayne is phenomenal and convincing (maybe too convincing) in his role. The story itself, Wayne searching for years for his kidnapped (by Comanche Indians) niece with a 1/8 Cherokee companion sets up for a decent amount of suspense. It's a film that while an uneasy watch, definitely deserves it's reputation as a classic of American Cinema, and probably deserves repeated viewings if only to wrestle with one's own reaction to the story, and its more unsavory parts.