The Searchers (1956)

9.5 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great scenery, good story

John Wayne is John Wayne, some parts feel too much like sets

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Searchers

Studio:  C. V. Whitney Pictures

Genre(s):  Western/Drama

Release Date(s):  March 13, 1956

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


Much of the movie was shot in Monument Valley, Utah

An ex-Confederate soldier named Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home to his brother and sister-in-law’s home.  When the family is killed and the family daughters are captured by Comanches, Edwards sets off with his adopted nephew Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) to find her and bring her back.  Edwards hatred for the Comanche and Native Americans might destroy Debbie (as an “adult” played by Natalie Wood) and her chances of ever returning home if after the long years in captivity, she is unable to give up the culture that has been thrust upon her.  As the years wear on, will Martin ever be able to return to Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles), the girl he left at home.

The Searchers was directed by famed Western director John Ford and is widely considered John Wayne’s best movie.  It was based on the novel by Alan Le May and has lots of similarities to the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker in 1836.  Loved by critics and fans, The Searchers often pops up as one of the best of the genre if not the best.


Weird Trivia: Natallie Wood was in high school when the movie was shot and often had John Wayne or Jeffrey Hunter pick her up…yeah, that’s a normal childhood

I’m not a huge John Wayne Western fan.  The Searchers however is very good, but John Wayne continues to be John Wayne.  I think I actually preferred him in the original True Grit to this.  In both movies, he just is playing virtually the same character, delivers the lines the same way, and doesn’t really seem to develop much throughout the story.  He has a change of heart at the end of the film, but it doesn’t seem that realistic because his character doesn’t seem to evolve much.

The other slight issue I have with The Searchers (and many Westerns of the classical style) is unlike a Spaghetti Western or a modern Western, everything seem to clean.  There are scenes that the sets feel like sets.  The classic period of TV Westerns have a similar feel and I always felt the West would have been dirtier and more ruthless than presented in this film.  I know it is partially due to the time the film was made, but it takes me out of the picture a bit.  The whole segment near the end of the movie with Pawley fighting Laurie’s fiancé just felt like a goofy TV show.  Ford however does provide some nice scenery throughout the film and the VistaVision and Technicolor provide a rich landscape (much of it shot in Monument Valley).


The famous final shot is a tribute to Western star Harry Carey who often struck this pose (his wife and son also appear in the movie)

What is interesting about The Searchers is the unspoken relationships throughout the film.  Wayne’s character hates the Commanche and it never is really said why but you look at the grave where Debbie is asked to hide, you see his parents were killed in a Commanche raid.  The relationship between Edwards and Pauley also is interesting since he saved Pauley after his parents were killed by Native Americans, but he cannot accept him since he is part Native American.  There is also a lot of speculation about Wayne’s relationship to his sister-in-law Martha (Dorothy Jordan) because of a scene where she hugs his uniform when she thinks she’s not being watched.  Many say it shows that they were in love at one point and some even speculate that Debbie could be Edwards’ daughter (and thereby explaining his actions more).

The Searchers had a big influence on future films and has some iconic scenes.  John Wayne continuously says “That’ll be the day” throughout the movie and allegedly inspired Buddy Holly to write the song of the same title.  If you never have seen The Searchers, it is a must to at least understand other Westerns and films that came after it.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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