July 08, 2006

The quintessential Western?

The Worst Best MovieThe Searchers, John Ford's epic 1956 Western, is a film geek's paradise: It is preposterous in its plotting, spasmodic in its pacing, unfunny in its hijinks, bipolar in its politics, alternately sodden and convulsive in its acting, not to mention boring. Impossible to enjoy, and yet not as obviously medicinal as, say, The Spirit of the Beehive, The Searchers segregates the initiated from the uninitiated; and so it is widely considered, by the initiated, at least, to be among the four or five best movies of all time.

Coming to The Searchers for the first time, I was surprised at how fidgeted-together this supposedly great film is, how weird its quilting is, of unregenerate violence with doltish comic set pieces, all pitched against Ford's signature backdrop, the buttes and spires of Monument Valley. Though visually magnificent, the movie is otherwise off-putting to the contemporary sensibility, what with its when men were men, and women were hysterics mythos and an acting style that often appears frozen in tintype.

6 comments:

Jack Nilan said...

You need to watch the movie a couple of more times.

More than anything, The Searchers, is a story of redemption and healing. The crazed Confederate hero must overcome his racism and try to join the human race again.

The movie was made in 1956, at the beginning of the civil rights struggle in America. Instead of addressing the issue directly, John Ford used a Western to comment on the current situation. It was a very daring movie to make. Having a hero who was a genocidal racist and shoots people in the back was different role for John Wayne and a different kind of movie for John Ford. At the end of the movie, Martin, the "half-breed" and Debbie, the "leavin's of Comanche bucks", are allowed to enter the homestead with the Jorgensen family. Ethan, the racist, turns away and again walks away from civilization.

While the ending is far from a typical Hollywood ending it in also not without hope. At the end of the movie Ethan was on the road to redemption. And John Ford bravely showed Americans that there no room in our households for the racist and segregationists. He said it with subtlety and he said it mostly with pictures and he said it in 1956, which is why The Seachers is one of the best movies ever made.

Dr. Cyclops said...

"you have to watch the movie a couple more times"
No you don't.
If you have to watch a movie from a major American studio in the 50's to 'get it' it is like a joke that you have to explain for it to be funny... Because it isn't funny.
Unlike the French New Wave directors of the 60's, John Ford was not making movies to be subject to multiple viewings. The idea, at the time, before home video was absurd. People did not watch movies over and over to dicern meaning. In this context, saying the movie requires repeated viewings is an admission of its failure.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say the movie had to be seen multiple times to be understood. I got it the first time I saw it.

I said the author of the article had to watch it a couple more times, because he didn't get it.

Rob said...

The article's author "got" The Searchers the first time and so did I. To reiterate, "It is preposterous in its plotting, spasmodic in its pacing, unfunny in its hijinks, bipolar in its politics, alternately sodden and convulsive in its acting, not to mention boring."

For more on the subject, see Why The Searchers Isn't No. 1.

Charles said...

Well Rob,

Maybe you should check out Sight and Sounds Lists of Great Movies, in which "The Searchers" is very highly regarded by both directors and critics.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/topten/poll/list.php?list=films

BTW, yuo won't find "An Officer and a Gentleman" there.

Rob said...

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to art. If you want me to explain why I like The Sound of Music, An Officer and a Gentleman, Casablanca, Norma Rae, or Duel, pay me and I will. <g>

The BFI list doesn't include An Officer and a Gentleman, but it does include many movies that I consider great. It also includes such popcorn fare as Back to the Future, Car Wash, Deep Throat, Grease, Mary Poppins, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Terminator, and When Harry Met Sally.... Are you seriously going to argue that these belong on anyone's list of the best movies ever?