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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

After 55 Years, ‘The Searchers’ Legacy Still Up For Debate

Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film "The Searchers." (AP/Warner Bros.)

Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film "The Searchers." (AP/Warner Bros.)

This month marks the 55th anniversary of director John Ford’s classic western, “The Searchers.” The movie is a favorite of directors like Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola.  But Robert Ebert said it was flawed, and Slate calls it “the worst best movie.”

We revisit our conversation about “the Searchers” with Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr. Burr calls the film ahead of its time in its depictions of race and the American West.

When our story originally aired, listener Bill R. had this to say about “the Searchers:”

I’ve always like The Searchers. John Ford did a wonderful job directing John Wayne and the other cast members in grueling heat and difficult geography to create a masterpiece. I think the continuity between the opening scenes when John Wayne comes through the cabin door, alone, and the last scene when the Duke exits through the door, quite alone, provides an extraordinary viewing experience. You can watch this movie over and over and never get tired of the dialog, scenery and action. Sure some of the dialog is dated and corny, but that, in my opinion, only adds to the greatness of this film.

Listener Patrick McCord also stood up for the film:

When Ethan (John Wayne) returns to Brad and Marty from finding Lucy in the canyon, he digs his knife in the dirt. In a hunting culture, this is how you clean blood from the blade. The reason Wayne was able to “lose it” when he demands Marty never ask about what happened, is because he has killed Lucy after the Comanche had gang raped and abandoned her. He then buried her in his Johnny Reb coat. This point has been missed in the academic discourse, but was certainly part of Ford’s (a hunter of some repute) direction for Wayne. Of the two girls, it seems more likely that Debbie is Ethan’s daughter, a product of the affair he had just before going to war. In any case, a great film with complex and subtle plot.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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