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Working together for the 12th time, John Wayne and director John Ford forged The Searchers into a landmark Western offering an indelible image of the frontier and the men and women who challenged it. Wayne plays an ex-Confederate soldier seeking his niece, captured by Comanches who massacred his family. He won't surrender to hunger, thirst, the elements or loneliness. And in his five-year search, he encounters something unexpected: his own humanity.
Filmed in VistaVsion
For more about The Searchers and the The Searchers Blu-ray release, see the The Searchers Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 6, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, Harry Carey, Jr.
Director: John Ford
» See full cast & crew
The Searchers Blu-ray Review
One of cinema's finest treasures is simply remarkable on Blu-ray
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 6, 2007
If the girls are dead, don't let the boys waste their lives in vengeance.
Ranked at number twelve on AFI's 2007 list of best American films, The Searchers certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the great westerns of all time. The film has influenced directors, actors, and cinematographers for the last 50 years, from George Lucas to Quentin Tarantino. Many a director have paid homage to this classic western in their works and many have cited it as a stimulus for their endeavors, creating their own classic films whilst inspired by John Ford's masterpiece. Wayne and Ford have collaborated on numerous Westerns including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and They Were Expendable, but none more powerful, more inspirational, or more memorable than The Searchers.
As the film opens, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne, Rio Bravo), a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederacy, returns home to the family ranch in Texas several years after cessation of hostilities. Nobody knows where Ethan has been or what he has been up to. The local preacher/Texas Ranger Sam Clayton (It's a Wonderful Life) soon after arrives and informs the family that one of their neighbors' corals was broken into and several of their best livestock were stolen. He deputizes the men of the house to help him catch the criminals. When he offers to deputize Ethan, Ethan turns down the offer, saying that there is "no need to, wouldn't be legal anyway." When the men find the prized animals dead, they figure the theft was a ruse to get them away from their homes and that their families may be in danger. This scene in particular is tense and well-acted. When Ethan returns, he finds the home burning, the family dead and his young nieces kidnaped. What follows is a years long search for them, ending with a confrontation with the Comanche Chief Cicatrice ("Scar") (Henry Brandon, The Ten Commandments).
There is plenty to be said about The Searchers but, frankly, it's all been said before. This is a film that has been torn apart, analyzed, watched, and written about more than most. The film is a study in the effects of racism. The protagonist and the antagonist of the film, Ethan and Cicatrice, are both prejudiced against one another's respective races. Ethan, especially, nearly takes his racial prejudices to an unthinkable level, but levelheadedness and love intervene, preventing a disaster at the end of the film. Ethan is an angry character, perhaps still living with the ire of fighting for the losing side of the Civil War. Ethan had sworn his allegiance to the Confederacy. "A man's only good for one oath at a time. I took mine for the Confederate States of America." Here, Ethan implies he is still under oath to the Confederacy, a group often associated with the prejudices Ethan displays throughout the picture. Perhaps the Comanche have become the new Yankee, an enemy who Ethan sets out to destroy for the wrongs they have done to his family. While the Yankees tried to keep Southerners from living in the type of world some of them wanted to live (as slave holders in their own, separate nation), the Comanche have literally taken Ethan's world from him, and Ethan is driven by the desire for vengeance for his family, both his blood family and his countrymen with whom he has lost a war fighting for his way of life.
As I said, there are probably hundreds of ways this film could be interpreted. None of them are right or wrong, really. Mine is one example of the joys of critical analysis. What I feel about the theme of the film now could and very will likely change with subsequent viewings, and this is one of the strengths of a movie such as The Searchers. Obviously meant to be a film that portrays the negativity of racism, the reasoning behind the racism is just as fascinating for me. Director John Ford was a vocal critic of the treatment of Native Americans, but he makes the Native Americans every bit the villain in this film. The hatred swings both ways, and it's the genesis of the hatred, which formed years and years before the setting of this film, that is to blame. Both sides had their reasons for hating one another, but Ford's message here is that the dangers of such deep rooted hatred can lead one to become so fanatical that one may be willing to do harm to those who have been "tainted" by the other side. I can't help but to think of the "brother vs. brother" dynamic of the Civil War, the war Ethan fought in. Perhaps he fought against loved ones there, caring more about their current state, hating them for the flag they carry rather than loving the man behind the uniform. He certainly feels this way towards the Comanche, coming close to harming his own kin simply because they have been exposed to the way of life of the enemy. This is a very thought-provoking film and will continue to spur debate for years to come.
The Searchers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Warner Brothers has recently remastered The Searchers, and the result is extraordinary. This print looks absolutely beautiful and pristine. The film is presented in luscious, vibrant technicolor in 1080p high definition and in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I really love the look of technicolor. There is nary a speck of dirt on this print. Black levels are good, flesh tones looks great, and detail is high. Watching The Searchers on Blu-ray was a marvel and a revelation. I simply cannot wait to see more classic films on Blu-ray. If they look as good as The Searchers, we are going to be in for some mighty fine treats in the coming years. A long distance shot with snow on the ground and buffalo in the background is one of the most lifelike I have ever seen. A few other long distance shots, sometimes the type of shots that look the worst on home video, look as natural and lifelike as anything I have ever seen on a television set, and this is coming from a 50 year old movie. Who would have thought combining a 50 year old film with modern entertainment mediums could result in an image as stunningly beautiful as this one? I'm simply astonished at just how wonderful The Searchers looks on Blu-ray.
The Searchers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner Brothers presents The Searchers with a Dolby Digital Mono audio track running at 48KHz, 192 kbps. Ah, good old mono. It's really refreshing now and then. I'm thrilled they left something as good as this track as-is and didn't try and remix it to something that would have sounded unnatural. Music, dialogue, and gun shots all sound wonderful. Of course, there is nothing coming from any speaker but the center channel, and that's great, for this title. As an older film, this is what was originally heard, and as a major proponent of leaving things as they are and originally were, I loved the way The Searchers sounded. I cannot fault a track for faithfully reproducing its original source, and the track on The Searchers does this admirably.
The Searchers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Such a strong, historically important film screams out for a plethora of extras, and Warner Brothers has heard and provided. The supplements begin with an introduction to the film with John Wayne's son, Patrick Wayne (480p, 1:52). Next is a commentary track with director/film historian Peter Bogdanovich. He offers up a good track. His knowledge and passion for the film are evident throughout. There is some dead air and he sometimes simply describes the action on screen, but he makes up for the gaps with solid information. His voice is rather monotone, but again, his knowledge and love for the film more than make up for any negatives.
The Searchers: An Appreciation (480p, 31:01) is a piece featuring Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, and John Milius discussing both the film and their appreciation for John Ford's talents. This is a wonderful companion piece to the film and essential viewing for fans of The Searchers, John Ford, or any of the talent involved in this feature. A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne, and 'The Searchers' (480p, 33:10) is an enthralling and very well done making-of piece that details the real-life inspiration and book behind the film as well as the true meaning and lessons the film offers viewers. This feature is expertly narrated and the information is crucial for any fan. Behind the Cameras (480p, 21:49) features four episodes from this television series Warner Brothers Presents from 1956. Subjects include Meet Jeffrey Hunter, Monument Valley, Meet Natalie Wood, and Setting Up Production. Perhaps most interesting here is seeing how television production has changed over the years.
Finally, the film's theatrical trailer (480p, 2:47) and a trailer for The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (480p, 1:13) conclude the special features.
The Searchers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Searchers is an important film in the annals of the history of Westerns, and in the history of motion pictures. Considered by many as John Wayne's finest hour and John Ford's greatest directorial achievement, it is a movie that has withstood the test of time and is still as powerful, poignant, and exciting as ever. It's just as important culturally as it is cinematically, and a film every movie lover needs to own for their library. This Blu-ray edition is the quintessential version of the film. Warner Brothers' work on restoring this film has resulted in an image that is nothing short of breathtaking. The original monaural soundtrack sounds fine, and the extras are most impressive. The Searchers receives my highest recommendation.
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