The Searchers (1956)

Asking someone “What kind of movies do you like?” can lead to some interesting answers. If a person answers with a certain genre (comedies, science fiction), a good host will nod and try to think of something in his library that would interest his guest, while at the same time thinking “What a poor, sad, sad person! Such limited tastes! I must try to hide my disappointment. Sniffle, sniffle.” (that’s the sound you make when you hold back tears).

The correct answer is “I like well-made movies!” The Searchers would have to be in that category. It is a western, which is anathema to many film critics (or as they are known by their scientific classification, peoplewhocantdoanythingelseforalivingcacasis).

After the title fades, the screen stays dark, the darkness rooms had when there was no electricity. The door is opened by a woman (her back is to us), she opens the doors showing us the beautiful western vista, and as she continues to open the doors, we follow her outside, being surrounded and awed by the scenery. If those first 15 seconds don’t take your breathe away, take out the DVD and go watch Dumb and Dumber for the 8th time (Sniffle sniffle).

A family of settlers is killed by Indians, but the youngest girl is taken alive. The girl’s uncle, Ethan (John Wayne) begins a pursuit that takes years, and as it becomes clear the Indians have raised her as one of their own, Ethan’s reasons for wanting to find her change. John Wayne proves he was truly an actor, playing a conflicted and not always sympathetic hero.

Director John Ford is a master here, a true painter of celluloid. But he also allows the script to shine as brightly as the scenery, and the overlapping dialogue adds a touch of realism not often seen in most movies.

So, ask me what kind of movies I like? My answer? “Well-made movies, like this!”

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