Dec 302010

Jeffrey Hunter (Martin Pawley), John Wayne (Ethan Edwards)

Last night I sat down with Krystalle and Jareth to watch the 1956 John Wayne movie The Searchers.

The reason we picked this particular movie is because it appears on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. While we were waiting in line to get on the Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios last week we decided that there were a lot of “classic” films that we haven’t seen and that one of our goals in 2011 should be to rectify that situation. The Searchers was the first movie we picked off of the list, largely due to the fact that it is only going to be available through Netflix for a few more days.

Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed the film. I mean, you can’t escape the fact that in a whole hell of a lot of ways the movie is dated. Badly. From the corny dialogue to the sound stages with obvious back drops and the horrible stereotypes of Native Americans there are quite a few elements of the film that really don’t hold up well to the test of time. Be that as it may, I found myself enthralled by some of the performances in the movie. Hank Worden was excellent as the eccentric Mose Harper, and I was delighted that at the end of the film he had managed to get his rocking chair. I also knew he was familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it while watching the movie. Turns out he was the waiter in Twin Peaks. I was also impressed with Ward Bond as the Rev. Captain Samuel Johnston Clayton. As a character who, for the most part, is supposed to look like a buffoon to contrast the leading man Bond managed to pull off several moments where the simple country facade dropped off and we caught a glimpse of the pain carried by a soldier who fought on the losing side of the Civil War.

Then, of course, you have John Wayne.

For the sake of full disclosure I have to admit that I do not think I have ever sat through a John Wayne movie before. My Step-Father was a big fan of his, and I’m pretty sure he had the entire John Wayne collection on VHS. As a result they got lumped up into documentaries as “boring things that are on in the living room that I want nothing to do with.” In all fairness to the late Mr. Patterson, I do have to give him credit for introducing me to Blazing Saddles and The Sleeper. He did manage to get me to watch SOME of the movies he liked. I have also just realized that in my 10+ years of blogging I have not written much about him. I should probably fix that.

Anyway. Right. John Wayne.

I will admit, I was impressed. I mean, he plays to type. Sure. For the most part I understand all of his roles are the seasoned badass with a heart of gold who carries his pain around locked deep inside his rough exterior. I get that. Thing is, there were many moments in the movie where Wayne managed to convey all of that astonishingly well. Moments when he had no dialogue, or when he was repeating “That’ll be the day” for the umpteenth time. That phrase in particular, though said often, meant something entirely different in almost every case.

I was also impressed by the subtle touches in the movie, many of which I didn’t catch upon watching it simply because I didn’t give the film makers credit for putting them in there. I suppose I should have known better, considering that the AFI holds the film up in such high regard. Many of the questions that we had about what the back story was were answered in very subtle ways by props in the film. Ethan Edwards was a man of few words, and definitely not the type of man to talk about his past or why he’s so filled with hate. So instead of having him tell us or playing it out for us in a flashback they throw hints into the film that paint the picture for you. We managed to pick up a few, but we missed a really big one in the form of text on a headstone.

I can’t say I’ll ever actively seek to watch the film again, but I’m glad I did. If nothing else watching it has given me a new appreciation for John Wayne, and perhaps opened a door that will lead me to see more of his films in the future.

99 more movies to go…

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