Friday, October 1, 2010

'The Searchers' Open Thread

What did you think?


  1. Your Spanish title literally translates to "more heart than hatred." I guess Los Buscadores
    didn't have the right ring. Or was already taken.

  2. Fine, Jim! Put up the English DVD cover now.

    It said Más Corazón Que Odio--it really did!

  3. I liked the cover art so well I didn't even look to read the title. But I will verify for Darrell that the original title art poster I had up was written in Spanish, and it said just as Darrell has indicated.

    More heart than hatred - sounds like a pretty close call. We shall see this weekend!

  4. Do I lose my cowboy card if I confess that I never saw this film?

  5. Certainly not, but you could always check it out with us, lest you miss out!

  6. It said Más Corazón Que Odio--it really did!

    I believe you, Darrell.


  7. This was a really good movie. I had not recalled the depth that John Wayne brought to his portrayal. I really enjoyed the exchanges he had with Ward Bond, the guarded interplay, the one side not really sure how far off the straight and narrow the other may have gone, but not wanting to challenge him or call him out directly, and insult him.

    The photography was beautiful as well. I will have a little more to say later, but an excellent choice.

  8. Darrell - this was so great. I am really glad you picked it -- I would never have thought to watch it otherwise.

    The adventure of the story was wonderful --I was as far on the edge of my seat as I could be with a laptop and a cat -- and you must know how much I appreciate the discretion of older films, that would have the hero knock somebody down to keep him from seeing something he could never un-see, rather than gutting a female victim as titillatingly as possible and making it something none of us could ever un-see.

    John Wayne was magnificent. Oh, that scene after he has found Lucy's remains, and his anguish and rage when he tells Brad he's never going to say what he knows. And that look on his face when he's staring at the obviously insane woman who's been rescued from the Comanches, and he's forcing himself to hate her rather than pity her. Even that last moment of the movie, standing outside the door of the Jorgensens' home, that tiny moment of almost allowing himself in.

    But so many of the other characters were also wonderful. I really liked watching the maturing of young Marty into a man who believes in himself; I liked Mrs Jorgensen ("She was a schoolteacher, you know."), so capable, so determined, so loving; even poor daft Mose, so wanting his own rocking chair -- and somewhere to belong. And Laurie Jorgensen, so full of life, and so wretchedly torn between wanting to start living, and loving Martin Pawley.

    But, good grief, all this business about half-breeds and fates worse than death and who is, or isn't, family. Man, oh, man, this is the mother lode of Stuff to Talk About.


  9. Sorry -- lost internet for a while today, and my comments along with it, so I'm reconstructing. *sigh*

    Please feel free to talk amongst yourselves...

  10. We see right away that Ethan Edwards has Significant Issues with what we'll call mixed marriages, in his rejection of the orphaned Martin Pawley (even though adopted by Edwards' brother and sister-in-law) based on his being 1/8th Indian. So as soon as the Comanche leading the murder-raid shows up with sparkling blue eyes, it's clear that this mixing-the-races theme is important. (I was surprised to see a comment somewhere about the sloppy casting of a Caucasian as the lead Indian -- like John Ford couldn't find someone with dark eyes to stomp around looking villainous and self-satisfied and spit out maybe six lines? Please.)

    Edwards' hatred for Indians comes out as a choking rage when he talks about the men, but he is astonishingly tolerant about the Indian girl who sells Marty a blanket, bride included, and lets her join them because he knows she no longer has a family to go home to. The character, and the very problematic inconvenience of her existence in Marty's life, are eliminated neatly from the story; Marty, at least, having the grace to feel some pity for her. I'm not at all clear on why this incident is even in the movie. Initially it's slightly comical, in an aren't-the-ignorant-natives-funny sort of way, but I can't shake the idea that Ford meant it to tell us something about Ethan. Perhaps the contrast to show us the extremeness of his views about white women who had been defiled -- consenting or otherwise -- by Indians?

    Certainly the idea that a woman who had lived with an Indian, as either spouse or employee benefit, was thoroughly contaminated is at least depicted in many stories of the American West as having been widely held. Christian charity might be held out to her if she returned to civilization, but probably no Christian hand. And if it was believed she had been complicit in her corruption, there wasn't likely to be much charity, either.

    But this is the first story I've come across to suggest that the view that this defilement made her so insufferable that it was better to kill her than even to leave her among the Indians, was held by more than the most extreme. Laurie Jorgensen -- admittedly more than a little biased on the matter of Marty's repeated missions to save Debbie -- echoes Ethan's insistence that the girl would be better dead; that, in fact, that's what the girl's mother would have wanted. I find myself curious as to when a white woman would meet Ethan's criteria as "ain't white any more," as it's not clear to me whether, in this particular context, it is simply being on the receiving end of a sexual assault that permanently ruined a woman -- as is the case in other eras and cultures -- or whether she need be guilty of "going native" (as the Brits used to say of former acquaintances in the farther reaches of the Empire who had succumbed to the lure of never again having to Dress for Dinner). How much the loss of Virtue, and how much the embracing of the barbarians who were intent on murdering your old neighbors?


  11. But the fact remains that Debbie had met all his criteria, and I'm not clear on what it was that changed his mind, or when. We're given no hint that I picked up -- all the better to keep us anxious until the end, I suppose -- but it seems odd that Ford wouldn't make clear what could influence someone who was so profoundly abhorrent of the vile coupling across races, to have a change of heart. The senseless murders of the Indian women in their camp by white soldiers? The unwavering determination of his increasingly self-confident young protege? The sight of the child who once loved him running from him in terror? Something I missed completely?

    Whatever changed him, it was the child for whom he had begun the search that he lifted up as he had done years before, and it was that child he carried home. No dyed-in-the-wool Romantic could ask for anything more.

    So I'll just come out and ask you men-folk: Why didn't Ethan allow himself to be part of the "family" -- even temporarily -- at the end? There was no longer any need to exile himself from the neighborhood; his love for his brother's wife was now simply part of the devastating loss of years before. There was a homestead and a herd, rightfully Debbie's, managed by Ethan and Mr. Jorgensen during those years of searching. He could have adopted Debbie himself, though it wouldn't have been necessary since he was her uncle. He could have left her to be adopted by the Jorgensens and continued managing her property as needed. So why put himself outside? He couldn't kill her, but couldn't bring himself to remain in her life? Or is it something more like Eliot, in Lawrence of Arabia -- he had lived too much in madness, and didn't believe he had a place in a (relatively) ordered world?

  12. Heh-heh-heh. It got a little longer... :)

  13. Ethan is very familiar with the Indians. He can recognize the identity of a band of Indians by the appearance of a spear. He knows what they will do, and why they will do it. He understands there language, even admires the poetry of it. For some hard reason, he has come to hate them. One would suppose that the events themselves occurred years ago, and that perhaps Ethan had kind memories mixed in with the hard. But regardless the fact remains that he was the best Indian fighter in West Texas largely because he was as hard as an Indian on the trial, and it was that wild part of him that made him excell at tracking and fighting the Indians that also made him unfit for the civil society he helped preserve.

    The long shot at the end with Ethan framed by the door, and while the party goes on inside, the door closing separating Ethan from the love and family inside was a great picture of the chasm that could not be crossed.

    One thing I noted this time around was the little girl Debbie at the start of the movie, full knowing the Indian/outcast that she would become in Ethan's mind, and I was struck by the gentleness and affection he had for little Debbie. I think he recalled this, and looked past the hardness of whatever it was that made him despise the Indian, and so was able to carry Debbie home.

  14. The long shot at the end with Ethan framed by the door, and while the party goes on inside the door closing upon Ethan was symbolic of a chasm that could not be crossed.

    Pretty heart-breaking for an otherwise happy ending.

    I can't believe the junk that called itself "Westerns" in my living room as a kid! I had No Idea.

  15. Oh -- I almost forgot. What was it he did during the three years after the war, all hush-hush at the dinner table, that got him newly-minted money?

  16. He didn't come home because he didn't surrender, and he wasn't ready to come back from being away. He felt a might bit awkward there, and wasn't sure about how well he could live a rancher's life. After all that time away, he was mighty quick to ride back out after cattle rustlers.

    We don't know where he got the money from. My guess is that it was legitimate, but the fact that his best friends and his own brother couldn't say for sure whether or not that was the case was a testament to the fact that Ethan was a hard man who might do some hard things. He didn't mind leaving Marty out by the fire to act as bait. He didn't loose any sleep gunning down the late Mr. Fetter and his two card playing tag alongs.

    Ethan was a hard man, no doubt about it.

  17. Where is Darrell??

    Good question, Cathy.

    Leave for a few hours and find yourself hopelessly behind given all that was said! Figures!

    Ethan's backstory is a mystery--we have to go by what we see. We don't know what he had been doing in the three years since the war ended--but we do know that he somehow earned(?) a Mexican medal that he gave to young Debbie (Lana Wood-- a nice touch that given that Natalie plays the older Debbie). We know that he has extensive knowledge of Indian languages and customs and it was a few years before the Berlitz course was available. Was he fighting them (maybe for the Mexican government)? Was he living in Indian territory, perhaps with an Indian wife? Was she killed in a raid by another tribe? We don't know. We see how he looks at his brother's wife, Martha. Is that why he stayed away? We have to judge--as Ethan would--by the actions we see, not the words. Ethan is a product of a hard life--a life we can't begin to imagine. Did you get a good look at that land? Who in their right mind would live there? You had to fight nature just to scratch out a few crops that would grow there in the relentless heat and scarce rainfall. Property rights weren't granted with a piece of paper, but by your ability to repel those that came along to take it. And they came. And the lucky ones were killed swiftly. The marauders/raiders traveled light so they didn't take captives as a matter of course. That meant everyone, including women and children, were fair game for their killing sport--which sometime took days. The people living there saw the aftermath and heard the tales of survivors. Experience isn't racism*. Can you imagine seeing your family's scalps on Scar's lance? Obviously there's much more to it given that Ethan knows the language/customs so well--he must not be killing Indians on sight. Ethan is a man whose words don't quite match up with his actions. He found Martin Pawley--whose family had probably been killed by raiders--and brought him to his brother's family to raise. Yet he keeps an emotional distance and shuns the boy's (man's) affection. I don't put much stock in the theory that he doesn't care about Martin. When they had departed Fetter's trading post, Ethan heard the horses just as Martin did but explained it away as a coming change of weather so that Martin wouldn't change his behavior. Ethan knew that Fetter would take a run at the $1000 (he may have been carrying [doubtful]) then rather than hope that they would make it back alive after confronting a renegade and his followers that had built up a reputation. He built up the fire to shield Martin--only Ethan's bedroll was backlighted by the intense flames. Once the bushwhackers had shown themselves, he didn't hesitate to fire at the muzzle flashes without regard to whether they were now coming or going. When Ethan felt he might die, he wrote a will giving what he had to Martin-- in his clumsy way. We see how Martin had changed over the course of the film--and that was due in no small part from spending so much time with Ethan. Ethan wouldn't have let Martin go into Cicatrice's (Scar's) camp alone at the beginning of the film. Martin wouldn't have had his pistol under him to kill Scar then.

    So much more to say, but this is a start. More later.

  18. * There was a wife of one of my professional colleagues from Texas whose family settled there in the 1820's or so who was transcribing diaries/journals from this era. They were not only those of relatives, but those of neighbors found after they had been killed and those of people on the trail that had been attacked (and her realtives had recovered). She called them "voices from the dead" as her grandmother had. It was slow going because the paper had become embrittled and the ink had faded and there were problems of the mixture of languages on the pages, given where the settlers had come from. I told her that I was interested and she brought along some of her finished transcriptions the next gathering of the professional group that I was a part of. Unlike Ethan, the people describing the aftermaths of attacks did not leave out the details. Some of the journals ended with the panic of an ongoing attack. It was brutal--and enlightening. These things were not rare occurrences, as I was being led to believe from the current crop of experts/spinners. Imagine writing about the change of sound when your daughter's tongue was ripped from her mouth to silence her screams--and not being able to do anything about it except commit suicide by showing yourself. It still affects me after twenty years. I don't know what became of this compilation--she had intended to leave it to a historical society if she didn't get it published. And there was a lot of work to do, because she was also trying to research the history of the pieces to provide a context.

    (Split due to length considerations)

  19. Henry Brandon, child of German immigrants, couldn't have been Cicatrice or Chief Quanah Parker(Two Rode Together--also Ford)???? How about Fu Manchu in Drums of Fu Manchu?
    No? Next you'll tell me you had a problem with Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese bloke in Breakfast At Tiffany's. . .

    No one has a problem casting a role without considering the actor's ethnicity or race until the Mick plays Mr. Yunioshi. . .huh!

  20. Did you get a good look at that land?

    Yes, so beautifully stark, but aesthetics don't necessarily make good ranching. Do you think the locations used were pretty typical of the ranching territories? I would love to go back to Texas, and the Southwest in general, and feel how different it is from East Coast again. What a luxury it is to be able to soak up the sun and sky and heat and air... and then fall back into the air-conditioned car as soon as it gets too uncomfortable.

    And it looks so different -- that amazing seeing-forever thing. I shared a cab once from a hotel in Oklahoma City to the airport with a man from Lubbock, Texas, and at the very moment I was looking out my window thinking how flat everything was, he turned to me and said "I can't get over how hilly it is here!"

    He built up the fire to shield Martin

    I didn't realize that -- I thought that was just to make sure they were visible. I would say Ethan was within his rights firing on the late Mr. Fetter, et al, given Fetter shot his hat off his bedroll assuming Ethan's head was under his hat.

    Henry Brandon, child of German immigrants, couldn't have been Cicatrice or Chief Quanah Parker (Two Rode Together--also Ford)????

    Not sure I'm understanding you. My point -- though I'm afraid I was rather too cryptic -- was that I assumed Ford picked the blue-eyed actor because he wanted a blue-eyed Indian. And that shot of his dark face and light eyes looking down at Debbie -- so effective.

    Mickey Rooney as a Japanese guy. That's just silly! ;)

  21. Cathy was saying that Scar was likely a half breed as well. It was the point that carried the greatest emotional energy on the part of the movie, the notion of spoiling and being tainted - so much so that Ethan might kill his own family member for her time among the Indians and how that had tainted who she was. Better off dead was the notion, and even Mrs. Jorgenson seemed to agree with that.

  22. And Cathy, its: Donde esta Darrell??

  23. Ethan was well within his rights to shoot down the late Mr. Fetter. What was Fetter doing tracking him? Why was he sneaking up onto the camp? Bringing Ethan his change? The fact that all three men were shot in the back made it a point of a question or two with the Reverend, but Ethan had a clean conscience about it, and so did Martin. The late Mr. Fetter was a bad sort, and he ended up picking the wrong man to deal bad with. Well, he got paid out for his troubles.

    I liked the fact that Marty picked up on the fact that they were being followed, and also earlier that the cattle track they were being lead away by had something about it that he didn't like. Marty had much of the same stuff to him as Ethan.

  24. My bad! But you have to shove in all the question marks!

    ¿¿Donde esta Darell??

    Oh, and by the way, Chief Quanah Parker had grey-blue eyes! (I love google.) So there you go! (It is, as our April would say, obscene how delighted I am to find out I'm right. :) )

  25. Why was he sneaking up onto the camp? Bringing Ethan his change?


  26. The real landscape of northern/western Texas is less "monumental"--mostly flat with sparse grass.
    I'd keep moving if I were looking to ranch. Or farm. Or do anything besides looking. The Ponderosa was kind of nice. I'd look up there.

    Ford chose Monument Valley in Utah to film (and Mexican Hat, Utah, in Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, Los Angeles and in Alberta, Canada--according to Wiki). There was some talk about the atomic testing near Utah/Nevada/Arizona and the windswept fallout around the time of filming and the various health problems most of the actors eventually had--coupled with smoking, probably. Keep that in mind when you watch.

    I knew you were making a point about Scar being of mixed race. There is no doubt that Ford was exploring racism and the old notions of miscegenation in the film. I would counter that Ethan always DID the right thing and had plenty of experience to support his old assumptions. The Texans I've met always treated people as individuals as well.

    Now I pose this question to you two--were the re-captured white women really crazy from their experience or were they just going with the Indian notion that they would not come to harm if they were insane? (i.e., were they afraid of the soldiers and, thus, "faking" their condition?)

    And on a night so dark and from a distance, anything behind the campfire would have been impossible to see. The decoy was really Ethan's bedroll, whether Martin sussed that out or not. Fetter earned his own death--especially when you consider that Debbie never would have been rescued. And it saved Ethan the embarrassment of telling him that he didn't have the whole $1000 right then.;-) Now let's $5/mo., I can have your money in 200 months or so....Ya got a problem with that?

    As for Chief Quanah Parker--"He was the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, a European American, who had been captured at the age of nine and adopted into the tribe." How nice for her! "Adopted"...really? Hope she got the chance to contact the agency and meet with her birth parents...oh, that's right.

  27. As to the women, I think we are to believe that they are in a semi-catatonic state as a response to the trauma of their experiences.

    I'm not quite as confident as Darrell is about the relative safety of Marty. Certainly, Ethan didn't think it was worth mentioning to him. If it had been me, I think I'd go with two fake bedrolls in case the late Mr. Fetter approached from the opposite side.

    I think Ethan thought Marty was safe because Ethan intended to kill the late Mr. Fetter before Fetter had the chance to kill Marty. Ethan wasn't as confident of Marty as he was of himself, so he pulled off the reverse ambush while keeping Marty in the dark, so to speak.

    Great movie.

  28. Okay kids, I'm gonna go with something a little light this time around. How about Walter Matthau in a cold war cat and mouse espionage game which pits him against his bureau chief, with Matthau's life on the line. Sound like fun?

    I think you will all enjoy Hopscotch.

  29. ... were the re-captured white women really crazy from their experience or were they just going with the Indian notion that they would not come to harm if they were insane?

    I don't know anything of the Indians' sparing of the insane, except for Mose's remarks about how he had fooled the Comanche (I love Mose) while they had him. The woman that seemed really insane -- the one cradling the piece of wood, until she grabbed Debbie's doll from Martin -- certainly acted terrified at the sight of the men. The woman sitting behind her seemed immediately protective, so I'd assume the first was bona fide, having lost a child. I'm not sure what to make of the young sisters; the younger clinging to the older makes perfect sense for a child who's been through trauma, but the older girl making eyes at Martin seemed rather happily deranged. (Unless she was operating under the assumption that the more agreeable company you are, the longer you'll stick around.) Neither seemed to understand English, so were probably among the Indians most of their lives; the trauma would have been the killing of their Indian family and their kidnapping by the soldiers.

    So, would Ford have expected the audience to be familiar with the Indian act-crazy technique? Or was he showing how thoroughly assimilated some of the captive women and girls became, and what a second trauma it was for some when they were "rescued"?

  30. Hopscotch looks like fun. Odd, watching such a new movie. ;)

  31. Last thing to consider. John Ford wanted Fess Parker for the role of Martin Pawly and Disney wouldn't allow it under his Davy Crockett
    contract. I think that it would have been a huge mistake. Could Parker have played in John Wayne's towering shadow like Hunter did until he came into his own? Wouldn't Parker be seen immediately as being formidible with only the "green" part to play upon? Would Hunter have wound up in King Of Kings?

  32. These are always hard questions to answer. I really liked Jeffrey Hunter's Captain Christopher Pike in the Star Trek pilot, as much as if not more than William Shatner's Captain Kirk, who in my opinion was very good the first year of the show. The only other time I have seen Jeffrey Hunter is in this, where I thought he was good, but a tad overly emotional in his confrontations with Ethan. I still enjoyed it very much.

    Now Fess Parker was a fine actor, and he had a very calm demeanor about him. I could see him beng very amiable and countryfied, and I think I would have enjoyed seeing him confront and stand up to John Wayne.

    Did you ever see The Horse Soldiers, with William Holden and John Wayne? And the two were very different men, but neither was a push over by any means, and the confrontation they had? That was one of my favorite John Wayne films.

    Anyway, I can't answer this question for you in a way that would be at all satisfactory to you, or to myself, or to any other person that might happen to come along some day years from now and read this blog posting on The Searchers, and that's all I have to say about that.

    How about that Charlie? Didn't you love him, come a courtin' and bringing his guitar, and wanting to stay when the letter from Marty came? He was dang good in that country band too. Don't you love how in older films they often make an effort to flesh out the minor characters?