Tagline – He Had To Find Her… He Had To Find Her!
Starring – John Wayne (Ethan Edwards), Jeffrey Hunter (Martin Pawley), Vera Miles (Laurie Jorgensen), Ward Bond (Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton), Natalie Wood (Debbie Edwards).
Released – March, 1956
Directed By – John Ford
Produced By – Warner Brothers, C.V. Whitney Pictures
Distributed By – Warner Brothers
Description – In 1868, Ethan Edwards returns from serving the Confederacy during the Civil War. He has been away for years and it is his hope to reunite with his brother Aaron and his family in West Texas.
Ethan’s background poses many questions as evidenced by the large quantity of gold he possesses, and a Mexican war medal that he gives to his niece Debbie.
Shortly after his return, his brother’s neighbor Lars Jorgensen has some cattle stolen from his ranch. It is believed that the Comanche may be responsible. Ethan joins Capt. Samuel Clayton and a group of Texas Rangers to search for the cattle.
By the time the group realizes that the theft was only a ploy by the Comanche to draw them away, it is too late. They return to find the Edwards homestead burning to the ground. Ethan’s brother Aaron, his wife Martha, and their son Ben are all dead. Debbie and her older sister Lucy have been taken by the Comanche.
A funeral for the family is held and the men again start out after the Comanche. The group find the Comanche camp and Ethan wants a direct attack. However, fearing for the girl’s safety, Capt. Clayton orders the men to sneak into the camp hoping to rescue the girl’s without too much bloodshed.
The camp is deserted and they immediately resume the chase. Once again the Comanche trick the group while almost catching them in a deadly trap. They manage to fight off the Indians and escape, but realize that they do not have enough men to successfully rescue the girl’s.
Capt. Clayton orders the posse to go back. Ethan refuses and, along with Lucy’s fiance Brad, and Debbie’s adopted brother Martin continue the search. As they approach the Comanche camp they find the brutally raped and murdered body of Lucy. Brad becomes enraged and rides recklessly into the Comanche camp where he is killed.
Ethan and Martin carefully follow the Comanche looking for an opportunity to save Debbie, but can only search until winter when they lose the trail. They return to the Jorgensen ranch where a letter awaits stating that Debbie has been taken by a Comanche chief named Scar.
Again the search begins lasting for years until a tip takes them to New Mexico and a Mexican leads them to where Scar is hiding out. They are able to contact Debbie (now a young woman) who secretly meets with Ethan and Martin. She tells them she is one of Scar’s wives and does not want to return with them.
Ethan now feels that there is no hope for Debbie as she has adopted the Comanche ways. His bias against the Indian fuels his sentiment that he would rather see Debbie dead than live as a Comanche.
Ethan now plans not to save Debbie, but to kill her.
NOTABLE: In 1989, The Searchers was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
In 2008, the American Film Institute named The Searchers the Greatest American Western of All Time.
In the scenes where Debbie Edwards is a young child she was played by Lana Wood, the younger sister of Natalie Wood.
Natalie Wood herself was quite young at the time of filming and still a student in high school. On several occasions both John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter would pick her up from school to be on the set. Needless to say, this generated a great deal of excitement at the school.
John Wayne considered the role of Ethan Edwards to be the best character he ever had the pleasure to play. His respect for the part caused him to name one of his sons Ethan.
In a biography of John Ford there is a story of Ward Bond walking around naked in his motel room with the curtains open in an effort to attract the beautiful Vera Miles. It didn’t work.
In the summer of 1956 Buddy Holly and his band saw the film and were so impressed by Ethan’s (John Wayne) repeated use of the phrase “That’ll be the day” that it inspired the title for their Rock-and-Roll classic.
Personal Note: A personal favorite and one of the greatest Western’s ever. This is a classic John Ford western, as only he could have filmed it, with beautiful color photography, and a story you’re not likely to ever forget.