I think The Searchers is absurdly overrated, for it is far from flawless. But it is still a great work of art that plumbs deep themes and stirs deep feelings.
Its high esteem owes to several reasons. Auteur Theory, mainly established in America by Andrew Sarris who regarded John Ford very highly. Ford has been a pantheon among auteurs. Also, John Ford and the Western are considered quintessentially American, and the Western genre defined Classic Hollywood. Though Ford made several fine Westerns, THE SEARCHERS gets extra-nods for its high energy and darker themes. It is at once a Classic Western and something of an Alt-Western more in line with those of Anthony Mann. Then, there's the French Influence. Jean-Luc Godard claims to have wept at the ending of THE SEARCHERS. Of course, the Auteur Theory(or Policy) originated in France, long an influential hub of cinephilia. Then, there was the Movie Brat influence. The American filmmakers who came of prominence in the 1970s got hooked on THE SEARCHERS. Why that one than other Ford Westerns? It was old-fashioned and revisionist. As such, it had double or triple meanings open to post-modern interpretation. It was as if Ford was channeling something of Sam Fuller & Elia Kazan in slight but significant deviation from his formula, much like Alfred Hitchcock with his batch of movies such as REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO.
THE SEARCHERS offered the nostalgia of Old Hollywood but also a bit of edginess to keep it relevant in the turmoil of the 60s and 70s. THE SEARCHERS, like VERTIGO, has been prized as a bridge between the old and the new, and also an indication of what Ford(and Hitchcock) might have been capable of with greater artistic freedom, available to later filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman. THE SEARCHERS and VERTIGO represent the dawn of something new in American Cinema and yet also represent what was lost with the new freedoms(that could just as easily lead to indulgence as inspiration).
If Scorsese wandered into the darker regions of Fordom, Spielberg remained in the lighter spaces, as in THE WAR HORSE. So, when film critics, film scholars, and filmmakers vote for THE SEARCHERS, they aren't necessarily saying it is really one of the top ten greatest movies. Rather, they are voting for what it represents in terms of genre, theme, and significance. It also explains why RASHOMON rates so highly in polls. Though Akira Kurosawa made several greater films, its cultural significance cannot be overstated. Its effect was electric at the time and introduced the world to Japanese cinema.
Although The Searchers is set in Texas in 1868, Ford’s treatment goes beyond the historical to the mythic and epic.
The Western genre is innately mythic, but THE SEARCHERS isn't really big on myth. It's more folkloric and picaresque. Ford generally wasn't interested in Western genre conventions of the classic gunfighter and the final showdown that served as the basis of the myth. His Westerns were more about a group of men(and good deal of womenfolks) than about the Man. SHANE has mythic overtones. Pauline Kael derided the hero as Kid Galahad on horseback. And of course, Sergio Leone pushed the Western myth to the stratosphere with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which is really about giants than men.
Also, THE SEARCHERS doesn't feel like an epic. It spans several years over large territory, but the treatment is usually intimate and episodic than grandiose and sprawling. Much of the movie is a like a road movie or buddy comedy with Ethan & Marty and furthermore takes place in interiors. The movies doesn't try to be Large in the style of THE BIG TRAIL or THE BIG COUNTRY, let alone THE GIANT, a modern Western. There's no air of Importance to the story-telling. The obvious use of studio sets in some scenes further undermines the sense of the epic. Also, Ethan's brooding quality reminds us that he is more an embodiment of personal rage than a symbol of Western Expansion and Progress. He is an outlier.
The silhouette of a woman appears in the doorway... It is like watching a specter, a shade, taking on an embodied form. It has the feel of a creation myth. But what is being created? The answer seems to be civilization...
Ford didn't think in such big terms. That was the folkish Irish in him. She represents family, at most community. That's what Ford really loved and felt at home in. Civilization is a big concept with highfalutin ideas and monumental architecture. Ford had no real feeling for that. Even his modern movies, like THE LAST HURRAH, are more about community and a culture. In this, Ford felt sort of Indian-ish. After all, the Anglos often characterized the Irish as brutish, tribal, kin-oriented, and backward. Irish were more about pride than principles. So, even as Ford romanticized the coming of community to the West, he sort of lamented the coming of Civilization that would do away with manly roles and womanly roles in a close-knit community.
A rider approaches across the desert. This is a lawless land, where every stranger is regarded with apprehension.
Yes and No. There are Indian hostiles about for sure, and you never know when they might form a war party. But homestead is also part of an intimate community. Because there aren't as yet many people in the area, it seems all the white folks know each other by name. They are awful neighborly and supportive of one another, unlike city folks who are mostly strangers unto one another. So, unless there's Indian smoke and war drums, a figure on the horizon would likely be a familiar face and be welcomed into the house for coffee or broth.
Ethan clearly aims to stop fighting and make a home there... But Ethan’s attempt to reenter society and enjoy the fruits of peace does not last a single day, for there’s trouble afoot.
Ethan still can't get over the fact that the South lost. He has some of that Jesse James rage. If the Civil War were still on, he'd be in the fight as warring comes naturally to him. But by the time he reaches the home of his brother, he's come to bitterly accept that the North won and there's no way of turning back history. But deep down inside, he's smoldering over the defeat. He will fight with the Yankees against the Indians, but his Southern folks have been defeated by the Yankees, much like the Indians are being beaten by the cowboys. Also, he sides with white folks against the Red Man, but he probably feels bitter that the Yankee North waged war to free the semi-savage ni**ers against white Southern folks. The Yankees wage race war against the Red Man but also waged war on Southern White Man to free the black man who, being stronger and donger, could whup the white man.
In one way, the Indians disrupt his chance for peace and stability. In another way, the crisis saves him from a life of slow dissolution as just another farmer or rancher(like Eastwood character in the beginning of UNFORGIVEN before he embarks on a quest). He has reason to be a man of action once again, and he truly feels at home on the move. It's like the guy in TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., while genuinely enraged over his partner's death, uses the opportunity to get his nihilist kicks. War is tragic, but peace is tragic for the man of action. It's like what Douglas MacArthur said about old soldiers just fading away. And the men in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, while glad to be back home, feel so humdrum. In war, they were heroes. And the military guy in WORLD TRADE CENTER(by Oliver Stone), though saddened by the terrorist attack, also welcomes it as godsend. He can finally do what his kind is meant for: To fight and destroy.
Who is Ethan Edwards? He is a warrior and a wanderer in wild spaces: the space between warring civilizations and the space between civilization and savagery. He lives in the state of nature, not civil society.
Ethan is functional in both. Unlike Travis Bickle who is a bundle of neuroticism, Ethan is an all-around personality who fits equally well in civil society and war zone. He can be sociable and chummy as well as fearsome and aggressive. He's in his environment as a wandering 'cowboy', but people of the community feel comfortable when he's around. He gets along with everyone while simultaneously standing his ground. In other words, Ethan is very much a John Wayne character. He's sort of like Pat Buchanan. Pugnacious and always relishing a fight but also amiable and sociable with people of all stripes.
Once the Confederacy was defeated, he fought for the Emperor Maximilian for money. But war is a young man’s game. Ethan is getting too old for it.
Age isn't really a factor in the movie. Sure, Ethan isn't a strapping young man anymore, but he's still younger than some others in the community. And his reason for 'coming home' was the bitter acceptance of the lost Southern cause. He stopped fighting because the Southern defeat was total. It seems that, for a time, in Jesse-James fashion, he took part in revenge violence against Yankees and Carpetbagger types. But it became pointless as the South was lost. It was a bitter pill to swallow but swallow he did.
On two occasions, the Ranger Captain Clayton chooses to ignore Ethan’s possible crimes because they need his help. They sense that Ethan is like them: a guardian of peace and family life...
It's mainly because Ethan is a tough guardian of self. It won't be easy to force one's will on a man like Ethan. While he's useful as another white man against the Indians, there's just enough outlaw in him to intimidate even a proud and tough man like Captain Clayton. Clayton knows Ethan will not come peaceably if he tries to arrest him. And other men would also think twice about arresting him. Besides, as fellow Texans who share the bitterness of the Southern defeat, they sort of empathize with Ethan's vengeful feelings and actions against the Yankees. It's like even law-abiding Southerners who didn't take part in Jesse James' criminality looked the other way because "it was for Dixie and nothing else".
For instance, when a fight breaks out at a wedding at the Jorgenson home, Ethan shoos Mrs. Jorgenson inside because he doesn’t think a woman should see such things.
I think he was just clowning, a way for him to say, "You womenfolk pretend to be for home and hearth but love to see a good fight like anyone else." So, his action was sarcastic than moralistic. It's like when Laurie pleads with Ethan to stop the fight, he tells SHE started it, and soon enough she's reveling in the sight of two men whupping each other over her.
When Ethan finds the bodies of Martha and Lucy, both of whom were presumably raped, he spares others the sight. He has peered into the abyss so that others don’t have to.
That was more personal than anything else. He loved Martha and feels that Marty setting his eyes on her ravaged naked body would be more violation of her dignity. As for Lucy's body, he kept that secret so that young Jorgenson wouldn't lose his head. Just as he predicted, once Jorgenson hears what really happened, he burns with rage and rides off into an Indian camp and gets killed. In a way, Ethan despairs what happened but also understands Jorgenson died a manly death.
Ethan doesn't try to protect Marty from the horrors of the world. He was certainly about to kill Debbie right in Marty's presence. And when he shot the eyes out of the dead Indian, Marty was there as witness.
Mrs. Jorgenson says, “A Texican’s nothin’ but a human man out on a limb . . . This year and next and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Someday this country will be a fine good place to be . . . Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come . . .”
She was a school teacher, you know.
Texas is a pagan land that demands human sacrifices before it becomes a decent place to live. This is why Ethan interrupts the Christian burial of his family to begin the search for the killers. Texas is not yet ready for such niceties. It needs more blood and bones, and Ethan is ready to lay down his own.
This is over-interpreting Ethan's motives. He's just impatient for action. He is not a high concept person who thinks in terms of history, meaning, and significance. He lives for what is his, whom he knows and cares for. The only larger loyalty he had was to the South and only because of the Civil War that divided the US into North vs South. Even if Ethan lived in a civilized setting without red savages, he would always be impatient and a bit impulsive, like the Burt Reynolds character in DELIVERANCE who is eager to reach the river. (Why? Because it's there.) Or the Stampers of SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION. Ethan isn't acting for civilization or even for Texas. The school teacher may see her life as part of something bigger, but Ethan lives for himself. Even his rescue mission for Debbie is really about his feelings, his sense of revenge, his personal vendetta.
Ethan is a man in a hurry. The proximate reason for haste is that with each passing minute, the girls are closer to rape, torture, and death. The deeper cause is that he’s over the hill, so his time is short.
With Lucy, that's true. She is a young woman, therefore a sexual target for the Indians. But even as victim of rape and murder, she would still be a white woman who resisted and understood the horror of what had happened. But it's different with Debbie. She wouldn't be raped. She would be turned Indian. She would be accepted into the very fabric of Indian life, and her loyalties would be with the Indians. She wouldn't be sexually violated but sexually initiated into Indian life to produce braves whom she would love as her own sons. In some ways, this is worse. It's like turning Greek boys into Janissary who genuinely accepted Islam and fought for Allah against Christendom.
It's like a white race-ist being killed by terrible Negroes is less tragic than white kids being turned into 'woke' enemies of their own race, essentially tools of vile Jewish Supremacists and ghastly Negroes.
He is cold and ruthless, using Martin as bait to trap and kill the treacherous merchant Futterman.
Actually, cold-and-ruthless would have been less unnerving. What's truly unsettling about the scene is Ethan's casual camaraderie with Marty. He uses Marty as bait but treats him like a long-lost little brother. Of course, one could say Ethan was just playacting, but his fondness for Marty(by that time) seems as genuine as the ploy is calculating. Thus, Ethan has the odd combination of warmth and ruthlessness(which could be said of Ford himself, a real son of a bitch but not without a heart). And the crazy-funny thing is Ford did it with comic touch. It's almost as if Marty passed the test of manhood with Ethan, much like Paulie saying, "You broke your cherry" to Henry in GOODFELLAS. It's the warrior's code. Warriors are a band of brothers but also expendable. It's just the name of the game. Ford made a movie called THEY WERE EXPENDABLE. So, the more Marty comes to accept his expendability, the more he becomes valuable to Ethan who lives his life like it's expendable.
He is also increasingly savage... He even slaughters buffalo simply to starve the Indians.
Modern times make us wonder what is and isn't savage. During World War I, the entire German civilian population was targeted for starvation with naval blockades. In the 1990s, Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton, both products of elite institutions, implemented ruthless sanctions on Iraq that killed countless lives of children. And the US uses food-and-medicine as weapons in its Jewish-Supremacist war on Syria. So, Ethan's 'savagery' was pure amateur stuff compared to what civilizations do.
In a way, the dichotomy of civilization vs savagery misses the mark. American Indians were more 'war-like' because there were many competing tribes. But there was peace within the tribe. So, if Indians fought more, it wasn't because they were naturally more warlike or savage but because the sphere of peace was smaller for them. They belonged to a tribe surrounded by other tribes. Civilization has much wider sphere of peace but only because more peoples have been conquered and forced into the sphere. But when we ponder America's war-making on nations and entities that remain outside, independent of, or hostile to the Globalist Empire, it's utterly 'savage' and ruthless. Just ask the Syrians. Just ask the Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians in the Donbass. Just ask the Palestinians hated by the Jewish supremacist masters of America. We speak of civilization conquering savagery in the American West, but civilization itself is an amalgam of conquered peoples. The Irish who collaborated under the Anglos to conquer the West had themselves been forced into Pax Anglo. Same with Negroes. 20% of cowboys were Negroes, and they too warred with Indians. They too had been forced into Pax Anglo. So, spread of civilization is often about the conquered conquering the 'savages' yet to be conquered.
Ethan’s search for Debbie quickly takes on the quality of an obsession.
She is kin, the child of his brother. Also, she's the child of Martha, the woman Ethan loved. He lost Martha to Aaron, his own brother, and he's not about to lose the child of Martha to the Indians. Because she was abducted when young, the real problem is she can be raised to love the Indians. With Lucy, the Indians had to force their lust on her. But with Debbie, she could put out to some brave out of love. That would be the greatest betrayal.
There’s a lot to dislike about Ethan Edwards, but he’s the only man who could have rescued Debbie.
But the rescue is purely accidental, and her survival owes more to Marty. Despite all those years of wandering and searching, Ethan failed to rescue Debbie. He came close to killing her at one point, but Marty stood in his way.
The final raid on the Indian Camp wasn't about Debbie. The cavalry was going to attack anyway, and she just happened to be there. And she could have easily gotten killed if the cavalry charged in. After all, plenty of Indian women and children were mowed down by the US cavalry. This is why Marty asks to sneak into the camp prior to the charge. And it is he who kills Scar. It wasn't Ethan's plan, but by this time, he's gained enough respect for Marty, who'd grown into full manhood, to let him have his way.
The central hangup of most critical writing about The Searchers is that Ethan is a “racist,” even a “virulent” one.
There is a virulent quality about Ethan, but what is impassioned among whites is usually called 'rabid' and 'virulent' by Jews. Of course, when Jews exhibit similar passions, those are noble and inspiring.
Anyway, calling Ethan a 'racist' in the context of THE SEARCHERS seems pointless. I mean, who isn't a 'racist' in that setting? The movie features a race war between whites and Indians. Every white person in THE SEARCHERS is for the eradication of Indian savages to make way for white communities. Even the North, which abolished slavery in the South, was totally committed to Westward Expansion and the 'genocide' of the Indians. Whether Mr. Futterman the merchant is Jewish or not, plenty of Jewish merchants sold rifles and ammo to cowboys to go kill Indians with. Perhaps, the difference is other whites just do it as a necessary evil whereas Ethan really feels the 'racism' as a kind of all-consuming obsession.
A racist, in the words of Jim Goad, means “a vicious loser who hates people with different continental ancestry . . . merely to compensate for being an inadequate psychopath and to avoid taking responsibility for his own problems.”
There are people like that. Some white supremacist types are indeed the biggest losers. They aren't smart or strong. Their 'racism' is a crutch. They inflate their own egos and put down others to feel better about themselves. But this is true of all groups. Black supremacists tend to exaggerate 'we wuz kangz' BS to compensate for their loserdom in many fields.
Now, if 'racism' was meant in this way, it wouldn't be a problem. The real problem is 'racism' now applies to ANY expression of white desire for self-preservation. So, any European nation that doesn't want to be swamped by the Third World is 'far right' and 'white supremacist'. Of course, Jews push this invective, but then, they demand that whites, who must forsake their own blood-and-territorial inheritance, totally support Jewish right of identity, pride, nationhood, and even hegemony over others.
It used to be 'racist' meant a nasty hateful jerk who hated just to hate. Now, a 'racist' is any white person who won't totally grovel before Jews and Negroes. And even if they do grovel, they would still be charged of 'white fragility' or some nonsense. But the fact that so many whites fall for this goes to show they are idiots. It seems white greatness owed to great white elites leading the white masses. Most white people are only good for following like sheeple. Once white elites abandoned their roles as proudly race-ist white rulers/leaders, the white masses just turned to the new Jewish elites for answers, and it's been ever increasing levels of cuckery.
Ethan clearly isn’t a racist in this sense. First of all, he is not ignorant of the Comanches. He knows their language and their myths. He respects them as enemies. He clearly hates them. But he doesn’t hate them because they are merely “different” or because he is a “loser.” He hates them because of their treachery, violence, and cruelty. They butchered his family after raping the women, something they did to countless other white families.
Comanches are a fearsome bunch, but whites are invading Comanche territories. Comanches fight back like the Germanic barbarians did against the Romans. So, even though whites are understandably horrified by Comanche brutality, it's hardly surprising that Comanches would react this way to white encroachment on their ancestral hunting and burial grounds.
The thing about Ethan is he's a natural tribalist(though always wandering off into the turfs of other tribes). He feels most comfortable with us-versus-them view of the world. He even feels this way about whites. He surely killed lots of whites in the Civil War and even after the war. As a Southerner, he resented the North telling his kind what they can and can't do. As a white man, he's at war with Indians. As the brother of Aaron, he takes the massacre personally. If the Comanches had spared Aaron and Martha's family and gone after the Jorgensons, Ethan's anger wouldn't have been sufficient to become a 'searcher'. With Ethan, the personal is political and vice versa. The fact that he even fought in Mexico goes to show his main loyalty isn't to country or principles. It's about what feels right to him at the moment.
Critics are also exercised over the fact that Ethan would rather kill Debbie than allow her to stay with the Indians. Surely this is an expression of irrational “racism” and “hate.” But is it?
This is understandable. After all, Marty himself is shocked that Ethan would even dream of such thing. And Ford as storyteller is with Marty though privy to Ethan's motives.
It's a variation of 'better dead than red'. It's been a common theme for people to prefer death with dignity than defeat with humiliation. In STAGECOACH, a southern gentleman saves the last bullet for the white woman lest she be taken by the Indians. Indeed, this rule applied to men as well. Better to save the last bullet for yourself than be taken hostage by Indians who might torture you in the most horrible way. In MASADA, the Zealots choose to end their lives than surrender to the Romans. In DOWNFALL, the Goebbels' wife would rather kill her kids than have them grow up as 'slaves' in defeated Germany. Many Japanese committed suicide than accept defeat in the Pacific War. A woman in13TH WARRIOR instructs another to kill the children than have them be taken as captives by the invaders if the defenses were to fail. The black woman in Toni Morrison's BELOVED killed her child than have her grow up as a slave. If white men had abducted an Indian child and raised him to fight on the side of whites against Indians, the boy's Indian father or uncle might have wanted him killed. Better than than have a red man fight for whites and kill fellow Indians.
Still, Ethan's decision to kill Debbie is deeply disturbing because she is wholly innocent. She was taken as a child by the Indians and raised as one. Under the circumstances, she is what she is. To kill her seems over-the-top, more an expression and realization of Ethan's personal rage than anything to do with justice or purpose. (Ethan would want to kill her even if or especially if she found happiness with the Indians.)
Debbie's 'betrayal' isn't something she chose. She was acculturated into another world that accepted her as one of its own. It's like what happens to the white kid in THE EMERALD FOREST by John Boorman. He becomes a genuine Noble Savage. Now, in THE SEARCHERS, it's revealed at the end that Debbie never fully gave herself to the Indians. She did grow fond of them and came to regard them as her people, but deep down inside, she still remained true to her real family, like the priest in THE SILENCE(Martin Scorsese) kept the flame alive deep in his heart under captivity in Japan.
The real question about Ethan's decision to kill Debbie is, "Was it more for her sake or his sake?" I think it was more about his feelings, and on that note, it is wrong. It was his rage more than her interests that drove him to such extreme resolve.
Ethan also knows that once Debbie reaches puberty she will be raped. Maybe she will be killed then. Maybe she will be made into a squaw. Ethan would rather die than suffer that fate. He wants to spare Debbie from it. This isn’t racism and hate. It is an act of love in a terrible situation.
No, the rape issue was with Lucy. The problem with Debbie is she will be wed to an Indian. This is worse than rape as far as Ethan is concerned. At least in rape, there is the act of resistance. It's like the scene in THE BIRTH OF A NATION and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS(by Michael Mann) where white women kill themselves than be taken by the Negro or Indian. White male 'racists' may be outraged by black-on-white rape but they are truly enraged by white-on-black love, aka Jungle Fever. At least the white rape victim resisted the Negro. In contrast, there is white lust and desire for the Negro in jungle fever. A white woman happily surrenders herself to black men. So, as horrible as Lucy's death was, Debbie's acculturation into Indian life seems worse to Ethan. She won't be raped but may 'freely' give herself to some Indian brave she regards as her husband to serve and obey.
Ethan would rather die than suffer such fate? You mean Ethan would rather kill her than suffer the fate of knowing of her 'betrayal'.
Whatever it is, can't it be race-ist and hate and love and honor all rolled into one? Why think in binaries? Ethan hates what has become of Debbie, but that hate exists only because of his love for her. It's often the case that the person you come to hate the most was the one you loved the most. You feel most betrayed when the person you trusted the most turns out the wrong way. The notion that Ethan, in his fit of rage and on the cusp of killing Debbie, was acting out of love is a bit of a stretch. There is love buried somewhere in Ethan's heart but also unhinged rage and hatred. He's not acting rationally based on questions of ethics(in terrible situations) but burning with fury of the moment.
The problem men face with women is twofold. In SEVEN SAMURAI, a woman abducted by bandits feels great shame, and later, face to face with husband, she would rather throw herself into the fire than have him look at her fallen self. (That peasant's rage makes Ethan's seem pale by comparison.)
In THE WILD BUNCH however, it's not the case. When Angel asks the village elder if his woman Teresa was molested and taken, the old man says, "No, the bitchass ho ran off with General Mapache who has more blings to give her." Later when Angel encounters Teresa at Mapache's compound, she laughs at him, and he grows so enraged that he kills her.
Kurosawa idealized the woman-as-saint, whereas Peckinpah saw women as natural whores, true enough in STRAW DOGS.
Raped by Black Savage or Jungle Fever? Long ago, maybe sex between black male and white female had a good chance of involving rape. Today, most of them are products of jungle fever, and furthermore, it's promoted by Jews and endorsed even by Conservatives and Donald Trump, the friend of Kim Kardashian.
TAXI DRIVER and HARDCORE, both written by Paul Schrader, reveal that the girls ran off on their own and chose to be whores than 'chores' and 'bores' in small town setting. And so many small town girls go to Hollywood and prefer to work as skanks than be stuck in nowhere-ville with the prospect of settling down with Average Joe. Even in PATTI HEARST where a white woman was really kidnapped and raped, she becomes one of the radicals soon enough.
Coen Brothers did a variation on this with the porn girl in THE BIG LEBOWSKI:
And it is this question that haunts Ethan. How much of Debbie's 'betrayal' was forced on her and how much of it was voluntary? Is she a mere victim or a willing accomplice with the Indians?
Martin Scorsese was deeply influenced by The Searchers.
True, but his yammering about Ethan-the-'racist' is so sickening in that series he did on the Western. Sometimes, an Irishman
would do well to paint his house.
Ford makes Martin Pawley one-eighth Cherokee. He first appears riding a horse bareback, then neatly dismounts while it is still trotting. He’s also late to dinner. Later we see that he is highly emotional and impulsive, although he is still a teenager. When he is a little older, he does not fight “fair” in a fist-fight. All this suggests that he has a bit of Indian wildness in him.
His entrance comes later to accentuate his 'intrusion' into the family setting as preferred by Ethan. The very sight of him triggers Ethan's deep-seated hostility. Ethan's reaction is 'animal', like when a dog instinctively feels wary of another creature. It takes time for Ethan's memory(of having saved Marty) and the family's affection for Marty to ease him back into the family setting. His mind knows that Marty is 'part of the family', but his heart remains wary of him. He feels tolerance but not bond.
As for being emotional and impulsive, those are more Irishy traits than Indian ones, whose stereotype was stone-faced stolidity. It's like Scar speaks in monotones.
We learn that Ethan rescued Marty as a baby, and this foreshadows Ethan's rescuing(or sparing) of Debbie at the end. Both 'rescues' have an air of ambivalence. The white-man-side of Ethan didn't particularly care to save a 'half-breed' child, but perhaps the Christian side made him do, though he shunted the kid off to another family than raise him on his own. Likewise, we don't know until the very end what Ethan will do when he gets his hands on Debbie. He doesn't know it either, also the case with revisionist NOAH of Darren Aronofsky's movie that combines the Noah story with that of Abram. In the end, this 'Noah' just couldn't do it. The difference between Marty and Debbie is Ethan's heart wasn't into saving baby Marty but his mind was — he knew it was the right thing to do even though he didn't really care — , whereas with Debbie, his mind is set on killing her but his heart isn't, which is revealed at the end.
When Ethan sees him, he blurts out that he could be mistaken for a half-breed. In truth, he cannot. Played by Jeffrey Hunter, Marty has strikingly handsome Caucasian features
Yeah, Marty is supposed to have distinguishable Indian features. Back then, it was the norm in Hollywood to cast white actors for non-white roles. So, we must go with what Ethan says than what we see.
When Laurie suggests that it might be better for Debbie to die than stay with the Comanches, it is obviously not because she has a horror of miscegenation. Instead, she has a horror of rape.
No, it's more due to her feelings about mixing with savages. She doesn't like the idea of Debbie having Indian babies and living as a squaw-woman. She's high-spirited and proud but not particularly sympathetic. She's a bit vain and selfish, at least to the extent allowed by frontier experience. When Marty rides off to find Debbie, she takes it as personal slight and grievance. She wants Marty's attention on her than on Debbie. In this, she is sort of like Ethan. Both act like the world revolves around their feelings.
The characters of Marty and Laurie bring us to the main faults of The Searchers. They are incredibly annoying: less characters than caricatures. Perhaps these characters could have been saved by good acting, but both Jeffrey Hunter and Vera Miles as Laurie are committed over-actors. Marty is annoyingly whiny and buffoonish, and Laurie tends to be shrill.
I like Marty, but the performance is problematic because the actor was too old for the role, especially in the early years of the search. He acts too boyish for a full-grown man. Also, he plays the most morally and socially/racially complex character in the movie, but Ford wasn't sure whether he wanted Marty to be a comic sidekick or the voice of conscience.
Vera Miles on the other hand shines like an apple. Her performance isn't subtle or complicated but from the heart, but Laurie is a simple girl with strong passions and full of spunk. She's a girl blossoming into womanhood, and it is peak Miles. It's a hearty and heartbreaking performance. She is bound by duty and does her chores and more but also defiant and self-centered. Her life revolves around work, but she wants the world, or at least Marty, to revolve around her. She's responsibility and vanity in one tight bundle. Even when she wails at Marty for choosing the search for Debbie over her, she goes through the trouble of retrieving the horse and handing(or hurling) him the rifle.
There is a great deal of childish flirting and bickering. It is often painful. But the worst thing about it is that Ford left nothing to accident. He clearly wanted it exactly this way, which is a terrible lapse of taste.
The problem lies in taking Ford and THE SEARCHERS too seriously. Ford never aspired to be a pure artist, and his movies are essentially folkloric popular entertainments. Much of the appeal owes to the air of familiarity. When you watch a Ford movie, you expect the similar cast of characters. It's like the Irish returning to Ireland to bask in Irishness. Ford's movies feel like 'home', even when set in the Western wilderness. Ford created his universe of characters, and the appeal was to popular and even vulgar taste. Ford wasn't exactly about good taste or sophistication. An average Ford movie was perhaps more complex than the usual Hollywood fare but not by much. His movies weren't Shakespeare or Dostoevsky. And much of THE SEARCHERS has to seen as Family Entertainment. It had nostalgic appeal, especially in the 1950s when Teen Culture was on the rise with the birth of the Cool. There's nothing cool about Ford's movies. When Laurie receives a letter, her parents hardly have any concept of privacy and tell her to read it out loud. It's old-fashioned and homey.
Though Ford could be somewhat complex, his movies have to be taken like Norman Rockwell paintings(than Rembrandts). Naturally, they are filled with archetypes and caricatures than three-dimensional characters. THE SEARCHERS is very much the usual Ford fare but something a bit more, as if entertainment has been miscegenated with art into something promising to be wondrous, or monstrous.
terrible possibility that Lucas also copied Luke’s annoying whining from Marty and the juvenile bickering between Luke, Leia, and Han from similar scenes in The Searchers.
That owes more to screwball comedies.
By the end of the film, (Marty) is man enough to defy Ethan then fight off Laurie’s would-be groom, a grinning, drawling buffoon about whom the less said the better.
That 'grinning, drawling buffoon' is wonderful. It's hilarious because he talks like a hee-haw tard but sings like an angel. But the single most memorable character is Old Mose who looks racially ambiguous and is wonderfully goofy. He looks both infantile and senile. Inspired personality and performance. One thing for sure, characters like Old Mose show that the movie was as much bawdy comedy for the unwashed masses as a dark tale of race and redemption for thinking folks.
What happened? Obviously, Ethan has had a change of heart. But it makes perfect sense. He wanted to kill Debbie when she wanted to stay with Scar. But Scar is now dead, his people will be killed or captured, and Debbie has run away from the Comanches. So she has had a change of heart too. Now Ethan can rescue her, so he does. But that was Plan A all along.
No, this is too neat and rational. His murderous feelings toward Debbie went deeper than the problem of her loyalty to the Comanches. She'd been defiled in his eyes and is beyond redemption. Sure, his rage has abated some since his attempt to kill her, but the rage is still there, as Marty noticed many times. (Marty says that whenever Ethan talks about Debbie, his face goes 'red rum, red rum'.) And when Marty sneaks into the Indian camp, it is as much to protect her from Ethan as to save her from Scar. Marty fears that the US cavalry raid might serve as perfect moral cover for Ethan to kill Debbie(as surely some women and children will get killed in the melee). Even to the very end, Marty tries to stop Ethan, and Ethan strikes Marty to the ground and rides off in pursuit of Debbie. It is only when he holds her in his arms that he knows for sure that he won't harm her. It's like John Wayne's character wasn't sure what he was really going to do with Montgomery Clift's character in RED RIVER, an emotional precursor to THE SEARCHERS. On the one hand, Wayne's character vowed to kill the 'traitor', but face to face with the young man, he refuses to shoot him and slugs him instead until he is slugged back... until they make up. This element of THE SEARCHERS has something of 'existentialism'(fashionable at the time). In the end, we cannot sum up Ethan's final decision with recourse to logic, ethics, philosophy. He was torn between killing her and sparing her, and he didn't know what he'd really do until the very end when she was in his arms. In a way, she saves him as much as he saves her. That sense of mystery is what adds power to that scene. It's like the closing line of Scorsese's RAGING BULL.
"So, for the second time, [the Pharisees]
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
'Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner.'
'Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know.'
the man replied.
'All I know is this:
once I was blind and now I can see.'