AFI Top 100: No. 12 The Searchers

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I believe I’ve mentioned before my dad’s love for westerns and John Wayne. Despite this, prior to taking on the AFI Top 100 I had really only watched the television show Bonanza (of which I was mildly obsessed) with him. I was looking forward to finally watching a John Wayne film. My excitement grew when I realized the premise of this story was Cynthia Anne Parker. Stuff You Missed In History Class, my favorite podcast (and running listen), recently did a two-part feature on Cynthia Anne and her son Quanah and I couldn’t wait to see the Hollywood version of the sad story.

The Searchers, from my knowledge of the history, pretty accurately showcased the tension between the Comanche and the settlers. There were certainly times when I wondered how much of this tension was stemmed from 1950s racism but the truth is both sides were basically at war with each other and both sides did awful things. The SYMIHC podcast hosts could barely describe the atrocities committed to the real-life Parker family (in this film, the Edwards family) similar to Ethan’s apprehension of sharing what truly happened to Lucy in that canyon. On the flip side, Ethan’s ruthlessness towards the Comanche is very apparent and the battle scene at the end showed the Comanche women grabbing their children in fear. I was uncomfortable many times during the film due to this.

Enough on the history and back to the depth of the movie. Both Tim and I believed it was between 10-30 spots too high as the acting from many of the characters was sub-par (John Wayne was the exception as he was fantastic). With that said, Western films are an important part of movie history and there were many things to love about The Searchers (who many say is the best Western of all-time. John Wayne’s character of Ethan is an amazing grey character.  His choices and reasoning were kept under wraps the entire movie, forcing you to be on your toes and hold your breath. The scenery, even though it was definitely not in Texas, was stunning. (Monument Valley is on my list of places I need to go) The visuals throughout were breathtaking and stole the show, few more so than the famous closing scene. Nicely done but not one I’ll watch over and over.

Next up, our final silent film: City Lights

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