The Searchers (1956)



This evening I paired some Veggie Quesadillas with the film.

To make these:
1. Wash and cut up an onion, two tomatoes, a lime, and a poblano pepper. Mince a small selection of the onion.
2. Put half of the tomatoes, the minced part of the onion and squeeze half the lime in a bowl with salt & pepper.
3. In a separate bowl, mix sour cream, Southwestern spice, salt, pepper, and a bit of water.
3. With a drizzle of olive oil, cook the onion and the pepper slices in a pan. After warmed, add the other half of the tomato, Southwest seasoning, salt & pepper, and a dollop of sour cream. Stir consistently.
4. Take a tortilla, spread Mexican cheese, then put the mixture from the pan and then another layer of Pepper Jack cheese, and fold the tortilla over, so that it is in half. Place on pan with drizzle of olive oil. When crispy, flip the tortilla, then when finished – cut the quesadilla in pieces.
5. Top with guacamole, the salsa (mixture from the bowl), and the crema (mixture from the bowl), and serve. Enjoy!

Western Film Series #6: 

“The Searchers” (1956), directed by John Ford, was named the greatest American Western by the American Film Institute in 2008, and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry due to it being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress in 1989. This was another John Wayne Western that was filmed in Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona. As part of the films promotion, Warner Bros. produced and broadcast one of the first behind-the-scenes, “making-of” programs in movie history.

Following a man, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), when he returns home in 1868 after fighting in the Civil War, and when he discovers that the Native American tribe, Comanches, were responsible for killing and abducting members of his family, he flies into fits of rage and decides to go after them for revenge. Soon, though, he discovers that his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), is still alive, he decides to go after her on a dangerous mission through the Comanche territory. 

The film received high praise upon it’s release, but it is problematic in its approach to race relations, and it is impossible with a modern viewing to see past that. Principally, Edwards undeniably seems more interested in vengeance than rescuing his niece, who he eventually finds shacked up with a Native man. He bellows that he would rather kill his niece than have her “live with a buck,” because “living with the Comanche ain’t living.” He responds in horror when confronted with the reality that his pal Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) has 1/8th Cherokee. The blatant miscegenation should be met with disgust, but he is never depicted as an anti-hero, as the film still supports his narrative unflinchingly. Roger Ebert wrote, “I think Ford was trying, imperfectly, even nervously, to depict racism that justified genocide.”

Further, an undercurrent of the film relies on the implication that the Comanche Natives are raping the white women and holding them captive, and Edwards’ obsessive fixation on the possibility of that happening to Debbie fuels the entire story line. The Comanche are portrayed as unforgiving savages throughout the entire film and their community lacks nuance or thought, as all of their customs, attire and behavior is characterized by stereotypes. Finally, to add insult to injury, white actor, Henry Brand, wears blackface and appropriates Native wardrobe while portraying Chief Cicatriz, also known as “Scar.”

“The Searchers” is meandering and slow, and the story lacks substantiated heart, but the cinematography, by Winton C. Hoch, is breathtaking and innovative in nearly every single shot. Hoch captures the vastness and beauty of the iconic landscapes of Monument Valley and creates iconic composites of the main characters that stand the test of time. Namely, the final image of John Wayne’s silhouette standing in the doorway with the desert backdrop beaming from behind him is timeless and classic. Like many Westerns of that time, the undignified portrayal of the Native Americans is hard to look past, but some are better than others. Movie lovers should watch for the historical perspective and the cinematic imagery, but otherwise viewers could pass.

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