The Searchers (1956)

119 mins | Western | 26 May 1956

Director:

John Ford

Writer:

Frank S. Nugent

Cinematographer:

Winton Hoch

Editor:

Jack Murray

Production Designers:

Frank Hotaling, James Basevi

Production Company:

C. V. Whitney Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

Alan Le May's best-selling novel, on which the film was based, was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post under the title The Avenging Texans from 6 Nov to 3 Dec 1954. The HR review gives the film's running time as 110 min. According to a 1 Apr 1955 HR news item, some scenes were shot on location in Canada and Colorado. HR production charts noted that the majority of location shooting was done in Monument Valley, UT, while studio sequences were shot at RKO-Pathé. Several modern sources add Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles' Griffith Park as a shooting site.
       The Searchers was the first film produced by C. V. Whitney Pictures. Whitney, a well-known sportsman and millionaire, had previously been a partner with David O. Selznick in Pioneer Pictures and other ventures, including the production of Gone With the Wind and the formation of the Technicolor company. Whitney also had a long association with producer Merian C. Cooper, one of director John Ford's partners in Argosy Pictures.
       Ford's son Patrick acted as the associate producer and his son-in-law, Ken Curtis, played "Charlie McCorry"; John Wayne's son Pat played "Lt. Greenhill"; and Lana Wood, who played "Debbie" as a young girl, was actress Natalie Wood's sister. Olive Carey and Harry Carey, Jr. were the widow and son of the late western actor Harry Carey, who was a longtime friend of and major influence on both Ford and Wayne. Many modern film critics have pointed out that in the final shots of The Searchers , when Wayne is seen in the doorway, ... More Less

Alan Le May's best-selling novel, on which the film was based, was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post under the title The Avenging Texans from 6 Nov to 3 Dec 1954. The HR review gives the film's running time as 110 min. According to a 1 Apr 1955 HR news item, some scenes were shot on location in Canada and Colorado. HR production charts noted that the majority of location shooting was done in Monument Valley, UT, while studio sequences were shot at RKO-Pathé. Several modern sources add Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles' Griffith Park as a shooting site.
       The Searchers was the first film produced by C. V. Whitney Pictures. Whitney, a well-known sportsman and millionaire, had previously been a partner with David O. Selznick in Pioneer Pictures and other ventures, including the production of Gone With the Wind and the formation of the Technicolor company. Whitney also had a long association with producer Merian C. Cooper, one of director John Ford's partners in Argosy Pictures.
       Ford's son Patrick acted as the associate producer and his son-in-law, Ken Curtis, played "Charlie McCorry"; John Wayne's son Pat played "Lt. Greenhill"; and Lana Wood, who played "Debbie" as a young girl, was actress Natalie Wood's sister. Olive Carey and Harry Carey, Jr. were the widow and son of the late western actor Harry Carey, who was a longtime friend of and major influence on both Ford and Wayne. Many modern film critics have pointed out that in the final shots of The Searchers , when Wayne is seen in the doorway, he paid tribute to Carey by grasping his right elbow with his left hand, a gesture that Carey often made in his pictures.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, HR news items add the following actors to the cast: Mae Marsh, Gertrude Astor, Peter Ortiz and Maj. Philip Kieffer. In his autobiography, Iron Eyes Cody states that he also was in the film, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed.
       The film received mostly positive reviews, although some reviewers commented negatively on the complexity of the "Ethan Edwards" character and the lack of explanation of his actions. According to an early plot synopsis contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Ethan's rescue of "Debbie" at the film's end was to be explained by his statement that she resembled her late mother, with whom Ethan was in love. Although many modern critics have noted an implied romantic relationship between Ethan and "Martha," it is only vaguely hinted at in the film.
       The Searchers was a financial success, but it did not receive any Academy Award nominations. However, in 1971 Peter Bogdanovich produced and directed a documentary on Ford, Directed by John Ford (see above), that utilized the opening and closing of The Searchers , and in 1972, a Sight and Sound poll of international film critics included it on a list of the twenty best films of all time, and a number of modern directors have cited the picture as an influence on their work. In 1991, Warner Bros. released a thirty-fifth anniversary video edition of the film, which included documentary footage of the making of The Searchers . The footage was broadcast on several segments of the 1956 Warner Brothers Presents television program. In 2007, The Searchers was ranked 12th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 96th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Mar 1956.
---
Box Office
24 Mar 1956.
---
Daily Variety
13 Mar 56
p. 3, 9
Film Daily
13 Mar 56
p. 6.
Films in Review
Jun--Jul 1956
pp. 284-285.
Harrison's Reports
17 Mar 56
p. 43.
Hollywood Citizen-News
12 Nov 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jun 55
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1955
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 55
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1955
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 55
p. 4, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 56
p. 3, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 1956
p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
31 Mar 56
p. 843.
New York Times
31 May 56
p. 21.
The Exhibitor
21 Mar 56
p. 4124.
Variety
14 Mar 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
The C. V. Whitney Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
2d unit photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair dresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Scr supv
Tech adv
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Searchers by Alan Le May (New York, 1954).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"The Searchers," music and lyrics by Stan Jones
"Skip to My Lou" and "Shall We Gather at the River," traditional.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 May 1956
Production Date:
mid June--mid August 1955 at RKO-Pathé Studios
Copyright Claimant:
C. V. Whitney Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 May 1956
Copyright Number:
LP8335
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
VistaVision
Duration(in mins):
119
Length(in feet):
10,681
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17787
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Martha Edwards opens the door of her cabin to the arid Texas landscape outside just as her brother-in-law, Ethan Edwards, approaches on horseback. Although it is 1868, Martha, her husband Aaron, their children Debbie, Lucy and Ben, and their adopted son, Martin Pawley, have not seen Ethan since he left them to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Because Martin, an earnest but friendly young man, is part Cherokee, Ethan treats him coldly, even though it was he who rescued the lad when his parents were massacred in an Indian raid years earlier. Soon after Ethan's arrival, Rev. Samuel Johnson Clayton, a captain in the Texas Rangers as well as an old family friend, announces that the cattle of local rancher Lars Jorgensen have been stolen. Although Ethan is somewhat contemptuous of Sam, he joins Martin and a posse in pursuit of the thieves. When they find that the bulls have been killed with Comanche lances, Ethan declares that what the Indians really wanted was to lure the men away from home, thereby leaving their ranches open to attack. The men head back, but it is too late, for upon their arrival at the Edwards home, they discover that everyone has been brutally murdered except for Lucy and Debbie, who have been taken by the Comanche. The posse then sets out to find the girls. On finding a fresh Comanche grave, the men unearth the body but are shocked when Ethan shoots out its eyes. According to Comanche belief, Ethan explains, this will prevent the dead man's spirit from entering the spirit lands and force him to wander forever. The next ... +


Martha Edwards opens the door of her cabin to the arid Texas landscape outside just as her brother-in-law, Ethan Edwards, approaches on horseback. Although it is 1868, Martha, her husband Aaron, their children Debbie, Lucy and Ben, and their adopted son, Martin Pawley, have not seen Ethan since he left them to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Because Martin, an earnest but friendly young man, is part Cherokee, Ethan treats him coldly, even though it was he who rescued the lad when his parents were massacred in an Indian raid years earlier. Soon after Ethan's arrival, Rev. Samuel Johnson Clayton, a captain in the Texas Rangers as well as an old family friend, announces that the cattle of local rancher Lars Jorgensen have been stolen. Although Ethan is somewhat contemptuous of Sam, he joins Martin and a posse in pursuit of the thieves. When they find that the bulls have been killed with Comanche lances, Ethan declares that what the Indians really wanted was to lure the men away from home, thereby leaving their ranches open to attack. The men head back, but it is too late, for upon their arrival at the Edwards home, they discover that everyone has been brutally murdered except for Lucy and Debbie, who have been taken by the Comanche. The posse then sets out to find the girls. On finding a fresh Comanche grave, the men unearth the body but are shocked when Ethan shoots out its eyes. According to Comanche belief, Ethan explains, this will prevent the dead man's spirit from entering the spirit lands and force him to wander forever. The next day, the Comanche raiding party, led by Chief Scar, surrounds and attacks the posse, but the rangers drive them off. When Sam refuses to pursue the Comanche, explaining that they should be allowed to bury their dead in peace, Ethan explodes, and storms away from the men, intending to continue the search on his own. Both Martin, who endures Ethan's insults for the sake of his missing sisters, and young Brad Jorgensen, who loves Lucy, insist on joining him. One day, Brad returns from a scouting mission and joyfully announces that he has seen Lucy's blue dress at a nearby Indian encampment. Ethan reveals that he found Lucy's body and covered it, then angrily warns Brad never to ask him to reveal more. Wild with grief, Brad rides into the Indian camp and is shot to death while Ethan and Martin look on in horror. One year later, Ethan and Martin visit the Jorgensen ranch, and Ethan admits to Lars that they have lost the war party's trail. Lars replies that a Texas merchant named Futterman claims to have knowledge of Debbie's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Martin confides in Lars's daughter Laurie, who is in love with the young man, his fears that Ethan may kill Debbie because of her long association with the Comanche. To Laurie's dismay, Martin then leaves to follow Ethan, who has departed without a word. The two give Futterman money in exchange for the news that Debbie is held captive by Scar. That night, Futterman tries to shoot Martin and Ethan, but Ethan kills him and his henchmen, then retrieves his money. Time passes, and Laurie, who is now being courted by the bumbling Charlie McCorry, receives her only letter from Martin. In it, he confesses that he inadvertently "bought" a squaw he named Look, who trembled when he asked her about Scar, but left him an arrow fashioned of rocks before leaving him during the night. Later, Martin and Ethan discover that Look joined the Comanche but was killed when the band was raided by the U.S. Cavalry. Ethan and Martin examine the prisoners taken during the raid, but do not find Debbie among the several white women found living with the Indians. His voice tinged with loathing, Ethan watches the women and remarks, "They ain't white anymore. They're Comanche." In a New Mexico cantina, the two searchers meet Mose Harper, a dull-witted but loyal old friend who, in exchange for the promise of a comfortable rocking chair, introduces them to Mexican Emilio Figueroa, who claims to know Scar. Emilio takes them to Scar's village, where they finally meet their elusive enemy, who explains that because his two sons were killed by white men, he has taken many white scalps in revenge. One of his wives, a young white woman, then displays some of the scalps on a pole. Later that day, Ethan and Martin are visited by the woman, who, although admitting she is Debbie, begs them to leave and states that the Comanche are now her people. Disgusted that Debbie has been "living with a buck," Ethan aims his gun at her, but Martin steps between them. At that moment, Scar attacks, and while Debbie runs back to the Indians, Ethan and Martin escape. Ethan eventually recovers from a gunshot wound received during the encounter, and the two return to the Jorgensen ranch, just as Laurie and Charlie are about to exchange marriage vows. Laurie is thrilled at the return of the man she really loves, but Charlie is angry and challenges Martin to a fight. The altercation ends amicably, and Charlie calls off the wedding. Clayton, who was planning to marry the couple, assumes his role as the local lawman and arrests Martin and Ethan for the apparent murder of Futterman. Just then, cavalry lieutenant Greenhill arrives with orders from Col. Greenhill, the flustered young officer's father. The rangers are to join the colonel in the field for a "joint punitive action" against the Comanche. Greenhill brings in Mose, who has been held captive by Scar. Injured and shaken, Mose reveals Scar's location, whereupon the men immediately prepare for a surprise attack. Worried that Debbie will be killed in the coming battle, Martin sneaks into Scar's camp to rescue her, even after Ethan reveals that one of the scalps on Scar's pole belonged to Martin's mother. When Martin enters Debbie's tent, she screams but admits that she wants to leave. When Scar appears, Martin shoots him, and Sam and the rangers attack the camp. Ethan finds Scar's lifeless body and scalps it, after which he begins to chase the frantic Debbie. As the battle rages around them, Martin tries to stop Ethan, but Ethan catches Debbie and, instead of killing her, suddenly lifts her into the air, tenderly cradles her in his arms and says, "Let's go home, Debbie." Sam and his rangers win the battle, after which everyone returns home. Ethan delivers Debbie to Mrs. Jorgensen's tearful embrace, and Laurie joyfully greets Martin, while Mose, looking on from his rocking chair, smiles. Ethan surveys the scene from the door of the house, turns around and slowly walks away. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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