The Searchers. I want to love it, but I don't. Change my mind.

About 10 years ago I become aware of a new (to me, anyway) cultish worship of the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers, starring John Wayne. Apparently The Searchers had/has become the new Citizen Kane.

I watched the movie again tonight (that makes about 3 times, all told) and I just don’t get it. What’s so special about this darn movie??? I’m not saying it’s bad; I just don’t think it’s really that good.

This site will tell you in great detail why it’s so good. I haven’t seen it for years but I’ll rent it now.

I’m like you with Citizen Kane, I’ve seen it all but in bits and pieces. I’ve never been able to sit and watch it from beginning to end - I just get sick of it.

Whoa, whoa there, Mr. Ask. I didn’t say anything bad about Citizen Kane.

I love Citizen Kane. It’s just that The Searchers has begun to acquire the following once reserved almost exclusively for Citizen Kane.

I’d be happy to explain what I love about “The Searchers,” if I thought it would do any good.

And I’ll STILL be happy to explain it, on one condition. Stuy Guy, I’d like you to tell me of ONE (just ONE!) movie, book, song, joke or play that you once disliked but which you NOW like because somebody explained to you why it’s good.

If you can think of an example, I’ll gladly write a brief explanation of why I love it.

But frankly, posts like this are silly (I say this even though I’ve probably posted a few along the same lines!). I mean, if I don’t find say… Anna Nicole Smith or Pamela Anderson attractive (and I don’t), what’s the point of me asking, “Would some guy explain to me what’s so great about her? I don’t think she’s that pretty, but I see guys drooling over them. EXPLAIN It to me!”

Is there ANY explanation that would convince me that Pam Anderson is attractive? No. But it hardly follows that the guys who buy her posters are wrong.

“The Searchers” moved me, and many other people. It didn’t move Stuy Guy the same way. That’s all there is to it. What’s to explain?

It’s POSSIBLE that, one day, I’ll see it again and think, “Gosh, I could have sworn that was a great movie, but maybe it wasn’t.” That’s happened to me before. It’s also possible that, one day, Stuy Guy will see it again, and suddenly it will all click for him, and he’ll agree that it was a masterpiece (such things have happened to me, too).

Our tastes may change over time, but even the most brilliant rhetorician can’t convince us to like something we don’t like.

astorian, I am not as hopeless as you think! I am a pretty willing convert about things that I don’t hate outright – and I don’t hate The Searchers. (Like you, I’d have a hard time loving Anna Nichole Smith, a character I can say repulses me.)

You asked for an example. Given time I can probably come up with several – like I said, I’m convinceable – but I’ll give you two.

The first is The Godfather (the movie). When I first saw it (admittedly I was quite young) it did zero for me. I resisted seeing it for years despite coaxing from friends. Well, a few years ago I saw it again and was instantly converted. Great, great flick.

The second (even more extreme) example was Paul Simon, the songwriter & performer. For years I thought he was nothing special, even though one of my best friends worshipped the ground he walked on. Then, over the course of a few days, I got a heaping dose of PS and saw the light! The guy is now up there in the pantheon of musical GREATS in my book.

So, convert away! I’m putty in your hands, Mr. a.

I don’t love it, but I can appreciate it.

Its a dark depressing movie. I don’t love dark depressing movies. And its a Western, a genre that doesn’t do much for me.

But it is complex. John Ford did know how to shoot and edit and film and John Wayne does some of his best acting.

Haven’t seen it in more than a few years, but it was one of my Film Prof’s favorites, so I saw it three or four times in college.

Well, lets see. I think its one of the best Westerns ever, though not THE best, definately in the top 5.

It is beautifully shot, John Wayne is terrific, and it has a moving, hardhitting storyline. I pick up more form it each time I watch it. Some scenes just bring a tear to my eye, but then I guess I’m easily moved.

If I had to list my top 10 favourite movies of all time, this might be in it.

Each to their own I suppose.

This is kinda along the lines of what I was going to say.

You can love The Searchers on an “intellectual” level, while not loving it emotionally. It is not a feel-good or comfort movie, and I would never watch it for the purpose of having a little light-hearted fun, or to work out an impulse to “shoot-'em-up” (which is why it’s sometimes fun to identify with John Wayne–it’s tough to identify with John Wayne in this picture, but the point of the film may be that we should, even though it’s hard and not much fun).

This is a movie with An Important Point To Make, and it does a very good job of it. It is not just entertainment, and if “Is it Entertaining?” is the only question to be asked, there are lots of other movies that are better, and don’t leave you feeling kinda queasy afterwards.

I also respect The Searchers more than love it, but it is the most important film Ford made, and the only one to seriously contradict the conservative/reactionary western mythology he, more than any other director, helped to propogate. IMHO, Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann westerns are generally better than Ford’s (heck, I even prefer Budd Boetticher), but Ford approached a level of psychological complexity and thematic relevance in The Searchers that he always shied away from in his other films. You’ll also find few films from the period that confront the fear and anxiety of miscegenation better than The Searchers, and you won’t find a film with a more challenging and unusual performance from John Wayne. Add onto this the reliable visual poeticism and romance of landscape that you could typically expect from Ford, and it becomes his most conflicted and interesting film.

Problems I have with The Searchers:

  1. John Ford thought men fighting were adorably rambunctious. Hence the gratuitous and tiresome scene between Martin Pawley and Charlie McCorry at Laurie’s wedding.
  2. The vaudeville Swedish accent of Lars Jorgensen.
  3. Laurie’s petulant shrillness.
  4. The cruel “humor” about the Indian woman who thinks she’s Marty’s bride.
  5. As Roger Ebert pointed out, we never get any idea of what these two very different men, Ethan and Marty, talked about in the two years they spent together searching for Debbie.
  6. In the climax of the movie, has Ethan foresaken his racial hatred of Indians, or has he only forgiven Debbie? We never learn.


All the other fights were pretty serious. Ok, except for maybe the Ranger getting stabbed in the ass by the young officer.


I forgive this because that’s just the way a lot of movies were made back then.


Marty didn’t think it was very funny. Wasn’t he upset when they found her body later on? Or am I thinking of another movie?


We don’t need to have any idea of what they talked about over those two years since their motivations are already painfully clear. Ethan is more interested in vengeance while Marty is more interested in saving Debbie. All we need to know is that both men are driven and after so many years are still searching.

I don’t think his hatred of Indians changed by the end of the movie. At least once in the movie Ethan made a big deal to Marty about him not being a blood relative of Debbie. When he finally met Debbie his love and loyalty to a blood relative outweighed his hatred for Indians. At least that’s the way I see it.


IMO one of the best westerns ever made. Touches on the prejudices and blind hatred we can have for our fellow man. How, out of fear, we can and will inflict pain to those we don’t understand. This movie shows the dark side of man. Shows how some are willing to turn their backs on family if they are too close to them.

We don’t need to know, sure, if the only idea is the service of plot. But knowing what Ethan and Marty talked about during the “down time” of their two-year trek is what fleshes out characters, gives them three dimensions.

Appreciation for The Searchers isn’t particularly new. It’s had a strong reputation for decades – A lot of directors who came on the scene in the 1970s cite Ford’s film as a big formative influence. TCM’s site has an article that mentions that it was called “the super cult movie of New Hollywood” back in 1979.

Taxi Driver in particular was heavily inspired by The Searchers.

I can’t make you love the film, but I can assure you that it’s not being newly praised.

The thing is, I don’t think they probably talked much about anything. Ethan is a man of action, not words, and since Marty already disagrees with him in so many things, I’m sure any efforts to talk to each other would end up in frustration anyway (not to mention the fact that Ethan knows Marty’s his son–yet another awkward reality he’d rather not confront or admit).

You might also take a look at THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, as a companion piece.

There’s similar thematic context – the changes in generation and in society involved in “civilizing” the West. The old generation, of which Ethan is he symbol, gives way to the new generation (Debbie and Marty). It’s a dark and depressing vision, with nostalgia for the past and an uncertain future.

I think the photography, music, acting, and drama all combine to make an intriguing movie and wonderful storytelling. It’s a movie from a different era, of course, and it takes a certain historic sensitivity to appreciate it.

Is that just your guess, or did I miss where this was revealed? BTW, in the novel Marty had no Indian blood.

There’s never a Vader/Luke revelation, but there’s way too much textual evidence to discount, and this conclusion (that Ethan shacked up with an Indian woman, who bore him an illegitimate son) explains a lot–about his depth of knowledge of tribal culture, about the details surrounding Marty’s mother, and his pathological hatred & obsession with Indians in general (rooted in self-loathing).