Monday, May 6, 2013

The Searchers

You are invited to join us in a discussion of The Searchers, a new book on John Ford's boldest Western, which cast John Wayne against type as the vengeful Ethan Edwards who spends eight years tracking down a notorious Comanche warrior, who had killed his cousins and abducted a 9 year old girl.  The film has had its fair share of detractors as well as fans over the years, but is consistently ranked in most critics' Top Ten Greatest Films.

Glenn Frankel examines the origins of the story as well as the film itself, breaking his book down into four parts.  The first two parts deal with Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah, perhaps the most famous of the 19th century abduction stories.  The short third part focuses on the author of the novel, Alan Le May, and how he came to write The Searchers. The final part is about Pappy and the Duke and the making of the film.

Frankel noted that Le May researched 60+ abduction stories, fusing them together into a narrative that focused on Edwards, as told by Martin Pawley, a half-Indian, who joined him on the search for the lone surviving girl from a Comanche raid on a Texas homestead.  For Le May this was native turf, and he was a little disappointed that Ford chose to cast the film largely in Monument Valley, which was outside the Comancheria at the time.  But, Ford had used Monument Valley before and liked working with the Navajo, who he used as extras.  It suited his artistic vision.

Read along with us, or offer your own thoughts on the film, the early abduction stories or the Western film genre, which in many ways Ford redefined with this film.

Here's a link to the opening discussion we had on the film.


  1. Nice.

    I'm still reading the actor chapter -- didn't know that John Wayne doesn't respond to "John" -- so this comment may be premature, but I think he does a great job of demonstrating how "art" never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. I hope he draws that point out in the end.

    Also found it fascinating that the John Wayne character is killed in the book, and it is the young "half breed" who survives to tell the tale. Look forward to reading the reasons they chose not to handle the movie that way.

    I'm surprised at how much I have enjoyed reading this book. A nice discovery.

  2. I've been enjoying this book very much too. Not only fascinating material but Frankel is a good writer as well, making it a pleasure to read. I suppose we can start with the abduction stories that inspired the novel and in turn the movie.

  3. He talks about all the early writers who incorporate the stolen maiden into their work -- I'm thinking of Cooper but I know he mentioned others -- and the fear of sexual and religious contamination life with the Indians brought with it.

    I'm not sure he tells us _why_ they had that fear, but that seems to be the driving passion behind the pursuit of Cynthia Ann Parker (to save her from a fate worse than death in real life and in the movies). I'm assuming this is why John Wayne can be considered the "hero" in the movie even though his character is so strangely developed.

    I haven't read any of it, but I know there is a large body of scholarly literature written about the idea of the captivity novel. Maybe Rick knows more.

  4. Frankel noted that it was largely religious in nature. The purity of a Christian girl cast into a debauched Indian life with little hope of salvation. This is what Ford picked up on, as after so many years Ethan was sure Debbie had been defiled and therefore unfit to return to society, which according to Frankel was the way many settlers felt at the time.

    I was reading comments on the film in the Mubi forums, and a large number of persons found Ford racist and sexist because of this film,

    Yet, this was pretty much the situation at the time. Even Cynthia's family had a hard time coming to terms with her return and she and her daughter died within a handful of years.

    1. I just checked that mubi link and see lots of very interesting commentary. Wish I had done so before posting here.

  5. Off topic, but this horrible abduction story unfolding in Cleveland somewhat parallels those that Frankel describes in the first part of the book.


  6. I'm still fascinated with John Wayne, the right wing, anti-communist, military guy who, it turns out, ducked out of military service so he could be an actor. Like Reagan, they named an airport after him in Southern California! What is it about these guys who want to send someone else around the globe to kill and be killed?

    Read last night about Ford's rocky relationship with his son, but from his writings the son at least sheds some light on the script they were developing. Also fascinating where some of the scenes were shot -- I wondered for example about the stampeding bison (Canada). And the beautiful winter scenes (Colorado). They were searchers alright.

  7. It's more about the image you project than who you are as a person. I never much liked Wayne, although he did seem to get better with age, or at I just came to accept him as a screen presence. He never was much of an actor, even in The Searchers.

  8. One of Le May's complaints, noted in the book, was that Ford chose to set the film everywhere other than where he depicted it in the novel. Le May wanted no part of the project, having had bad memories of working with Cecil B. De Mille.

  9. Yeah, I noticed that -- it's set in Texas but filmed all over the west, but particularly in the four corners area where Ford said he could breathe and get a good night's sleep. There was some boast that they covered more miles filming than any other movie ever made -- something like that. If you know your geology and geography, it's clear that winter scene is somewhere entirely different than Comanche country.

    Also interesting about how they wanted to portray the tribes realistically but they still wanted to dress them like savages -- so they used Apache wardrobes as I recall.

  10. Here's one detractor of the John Ford legacy,,4

    I haven't seen Django, but the premise struck me as a blatant rip-off of Mario Van Peebles' 1993 Posse, just set in the antebellum South. But, the "Klansman" link was new to me. I hadn't realized Ford had a bit part in Birth of a Nation.

  11. I think he mentions in the book that Ford worked as a wrangler, playing one of the KKK on horseback?

  12. Interesting interview. In the version of Birth of a Nation I saw, Wilson introduces it from the White House as I recall. When we initially talked about the greatness of the searchers, funny enough, this was the movie I first thought of, which is also one of those early "greats" of film making.

    And now that I think of it, Birth of a Nation also has the theme of (black) sexual assault of white women and protection of their purity.

  13. It's kind of funny how Tarrantino has become such an authority on film. BFI even had him commenting on a poll of 50 Greatest WWII films, the majority of which he hadn't seen, including the film that topped the list, Come and See, a Belarussian production from 1985. Turns out he wasn't much of an authority.

    It is pretty hard to discount Ford the way Tarrantino does. Pappy was apparently a tyrant on the set but most persons wanted to work with him because he had a way of drawing the best out of people. At least this was Lindsay Anderson's summation who earned his chops working with Ford before striking out on his own.

    Oddly enough, Anderson didn't think much of The Searchers. He thought Ford had done better Westerns, pointing to his earlier silent films.

  14. John Wayne sure seemed to think so. And Ford probably saw someone in Wayne that he could mold to his own purposes.

    I'm not sure I would turn to Tarrantino for insights into much of anything, although he is surely popular. I have to admit I've never seen any of his films -- way too much violence for my taste.

    I still haven't finished the book so will withhold judgement until I see what Frankel says about it. And then I may try to watch it again (if I can get it back from my daughter). It surely was a beautiful filming accomplishment, from the book endings of the cabin to the view of the Indians on the mesa (and the winter shots, too), but I'm still not convinced about the rest of the story or the clumsy acting.

  15. Sorry I haven't been able to join in on the discussion. I am still waiting for the book to come in at the library and am now in second place on the waiting list.

    From reading your notes and others online it appears that while many critics say the movie was great, it succumbed to certain racist stereotypes. Some pointed out that, unlike Ford's work, a great many modern Western movies portray Native Americans with far greater sympathy. That for this reason the movie fails, at least to some of these critics. No one is quite putting him at the level of DW Griffith or comparing novelist Alan De May with Thomas Dixon but they do or did expect a little more foresight and even handedness from Ford.

  16. From accounts I've read, Ford was very respectful of Native Americans. He loved the country and enjoyed working with Native American actors. But, the thrust of this film was about "the searchers" not about the Comanche. Scar is the "bad guy" in this film and is portrayed as such. This was also the way Le May portrayed him in the novel, as he too was more interested in James Parker, who spent 8 years searching for Cynthia Ann Parker, only for her to turn up 20 years later after a raid by Texas Rangers on a Comanche camp.

    In this sense, both writer and director were honest in their tellings. The "racism" was very prevalent during the time they depicted, which is what fuels the story. This is a classic abduction story. Ford, however, went further in providing a transformation process for Ethan Edwards (who died in the book) in which he comes to accept the "wild" Debbie and even the "half breed" Marty.

    Neither Le May nor Ford wanted to romanticize the relationship between settlers and Indians in the way later directors like Keven Costner did in Dances With Wolves. The 60s and 70s represented a major turning point in how we viewed Native Americans in this country. This film was made in 1956.

    Not that there weren't heroic depictions of Native Americans before. After all, Burt Lancaster played Geronimo in Robert Aldrich's 1954 Apache.

  17. Didn't you get the sense, though, that this era of westerns, including Ford's, were stand ins for the war on communists (the only good communist is a bad communist) and even African Americans?

    I haven't seen Ford's post-Civil War trilogy, but he took books or stories, according to Frankel, by real right wingers and filmed them with all their racism in tact. Frankel comments that only the third of the series toned any of that down a bit because Ford used a different screenwriter.

  18. Trippler have you watched the movie? I'd love to hear what you think of it. Apparently it's taught in film schools, which is part of the reason why so many put it in their top ten, but not sure as a complete movie it fulfills its weird goals, which I'm still reading about. It misses that "thread" that Gintaras mentioned earlier to pull it all together.

  19. I have seen the movie several times but not in the past 30 years. The library has indicated it is in transit & I hope to see it this week. Will be even more interesting in light of this discussion.

  20. I suppose you could read an anti-communist theme into these movies, but I don't think you can into The Searchers. There was a lot of racism in films at the time, and it doesn't strike me that Ford was above it, but he did seem to respect the Native American.

    Frankel notes that after the Indian Wars culminated in the 1870s the attitude toward Native Americans changed dramatically. He shows how Quanah became very well respected, including the respect of Roosevelt. I'm sure there was still a great sense of "moral superiority" among Whites in regard to their relationships with Native Americans, but many Whites saw Blacks as an entirely different sub-human species, with no relationship at all.

  21. Ford himself admits, though, that he was just giving people what they wanted -- a good story and a lot of killing of Indians. And as Frankel notes, he plays up the Indian bride segment for laughs (although I see that as much a misogynist joke as a racist one). The difference is that Ford gave jobs to Navajos which Ford seemed to think made up for the storyline.

    Ford's politics seem decidedly right wing, but from the overview of some of his movies it appears he was more interested in visual storytelling than any overt racist message. He would shoot one movie that was sympathetic to the Indians and another that wasn't depending on which way the script flowed.

    What Frankel appears to be arguing in this book is that the Searchers wasn't sympathetic to either the Comanches or the John Wayne character, and that it was the moral ambiguity of the characterizations that makes the movie great. Scar and Ethan were one and the same man.

    Ford does go out of his way to pile it on -- even changing the Martin character to be part Indian (which doesn't make any sense) so that Wayne can be contemptuous of him, too. I'm not entirely convinced, but it is clear that they were trying to take this movie to another level.

  22. I thought Marty's half-Indian blood was a good addition, as it forced Ethan to have to accept him and ultimately even respect him. I think it also made for a better ending having Ethan bring back Debbie out of the cave, as it served as his own redemption, even if he brushed it off in the ensuing scene. The sense of moral ambiguity throughout the movie made this scene work, otherwise it wouldn't have meant much other than to reunite Marty with Debbie.

  23. I agree -- he clearly wanted to heighten Ethan's racism so that he could come to some sort of understanding at the end, even though he still has to ride off into the sunset.

    The "makes no sense" comment referred more to the biology as I mentioned earlier. If his mother has blond hair, you would assume that the 1/8 Cherokee was from his father's side -- thus the blond woman was also "violated" by an Indian. Or maybe that was intended ... (it seems like some of this wasn't really thought through -- just sort of added in as they went along) Sometimes ambiguity is just muddy thinking.

  24. I don't think they researched that aspect too closely. Besides, I think even if you were 1/16 Indian, you probably still would have been called a "half-breed."

  25. I finished the book this weekend, and am so glad I read it, although I'm still a little uncertain about the movie as a whole. Still, I think he does a great job deconstructing the evolution of a myth or myths -- even about the movie itself.

  26. Still have a few pages to go, but it was interesting to read that Ford took such a big risk on Wayne in Stagecoach.

  27. Another myth (Wayne) in the making.

  28. Very interesting chapter on how Pappy went to war and put together some great documentary work, whereas Wayne seemed to find one excuse after another to stay out of the war. Apparently, Pappy was none too happy about this and used it to bully the Duke to no end on the set. Fascinating the way Pappy treated Duke, even after Wayne made a name for himself.

    I also liked the way Frankel describing Pappy standing up for Joe Mankiewicz when Cecil B. DeMille tried to blackball him. This pretty much flies in the face of Tarrantino's petulant rant against Ford, who was apparently also a solid FDR supporter.

  29. That was my rant earlier about how Wayne was the big right wing, tough guy symbol of going to war -- particularly in So. California -- but refused himself (of course). "My wife lost the letter." Uh, sure ...

  30. Interesting that Montgomery Cliff stood up for Wayne, but then I guess he didn't want to get on the Duke's bad side, as he was one of the ones trying to purge Hollywood of "Communists."

    Of course, you could write a very large bio on Wayne himself. This is a "mythic hero" riddled with contradictions. I'm curious to read Slotkin's book given all Franklin's references and your earlier praise, av. I also see that Frankel referenced Garry Wills repeatedly. I'll have to get John Wayne's America,

  31. I was intrigued by the Wills references too. I'll also have to check out Slotkin -- he's really good about all of these movies.

  32. I started reading Slotkin on the Searchers -- I'll try to finish it tomorrow. He puts the story in the context of the Cold War -- better dead than "red." He also notes how the feminine captivity quest is really a just a cover for the masculine, military effort to kill Indians. I'm reading the section out of context but that makes sense to me.

    He definitely takes the movie seriously and warns against taking Wayne's character as a stand-in for Ford. He thinks that by casting Wayne he is intended as the hero, but I'm not so sure. Martin is the one who seems to show some humanity at the end of the movie -- what Frankel refers to as the new feminization of the West.

  33. Although Ford did alter the ending to allow Wayne to ride off into the sunset. As Frankel says, you can't kill John Wayne.

  34. Wayne died in Sands of Iwo Jima and later in Cowboys, so he wasn't invincible ; )

    I think Ford purposely cast Wayne against type in this film, allowing him to bring out many of the darker aspects of the West, and essentially forcing viewers to watch them by using Wayne. Probably would have worked with Henry Fonda too, but Wayne was more iconic at this point and probably a better fit.

    The Red Scare allusion seems a bit too obvious. I think Ford was more interested in the story itself, judging by Frankel's comments, than he was in creating a parallel with the communist paranoia in the country. It may have lurked in the back of his mind, but that was about it. Ford wanted to create an epic!

  35. What was interesting to me is that Ford originally wanted to do a film about Quanah Parker, before WWII got in the way. So, he was actually thinking about the story before Le May, which I suppose is why Le May's book drew his interest when it appeared in syndication in 1954.

    Quanah actually appeared in The Bank Robbery (1908), which Frankel notes. This was perhaps the first Western ever made, and no doubt would have attracted Ford's attention.

  36. It has been years since I have read Gunfighter Nation, but as I remember it his overview (and it is encyclopedic) shows how popular movies reflect the times -- not necessarily that movie makers set out to directly comment on them.

    He groups movies by time and theme, and comments repeatedly about how the Indians can be a stand in for whatever enemy is on the horizon at the time (or the nation's ambivalence to that enemy). Wayne is the classic "man who knows Indians" but in this case Ford (according to Slotkin) reverses the role, with the "Indian" sidekick initially admiring that in the angry Wayne character.

    There's always lots to disagree with in Slotkin, but it's never boring! I would like to read the entire series at some point:

    I thought it was interesting that Le May was interested in the searcher -- not the woman or the Comanches originally. That's the classic quest story, although it sounds like both Le May and then Ford put their own spin on it.

  37. In the end, he writes that the "left" interpretation (that the movie is an exemplar of the racism it decries) and "right" (that Ethan is heroic and his actions reflect the his unique understanding of the red menace -- the man who knows Indians) are both wrong. He sees the movie anticipating the conflict in Vietnam, and the choice that needs to be made between search and rescue and search and destroy, which the Rangers do in the end.

  38. Well, I finally got the Frankel book - this in the Dakota County library. Tomorrow, I expect to get my hands on the movie in the local library. Strange how I got an email about them on the same day.

    At first, I did not quite understand the Red Scare part but I guess that's the old Red Man ''menace'' of the Old West being transposed into 50s usage where it was ''better Dead than Red''.

    Am hoping I can add to the discussion at some point.

  39. Excellent. Look forward to your comments. This is a great book to read as a group since there's so much difference of opinion about the movie and the players behind it.

    And yes, I think the perceived red menace is what Slotkin is referring to given the time period -- and how I first viewed the movie -- but he adds some other interesting points about search and rescue vs. search and destroy (or kill the captive to save her) which in some ways anticipates Vietnam.

  40. I think persons make way too much out of The Searchers, confirming their own biases, rather than those of Ford. Ethan was racist (obviously so) but he also was an anti-hero. Ford purposely wanted a darker character than normally depicted in Westerns. If there was any existentialism here, it was mostly Nugent's own doing, according to Frankel, as Ford was mostly interested in dramatic effect.

    The Cold War paradigm may have been something Whitney tried to thrust on Ford, but Ford rebuffed him, just as Frankel noted Ford rebuked De Mille when he tried to drum Mankewicz out of Hollywood.

    Ford was first a film maker, and had a strong vision. It didn't always materialize the way he might have wanted it to, but I don't think he gave a rat's ass about the Cold War. He was making Westerns since the 1920s.

    I think the film prefigured the Vietnam War, only in the way directors like Peckinpah and Leone took The Searchers as a starting point for their own films, which may or may not have reflected the Vietnam War. I'm not convinced of this. Again, I see persons reading things into their films that weren't necessarily there.

  41. Garry Wills is all over the place in his intro to John Wayne's America,

    not sure if I want to go there.

  42. You shouldn't read Slotkin then. He doesn't argue that Ford (or others) necessarily set out to write a movie about the Cold War or the Civil Rights movement or whatever. Not everyone sets out to write the Crucible, for example.

    But he argues that films are a popular genre and reflect the times, whether intended or not, and there are themes (like the lone gunfighter, the captivity narrative) that you can track through them, like the writing of history, "with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time."

    I think it's more fruitful to discuss other aspects of the movie -- particularly how it's considered great when it sort of misses the key element of greatness by casting Wayne -- but there's a reason a man like Ford could make a career of shooting westerns at the time. That's not a particularly popular genre now.

  43. Garry Wills ~

    John Wayne as mythic hero. Same with Reagan. Both viewed as heroes and as models of unmatchable excellence by so many delusionals in this society.

    In my past experiences posting on political web forums, whenever I mention Wayne as draft dodger the right wingers soil their diapers. Same when I mention that it is time to remove the social-political halo that has been put on Reagan who supported fascist General Rios-Montt in his genocide campaign in Guatemala.

    The deluded right wing still views them as "heroes". But the reality is they betrayed the American ideals of freedom, justice, and good for all. It is time to set the record straight.

  44. I agreed with Slotkin that both those interpretations are not very accurate. Ford may have been a racist, but this particular film presents the situation pretty accurately for the time. I suppose one could argue that Ford chose the story because it suited his own sensibilities, which I guess is what Tarrantino apparently argues, but as Frankel illustrates in the opening section on abductions, and the Cynthia Ann Parker abduction in particular, the early Texas settlers were notoriously racist in their views and viewed the Comanche and other tribes of the region as marauders and pests. They viewed themselves as Israelites conquering a new land in the name of God.

    Ford chose to do away with much of the religious aspect, probably because it didn't suit his sensibilities. He chooses to make Ethan into a "lone wolf." The interesting parallel to me is the similarities between Scar and Ethan. They are two sides of the same coin, although ultimately Ford chooses to let Ethan have a shot at redemption, whereas Scar is left to suffer an ignoble death. Of course, one can read "racism" into that, but the revenge seems more directed at Scar having killed Martha and his cousins.

  45. I didn't get the impression that Ford set out to make a racist movie, or even one that exposed racism. I certainly don't think he was any more racist than anyone of that period where a general racism and sexism, like background noise, was accepted in the culture, at least outside of the south.

    As you said earlier, he wanted to film an epic story using an epic background about our foundational myth of the war on the Indians. And he used the mythic character of the lone gunfighter, non-repentant confederate, maybe stagecoach or bank robber, all rolled into one to tell it, as he paralleled that epic storyline with one that shows the two sides not all that different from one another.

    Of course Wayne had to live in the end, and Scar die, but that's another one of those parts of moving making that means giving moviegoers what they want.

    I appreciate what he was trying to do with the story, particularly now that I see how he changed the original storyline and even refilmed the ending, but am still not convinced he made a great movie because of all the inconsistencies (often intended) that plague the movie.

    But then that's what makes it so much fun to discuss!

  46. As for Wayne, he just doesn't rise to the occasion as far as I'm concerned. And he sure doesn't warrant all the statues and heroic mythology the culture placed on him. More like a soldier than a real soldier. Sure.

    And I really don't get how that one actress can praise his body movement as somehow poetic -- she used some term like that. I really need to rewatch the movie now.

    (That said, I did like True Grit, which seemed to play off his career-long character rather than build on it.)

  47. I think Wayne works well in the role, but there were letdowns as you note, av. It isn't a perfect film, far from it, which surprises me that it rates so high in so many great film lists. There were better Westerns made before and after. I think what draws critics and viewers to the film is its scope, and what can be read into it.

    The characters are very easy to read more into than actually exists in the story, especially Ethan. As I said before, all the elements are there but it doesn't come together in a satisfying whole. I think Lindsey Anderson had it right.

    What I liked about Frankel's book is that he went to the root abduction stories, how they developed over time and eventually became mythologized in a film like The Searchers. I also found the relationship between Ford and Wayne very interesting, although Ford stands out in my mind.

    I really can't stand Wayne. I liked him in a handful of movies, notably The Quiet Man, but that was about it. As a person he was awful, and has become one of those mythic role models for Americans that never deserved becoming one, but then I think this is a result of the myth making the Republicans have engaged in.

    Frankel noting the over-zealous Whitney and his attempts at revisionist history is a very interesting sub-story. The GOP today revels in this kind of celluloid revisionism, knowing just how hooked the American mainstream is into this kind of myth-making.

    It seems that Ford was above this bullshit, and I respect him for that, although he sounded like he was quite an asshole himself.

  48. Watched the movie last night. There are lot of good (and some bad) things I can say about it:

    First, I had forgotten that Ward Bond played a big role in it. He of "Wagon Train" fame. As always, he had a dominating presence because of his strong voice and manner. Av mentioned above that John Wayne was praised for having strong body language in the film. Bond's body language during his scenes was even more telling as far as I'm concerned. Very interesting character in Preacher & Ranger Sam Johnson Clayton = a man of the cloth and a man of the gun.

    Clayton asks Ethan Edwards about why he still carries his war sabre - he replies, I did not surrender and did not turn it into a plowshare. In the Bible it says to make peace with all men and, evidently, neither man even tried.

    After the attack on the settlement there was a funeral in which Clayton presides. They sing "Shall We Gather At the River" and Edwards demands they put an "Amen" to it - that is, end the funeral now as we got real business to do. "No more time for prayer!" Then the posse goes for the attack: "Brethren leave us go to get them" or words to that effect.

    Edwards shoots the eyes out of the dead Indian warrior. Clayton asks why since this can be of no further revenge to a dead man. Edwards replies that "not by what you preach" but it is according to folklore (without the eyes he now wanders blindly - sort of like Cain after killing Abel).

    More biblical allusions: Mose (another biblical name) thanks god for "what we are about to receive" and "hallelujah" - ironically, they are about to see death, not dinner. During the initial battle, Nesby is injured and Clayton gives him a Bible to give him comfort. They gathered at the river, all right, to the death of some.

    Later on at the wedding that did not take place, what song did they play? "Shall We Gather At the River". Amazingly, the same song as at the funeral. The song presages two battle and deaths scenes immediately thereafter.

    ... more ...

    1. So much praise was heaped on John Wayne. And yes, he deserved praise for his acting though his voice was not as strong as Ward Bond's. But there were other things about the movie that were far more praiseworthy.

      I thought Jeffrey Hunter's acting was superb. If anything, he should have gotten an Oscar nomination at least for his supporting role. Don't know if you folks remember back then how some geniuses ... oops, I mean critics, thought he was just another pretty face, not a real actor. I say phooey on those critics. Hunter was one of Hollywood's greatest actors.

      His role as Marty was the best portrayal in the movie. His roles as Jesus in "King of Kings" and as Captain Christopher Pike in Star Trek's pilot episode "The Cage" were unmatchable. I'm not a professional critic, of course, but to me he was one of the best actors of that era. Laugh if you want but watch his movies and you will see what I mean. He was far more than just a pretty face. Such a shame that he died so young as his best years were ahead of him.

      Another great thing about the movie was the cinematography. Hoch used wide lenses and added great atmosphere to the scenes. Ford and Hoch's work together in that regard was excellent. Close ups and film noir effect were excellent as well. The close up of Edwards when he turned around to look in disgust as the white girls had been forcibly converted into Indians was very striking. In fact, Wayne reminded me of closeups of famous pro wrestler the "Undertaker" as they both look alike. By contrast, strong lighting highlighted the sun in the desert scenes and winter scenes.

      I also liked the final scene as Edwards does not enter the Qualen home. While he does not ride off into the sunset, he calmly walks off and casts a large shadow. There's an old story that big men cast large shadows and Edwards was one to do that.

      ... more ...

    2. Racism in the movie:

      Yeah there was plenty of that and this may well be why the movie was not praised back in the day. But the fact that the movie was created to reflect the prevailing attitude of that era is the reason why racism was (for better or worse) such a significant part of the film. You simply cannot white wash this fact. If anything, had Ford attempted to do so it would have taken away much of its merit. One thing for sure, Ford did NOT praise racism or attempt to give it any merit. He was simply portraying it as historical fact.

      But note at the end when Edwards says to the girl, "let's go home". She goes to the Jorgensen home where she is welcomed as family (Jorgensen, not Qualen* as I wrote above), as does the racially mixed Marty. This tells us that Ford suggests racial harmony was possible. Thus, a "racist" movie tells us in the end that racial harmony in home, and by logical extension in society, is a very real possibility.

      I also thought the music was good in setting the tone for each scene.

      Overall a great movie. Hadn't seen in it ages but it was one I have never, nor will ever, forget.

      * Qualen was the actor

  49. Great comments!

    Reading them now I wonder, though, if racism is even the right word. We see all of this as racism now, but I wonder if at the time it was more a portrayal of sound and fury, how revenge and anger can drive men on both sides to do horrible things.

    And Ethan was one angry man. For example, remember how he practically throws the money at his brother saying I"LL PAY or something like that? What was that fury all about? His brother's wife?

    I'm only guessing but I would be surprised to find a review of the movie at the time that criticized the movie for being racist. I doubt that was much of a concern at the time.

    Gintaras, the book was helpful in particular for me since it pointed out how much of the ambiguity was introduced deliberately by Ford. He would cut as much dialog as possible, leaving the actors to show their emotions/stories, not explain them.

    There can be greatness in not being too literal -- keeping the story open around the edges and letting viewers/readers define it as they go along. I just think he got a little too oblique in some of his story lines where you lose some sense of what the heck is going on, other than pure revenge.

    And while Wayne had the physical presence to pull off being idolized by his brother's family, and he was able to muster the anger (apparently carrying it off set as one fellow actor recalls), he still doesn't work for me. I remember thinking the Marty character was the hero after watching it -- as it turns out he was in the book. I'll try to watch it again.

  50. "Great comments"

    Thanks for the compliment.

    On reflection, there was still another biblical allusion that I should have discussed above. And that was the almost endless presentation of dust. Remember the old "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" from the Common Book of Prayer? This was used in eulogies where a person to commended to a Heavenly reward for their trials and tribulations on earth.

    The movie has large earthy panoramic views, there are several scenes in which ashes from fires of burned buildings or the scene in which Marty & Ethan are attacked by Futterman, and dust is shown in virtually all outdoors scenes except for the winter sequences.

    Thus, the movie almost reads like a long sermon from one of the old fashion fire-and-brimstone preachers who lived in the 1800s.

    As for comments on the movie's racist implications, I am not quite old enough to remember actual accounts of commentators when it was released. But I do recall comments made in the late 1960s about past Hollywood Western portrayals when this subject was mentioned. Interestingly, other critics say it was an attack on racism. One specific commentator who felt that way was Professor Arthur Eckstein of University of Maryland {Cinema Journal 38, No. 1, Fall, 1998}. Quote:

    "The movie is often viewed as socially profound; as an insightful, pioneering ATTACK on racism."

    [my emphasis]

    Lastly, I agree that Marty was the hero. He saved the girl's life after Ethan Edwards attempted to kill her. Also note that in the Futterman attack scene, Edwards tells Marty "you did your job well" - he indirectly saved Edwards's life as well as hers. Thus, the racial/family reconciliation at the end was made possible by him. Therefore, he was the true hero of this story.

  51. Marty was the moral center, but not really the hero. Ultimately, it was Ethan who brought Debbie out of the cave and brought her to the doorstep, redeeming himself, although I agree with you about Jeffrey Archer.

    1. Ah, but you forget that he tried to kill her until he was stopped by Marty. Still, we can interpret the scenes to define who is the proper hero as we see fit. That's the beauty of art.

      Speaking of caves, interestingly, Indians are described as savages living like animals. Many animals live in cages and the girl was saved from one as were the two men. But as for animals/savages, note how the cavalry herded the Indian women and children into the encampments. Thus, while the whites accused them of being animalistic savages, it was they who treated them like chattel. The scenes in the cage remind me of "Star Trek" episode 'The Cage'. I wonder if writer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Bulter weren't influenced by Ford.

      Another thought on Ford's directorial technique: the use of humor as comic relief. I briefly mentioned Mose above and how he used nuttiness so often and his "prayer" before battle. There were also humorous scenes such as the young lieutenant (played by Wayne's son) getting whipped into battle shape by Clayton, and the bath scene which was kinda sexist though not viewed that way in those days. The humor heightens the dramatic effect of all the violence and tragedies that took place.

    2. Moral center is a very good way to define Marty's role.


  52. Timely "day in history" today. That really is an amazing photo.

  53. Interesting reading that Ford took pride in helping the Navajo out by paying them full scale on the set of his films. He also had grain airlifted into the Navajo reservation during a severe winter. Frankel notes that he may have been a paternalistic bastard but his heart was in the right place and the Navajo had great respect for him.

  54. Another biblical reference was the name Ethan which is Hebrew for "strong, solid, enduring". This certainly reflects his character as he never quits. He said he did not participate in the Confederate surrender to the Union nor would he stop in his quest to find the girl.

    When he first enters Aaron's home, he asks "asking me to clear out?" Aaron says no.

    Captain Clayton asks, "you wanna quit Ethan?" Again he says no.

    There was no quit in Ethan and his name reflected his character.

    1. Forgot to mention - his brother Aaron: in the Bible, brother of Moses who led captives on a prolonged search into the Promised Land. After what seemed like an eternity, they made it. So did Debbie thanks to Aaron's brother.

  55. I think Ford liked the iconic aspect moreso than the religious aspect of these names. He seemed to view the West as a tabula rasa against which he could film his own myths. I was watching part of Stagecoach last night, which he also filmed in Monument Valley. More straight forward story, but he fought hard to keep John Wayne and Claire Trevor against studio wishes, making stars of both of them.

  56. Apparently, this is one of the reasons Wayne kept asking for WWII deferments, as he wanted to cash in on his new found celebrity, while Ford went over to the Pacific rim, serving as a documentary filmmaker for the Navy. Here's his documentary on Pearl Harbor,

    Bogdanovich did a documentary, John Ford Goes to War.

  57. Yeah, Ford doesn't strike me as interested in religion. But he does like to go for the archetypes, religious or whatever. I thought it was interesting that the original character was "Amos" but he didn't want to confuse John Wayne with Amos and Andy.

  58. Maybe Enos would have worked ; )

    I also found myself watching the beginning of 3:10 to Yuma with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. I really liked the intro. Glenn Ford is kind of the anti-Wayne, laconic and cerebral, although he plays the villain in this one. It came out one year after The Searchers, but is filmed in high contrast black and white. The writing is better too, but then it is based on an Elmore Leonard short story. It was mostly filmed around Sedona, Arizona. Not as spectacular as Monument Valley but very effective just the same.

  59. Some other possibilities as to why/how the movie was viewed as racist:

    Blue eyed "warrior" and half-breed Stepin Fetchit style nitwit who kisses up to his white masters.

    I went to TCM's movie discussion forum and people commented on these characterizations. Indeed, I do recall how many objected to the use of blue eyes white men as "Injuns" when Hollywood already had sufficient Native Americans or dark eyed actors of mixed blood who could readily portray these characters. Note also that Mose was not specifically identified as half breed in the script. However, it is well established historically that a great many scouts were half breed. Further, the little feather on his cap suggests Indian heritage. Since Mose readily and eagerly carried out his role as white wannabe subservient, he was welcomed into the home and family, given his pipe or cigar as befits a man of that era, and was given the rocking chair by the fire as a man of the house would be. Thus, he was "white" or viewed as such because of his ready subservience. This type of portrayal (perhaps unfairly) was viewed by some commentators as racist. I distinctly recall liberal commentators saying all this in NY radio back in the late 60s and early 70s.

    1. Ach! Darn it - forgot to include another racist stereotpye in the character Jerem Futterman:

      He was a Jew who sold liquor (the Temperance movement was gaining momentum in those days and Jews were viewed as owning much of the liquor industry & selling liquor to undermine people's morals). He betrays Ethan & Marty for pieces of gold by jumping them in the back like a thief in the night. Evidently, he had a role in selling off Debbie (Jews were said to be largely involved in slave trading) and used a piece of her garment as bait.

      As we all know these Jewish stereotypes exist to this day.

      By contrast in the series DEADWOOD, Jewish businessman Sol Star was portrayed as dignified. At least he was in the first series - I did not view the show after that one so I do not know if his character was changed in any way. His business is still thriving to this day up in South Dakota.

  60. Earlier I posted "if writer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Bulter weren't influenced by Ford" in re to "The Cage" which was altered to "Where No Man Has Gone Before". A few thoughts and parallels with first the subject and then the uses of the themes by the creators:

    1) Setting =

    Ford: the West which was called the Frontier

    Roddenberry: space, the Final Frontier

    The Old West scenes were filled with dust and burned out scenes.

    The scene in Talos was desert like in a burned out encampment.

    2) Quest =

    Ford: two searchers [Edwards & Marty] in extensive travel

    Roddenberry: Christopher Pike - St Christopher patron saint of travelers

    Edwards - army officer.

    Pike - ship captain.

    Both seek to help survivors.

    3) Trap

    Edwards & Capt Clayton lured by false flag (cattle butchered by Indians)

    Pike lured by false flag (a signal was used which said people survived crash of space ship)

    4) Searcher sequestered

    Edwards & Marty in a cave

    Pike in a cage which looked like a cave

    5) Genocide

    Talotians doomed to extinction

    Comanches thought to be doomed to extinction (thankfully they survived)

    6) Miscegenation

    Talotians sought to save themselves through forced racial mixing

    Edwards & settlers sought to end racial mixing used by Comanches to survive

    7) Seductress

    Pike is tempted in this famous scene by Vina as an Orion -

    Marty is tempted by señorita in the cantina

    8) Half breeds

    Mose - half breed scout & moral heart Marty

    Mr Spock

    9) Orphan girls



    10) Miscegenation [again]

    Talotians rejected miscegenation because they knew that humans are too violent. They would learn Talotian mental powers and use it to destroy, not perpetuate life.

    Miscegenation accepted by settlers as Marty & Debbie are accepted as family (so was Mose).

    Strangely (or perhaps not so) Edwards does not enter the home as he remains outsider even though he embraced Debbie earlier. Perhaps he knew mixing would work for others but not for him

    11) Racism

    Ford was said by some to be a racist. This claim was strongly rejected by those who knew him.

    What was the prime reason why Roddenberry created "Star Trek"? What the Raison d'être of his entire life? The key to all of his writings and everything he lived and wrote for???

    More than anything else, Roddenberry CONDEMNED racism.

    1. I think Roddenberry was more influenced by James Cook's explorations than he was Ford and The Searchers, at least in the revamped Star Trek with Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk. But, interesting set of parallels just the same.

      Frankel explores some interesting parallels, comparing Scorsese's Taxi Driver to The Searchers. Scorsese was a note fan of Ford and this film in particular.

      I think the film did have a major impact on the next generation of filmmakers, Roddenberry included. He even explored the Western theme in one of the episodes where James, Spock, Scotty and Bones are cast as the outlaws in the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Ford had explored this terrain in My Darling Clementine.

  61. It seems we are spending all the time talking about the film and not about the abduction accounts and legends The Searchers was based upon. Frankel noted that Le May scoured first-person accounts and interviewed relatives of the Parker family to create the verisimilitude of the story. Apparently, Ford similarly demanded Nugent spend time researching the story before writing a script. The movie sticks pretty close to the book, it seems, although Nugent added some allusions to the early abduction stories, notably the scene where Ethan and Marty come across an army camp where defiled white women are being detained, having gone so completely native that their "fate is worse than death."

    It is apparently at this point that Marty grows most anxious that Ethan will indeed shoot Debbie rather than deal with her assimilation back into white culture. But, Ford chose to deal more with allusions such as this than exposition, which apparently is why viewers had a hard time identifying with the movie. The imagines Ford used were very startling and unsettling at that time, and something most Americans preferred not to contend with.

    Frankel peels away the layers of skin to get down to the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, which to some degree the story of Debbie was based upon. But, where as Cynthia would spend 24 years among the Comanche, Debbie is "saved" at the ripe age of 17 where the squeamish viewer can still presume she might have her virginity in tact, and young Natalie Wood (herself no more than 18) helps convey that impression.

    Cynthia had at least three children by a Comanche war chief, as part of his concubine. Whatever childhood memories she had of her time on a Texas farm were long gone, and her gravest concern was her children.

    Apparently, the Comanche bartered in abductees, something not brought up in the movie. Frankel noted that the more ravaged a white woman appeared the more white traders were willing to pay, and so the Comanche abused these women to no end. Other women and children filled voids in the tribes left by battles with settlers and the Texas Rangers. There was apparently a very high mortality among young Comanches, and so abducting pre-teens was quite common.

    It seems like The Searchers needed more of this backstory, but Ford was not one for exposition. He preferred to play Scar purely as the villain, although there are a couple moments where Scar's humanity leaks out, like when he tells Ethan he lost two sons and will continue to extract his revenge on the settlers.

    1. I got the book rather late and only now have I reached the accounts of Cynthia Ann and her turmoil when she was returned to her white family. This is why I have not been able to comment on the book until now.

      Evidently, she was not at all pleased with her new life. She was put on public display as if she was an exhibit in a zoo or like a slave at the auction. When a translator was found that could get her story, she pleaded with him to return her to her people. The man said he would be killed if he did so. She promised that he would be richly rewarded with treasures and beautiful wives. But he said he would be killed by whites if he did that and left her. He never returned.

      Poor girl - she never saw her sons again, her baby girl died, and, evidently, she died of grief shortly thereafter.

      Strangely, she is still viewed as a heroine to many Texans today according to a Frankel video that appears on you tube.

    2. It was a sad story. Frankel notes all the twists and turns to the story over the years, including a very interesting final chapter on the Parker family reunions in Quanah, Texas, that still occur to this day. Legend appears to trump history.

    3. I'm just now reading the chapters on Quanah:

      Evidently he was acknowledged by the Comanche was a warrior. However, he was not acknowledged as a chieftain. When it became evident that his people would lose the range war against the cavalry, he made it a point of taking the lead in negotiations. No doubt that his presence (standing at 6'2") and his blue eyes played a part in making him more credible to the military officials. While he made numerous concessions to the military he was also very enterprising in getting a few extra goodies from them in the form of money and chattel. And while many Comanche warriors and chieftains despised the success he had in getting access to the white overlords and in securing this capital, to his credit he did succeed in saving lives. Further, much of the land "given" to him and the sub tribes by the government had already been used by them and gave them access to buffalo [the Treaty of Medicine Lodge]. Thus, while some may say Quannah engaged in parasitism, the tribesmen survived largely in part to his efforts.

      Two terms stand out:

      "grass money" where Quannah convinced the government to make direct payments to the tribesmen so that enterprising intermediaries would not set aside a few bucks for themselves - ultimately this enriched more tribesmen

      "squaw men" - under treaty, farm lands were "granted" to the tribes; however, not many of the men would take the land as they did not do farming - however, the women took the land and several white men married them in order to secure farm land for themselves

      Squaw man was a derogation in that farming was viewed as women's work by the Comanche. I would have liked to see this subject developed a little further by the author. Evidently, the practice did help the tribe to survive and for some to actually thrive.

    4. I think you will enjoy the book, Tripler. It many ways it's about how truth becomes legend. I thought he did a really good job.

    5. He did, although it is kind of odd he chose a linear approach. Bascombe was much looser in his analysis of the movie in the BFI series, noting the abduction stories and other backstory items as it suited him. I think Frankel should have been more loose in his telling as well.

    6. I don't think he could have handled it, to be honest. He seems comfortable with this approach, laying out the pieces, without much analysis. And it gave him enough material to result in a book.

    7. avrds,

      "I think you will enjoy the book, Tripler."


      Sorry I got it so late. But it is in big demand and that's why I had to stay in line and wait my turn.

      Very readable and good photos to punctuate the issues discussed.

    8. I'm up to p 154 and still reading on Quanah:

      As William Pitt said, a man's home is his castle. And Quanah sought a home that befit his new status as chieftain and gentleman farmer. Through cunning and maneuvering he got one:

      Those stars are indeed quite impressive and bespeak of a true battlefield general. The home was spacious enough to fit in his many wives and children and gave him space for an office:

      I like the many poses both in Native and in Western attire. He always he gave a very dignified appearance.

      Local preachers were not comfortable with his polygynous lifestyle while other chieftains remained highly suspicious of him. Some even tried to slander him by suggestion he betrayed Comanche interests.

      Peyote was introduced into the Comanche culture which adopted its use without harmful consequences. Legislators tried to ban it but Quanah succeeded in persuading them that it was useful in medical and spiritual practices so that the ban was not imposed.

      Ch 9 ends with a hint that his future was a bit clouded and that's where I'm headed next ...

  62. I read Slotkin's summary of The Searchers in Gunfighter Nation and pretty much agreed with everything he had to say. It's not like Slotkin said Ford consciously chose to make a film about the Cold War, but that the film reflected attitudes at the time. However, Slotkin notes that Ford went much further with his film, exploring racist motivations and having his "hero" come to terms with his racial hatred, although most audiences at the time simply saw Wayne as the quintessential Western hero. Inadvertently, Ford spawned a renewed blood lust at the box office, and even fell into the trap himself with the terrible movie, Two Rode Together, which Frankel noted was a pathetic movie despite Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark in the leading roles.

    1. I think you would enjoy the entire thing. I use as a general reference book now.

    2. I also read Slotkin's summary of Stagecoach, in which he noted how Ford liked to work with archetypes, much as he did in his silent films. I don't know how necessary the Apache raid was in the end. Much more tension as the Stagecoach passed through the burnt-out town with Hatfield draping his coat over a woman victim who obviously had been raped and murdered. What was also interesting was the way Ford played on class distinctions, which Slotkin also commented on.

    3. I have seen Stagecoach, but years ago, so don't remember much about it. But yes, Slotkin does seem to get at the heart of these movies (even when you don't always agree with him).

  63. Couldn't resist this French film poster of the movie, which was retitled, Prisoner of the Desert,

    and this image of Natalie Wood in a leopard print swimsuit, which Frankel notes in his book,

    She was quite the "rescue object!"

    1. I returned the DVD to the mobile library yesterday afternoon and chatted with the two ladies operating it. Told them about Frankel and the movie. Both said they are will now watch the movie & read the book.

      One of the ladies did not remember the movie but the other is a huge movie buff & saw it in her youth. She also recalls when it was said this was "racist". But I told her why it is now viewed differently and she was particularly intrigued by it.

      Thanks to this forum, I'm spreading the word!

  64. Watched Stagecoach. For some reason, it reminded me a lot of Lifeboat by Hitchcock a few years later. These folks were pretty much trapped in their stagecoach the way Hitchcock trapped his characters in a lifeboat with the German and American naval fleets emerging in the end. Can't help but think Hitchcock might have been influenced here.

    Wayne and Claire Trevor are very good in this film but Thomas Mitchell steals the show as Doc Boone. Got a kick out of a relatively young John Carradine cast as an unrepentant Virginian. Ford seemed to like to cast his Westerns after the Civil War with ex-Confederates not fairing particularly well in his stories.

    There was also an economy of dialog, especially on Wayne's part. I suppose part of it was to convey the myth of the strong silent type, but I couldn't help but think that Ford was maybe more comfortable with silent films, which he honed his skills on than he was narrative films. Again, you are left to infer many things in this film.

    1. Well you guys did it - you persuaded me to watch Ford's "Stagecoach" last night. And it should not come as a surprise that I was quite enthralled by that gem of a movie.

      First, I always have been a huge John Carradine fan (also admire the work of his equally talented sons). His role as the Southern "gent" & card sharp Hatfield was superb.

      Second, all throughout the movie, you could sense that there was a great deal of tension. Perhaps this was a mood set by Ford to reflect the unhappy events going on in the world back in '39. You have people from every walk of life afraid of a social menace, a hood running loose (sorta like the Chicago gangsters such as John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd), a rather ambiguous marshal who is actually a friend of that hood and ultimately allows him to escape much like the corrupt police of Chicago did, a corrupt banker who is attempting to screw everyone all the while claiming that government has no role in regulating his business & who quotes Calvin Coolidge before he was born, moral crusaders from a pure prairie league forcing out a woman of questionable morals, and a dissipated doctor of questionable integrity. Each extraordinary characters in their own way.

      Of all these characterizations, I agree with Gintaras that Thomas Mitchell as that dissipated doctor was the best. What an extraordinary role he played!

      Ben Hecht's script was superb - I wonder that he (a conservative) wrote those lines made by the banker re government and regulation of banks. Wish I could have spoken to him about that.

      Ford's directorial technique was notable as well - in fact he was voted Best Director that year. I read where Orson Welles was a huge fan of this film and said it influenced his work. The one drawback in the movie is that Indians were portrayed as blood thirsty savages, turncoats, and inhuman. No effort was made to humanize them in any way. But that was likely the norm in those days. Eventually, Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans changed and Ford changed with it. And we see that evolution on "Searchers".

      Thanks for bringing up "Stagecoach". Hadn't seen it in a long while & enjoyed it very much.

    2. Glad you enjoyed he film. A lot of the banker's comments would be just as apropos today, showing things have changed much. It was a tightly scripted film with a lot of great lines, with Doc Boone getting most of them, but John Carradine conveyed so much with just his eyes. He fit the role of the unrepentant Virginian perfectly. Loved that scene with the silver cup. Said so much with very few words being spoken.

  65. Economy of dialog fits with Frankel's description of the Searchers, too. It may be why Ford liked working with Wayne -- he could walk (or saunter) through his movies without having to say much, as if he were in a silent movie.

  66. Ford apparently got angry any time Nugent became too "poetic," and Frankel seemed to support Ford's decision to economize on dialog, but I think it hurt him in terms of initial reception of the movie. I don't think very many persons got what was going on in The Searchers because it was so spare in dialog and exposition, so they just took Ethan at face value.

  67. I jut finished reading the portion of the book dealing with Quanah [to p 182]. While he remained highly respected among government officials, he died leaving only a modest estate. The star "mansion" gradually fell into disrepair as his legacy largely declined. The decaying house was moved as were the burial grounds of Quanah and others. Interestingly, the Parker remained racially divided with whites in Texas and Indians in Oklahoma. They have had family reunions (especially starting with the 1936 centennial) over the years but it appears that the racial divide was never ended.

    Some members of the family tried to profit from the fading legacy by writing books of their lineage. They failed to capitalize but that legacy did linger. This is when Alan Lemay entered the picture.

  68. It's too bad Frankel doesn't tell us more about Le May. The two chapters are just enough to whet your appetite.

  69. I wonder if Frankel didn't write more about Le May was because he may have found him to be a bit too much of a negative character. After all, he admitted that his only motivation in writing was for the money. Even so, Frankel should have developed this side to his character more.


    Frankel did spend a good deal more time to developing Ford's character so that we could see some of the motivation behind scenes or themes in his movies. For example, it was interesting to see that Ford and Harry Carey started out together. While they had been friends, they broke apart. Then, when Carey died, Ford went into a huge guilt trip and cried like an infant. He then employed Harry Carey, Jr and Olive (Senior's wife) so that they ultimately benefited from his success.

    Years ago I read that there was some possible homosexual tension in Ford's life and that this was evident on his movies [this possibly due to the fact that there was alcoholism and violence in his dysfunctional family]. Frankel brings out the fact that Ford had been accused of latent homosexuality, that he was seen kissing a male actor, that he played some cruel practical jokes, openly slapped an actress in full view of the public, but that he also had a paternalistic side to him. You see some of that in "The Searchers" when they play a cruel joke on the young lieutenant, when Edwards pulls the sheets over Marty like a father tucking in his child at bed time, and other displays of sexual tension.

    In the movie, I admired the role played by Olive Carey as Mrs Jorgensen:

    Here is a video about Harry Carey, Sr with a heart felt tribute given by John Wayne:

    1. Like Ford, Wayne had a difficult time in breaking into the Hollywood scene. He studied and imitated other actors such as Carey and stunt man Yakima Canutt. Eventually, the persona he created evolved from imitating these men.

      But Frankel certainly pulls no punches in showing how John Wayne (who is so admired in this society) was outspoken in his denunciation of Native Americans and their "savage" history. No "Noble Savage" for him - just savage.

      This reminds me of how certain right wingers today condemn Islamic "terrorism" but who conveniently ignore the many invasions carried out by the West against Muslims. The invasions by Christian Spain, France, and Italy against Morocco, Algeria, Libyan and Tunisia come to mind. And let's not forget England's invasions of Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, along with the USA's attacks on the latter two countries as well. Far more have died through these imperialistic invasions and terrorist attacks on them. A fact lost on these right wingers. Similar to this truth on John Wayne:

  70. What was interesting to me was how beholden Wayne was to Carey Sr. for many of the mannerisms he adopted on screen, and that he recognized Carey.

  71. OK, I'll admit it: I'm a sucker when it comes to old Western movies. After all these years I still LOVE them. Can't get enough of that shoot 'em up & all that.

    Frankel mentions "The Great Train Robbery" as the pioneer flic in this genre. This is a movie I've seen about 20 times and still love it:

    Who wouldn't want to go a a Saturday matinee to watch that gem?

    Frankel mentions a number of other great flics and how they influenced Ford and other Hollywood directors. For some strange reason he (and many other modern day critics) failed to mention "Cimarron" [1931] as being a big influence on the popularity of the horse opera:

    This movie won THREE Academy Awards and, I thought, used the wide expansive background and bigger productions which influenced Ford and others Western film makers. But I could be wrong, I guess. There may be a possibility that "Iron horse" by Ford influenced the production in "Cimarron" - I have no way of knowing but Frankel or other modern day critics may consider researching and discussing that.

  72. I'm amazed at how Wayne and others put up with all the abuse they took from Ford. For example, he told Wayne "Can't you walk {like a cowboy} instead of skipping like a fairy?"

    But he had his good side, too. During the Congressional hearings on Hollywood and the alleged communist infiltration, Wayne was on the side of the Congressional right wing. He was late in entering that fray (he avoided all the real fighting just like he avoided service during WW II) but took personal credit for purging Hollywood of lefties. Ford (a progressive Republican), by contrast, stood up tactfully for Joseph Mankiewicz who was about to be blackballed by Cecil B DeMille and other right wing stooges. As always, Wayne avoided any real fighting while Ford remained a fighter.

    1. I enjoyed this piece too, and also the abuse Ford gave Wayne for not going to war. What I like about Ford is that he was a no-nonsense guy, but Frankel noted that Ford was his own worse enemy, especially when it came to being recognized for the body of his work. It took the next generation of directors weaned on Ford's films to appreciate his genius. Producers treated him like each film would be his last.

    2. ~ worse enemy ~

      I wonder if all the abuses he heaped on others was not a factor as to why it took all these years for him to get all that well deserved recognition.

      He treated actors, writers, critics, and everyone except for the wealthy producer (and the stunt men) equally bad. No doubt they, in turn, said that such a bad character could not possibly be a true artist and the merits of his work would largely be overlooked. Sad (but let's face it, not surprise) that one's artistic merits would be judged by one's character flaws rather than by their creativity and artistry.

    3. Great artists have always been uncompromising. Ford was no exception. His first love was the Western and Hollywood kept trying to turn away from it. But, he seemed equally at home with other genres. I thought he did a very good job with Grapes of Wrath, and greatly enjoyed The Quiet Man.

  73. Frankel goes into detail about the efforts made by Ford to create an authentic atmosphere, setting, costuming, and characters in Mountain Valley and other sites. One can only imagine what hardships everyone endured in that work camp set up to build the setting for the film. There were interruptions in the work flow due to weather hazards and mounds of dust which clouded the cameras - all this in 100° conditions. Ouch!

    But this true had its good side as Ford gave jobs to many Navajos who lived in that locale. "My sympathy was always with the Indians" and he claimed to have treated them well. They, in turn, appreciated him and viewed him as "generous". Strangely enough this beneficence was not extended to Comanches or Kiowa from the general area.

    1. The Navajo provided him with a ready group. He didn't have to enlist others. As far as the general audience was concerned, one Indian was the same as the other.

    2. That is true. But as the narrative reveals, he wanted to portrayed authenticity (or so it is claimed). Adding a scene or two in which Indian alliances are portrayed would have add a good deal more authenticity. I'm reminded of Michener's "Centennial" in which the various Algonquin and Caddo tribes get together and use sign language to communicate & create strategy. Perhaps in a 2 hour movie such a scene would not be feasible.

      Interestingly, Frankel reveals that the Navajo did not welcome an Apache into their set. They likely wanted Ford's money for themselves only!

  74. That said, though, he also dressed his actors as "savages," not as Comanches, happy to give up any authenticity in that regard. All part of creating a feel for the story, not necessarily for history.

    1. Earlier I mentioned having distrinctly recalled when the movie and when Ford were regarded as racist (same for the librarian whom I chatted with the other day). This was confirmed by Frankel on p 309 - et seq as he quoted Robert Warshow & others:

      " 'The Searchers' {is} on of the most viciously anti-Indian films ever made ... The entire film is in effect an argument in favor of killing Indians as the only solution to the 'Indian problem.' "

      "Ford's racial attitude may have been concealed behind a façade of paternalism ... but it is racism nonetheless." This latter point made by Frankel.

      Frankel then goes on to say that Native Americans were less offended by the movie and presented research evidence to prove this. Can't say this would be true from my experience with AIM which is headquartered in Minneapolis or my knowledge of activists in Nedrow, NY. Let's face it, as another commentator said as was quoted by Frankel, "racism was so endemic in our culture that people didn't even notice it" in the movie. Perhaps the majority of viewers did not do so or even care. But that is not to say that professional critics and many others [esp those concerned with Native American issues] overlooked it.

      Reviews were "generally positive" with some saying it was the greatest Western ever but with others dismissing it as overlong and violent. Its influence was felt throughout society as the line "That'll Be The Day" became a big Rock & Roll hit and a British group named themselves after the song.

      Lastly, John Wayne said Ethan Edwards was the greatest character he portrayed. And that says a lot considering his long and distinguished career.

    2. I think most Native Americans watching a movie like this would simply see it as a movie. Frankel also noted that most of the Native Americans who were screened said they identified with Ethan, not Scar.

  75. I agree with that -- racism was so much a part of our culture, I doubt many viewers saw that in it. Same with misogyny, which the culture is still grappling with (see the Facebook controversy). It may be beautifully filmed, but as a popular medium, it reflects the culture at large.

  76. I think it is important to stress that Ford wasn't looking for "authenticity" but a sense of artistic "realism" that would be compelling enough to make audiences feel the action was real. This is pretty much the story with all films.

    Cimino went out of his way, and busted the United Artists bank in the process, to create a sense of "realism" surrounding the Johnson County Wars in Heaven's Gate, but most of the scenes are played for effect, although there is a lot more exposition in his director's cut of the film.

  77. The most disappointing thing about Ford is that we he finally got around to making a movie about Quanah Parker, he made this piece of tripe,

    which even he regretted afterward. All though, it is Henry Brandon (once again) as Quanah, not Henry Travers.

  78. {somewhat off topic}

    Tolstoy's "A Prisoner In The Caucasus" [1870] - the legend behind it is somewhat similar to the legend discussed in Frankel:

    Whites invade an area inhabted by dark skinned Natives who practice a different religion.

    Whites claim the land belongs to them even though darks lived there for centuries.

    White and dark skinned people refer to each other as savages.

    Wars ensues. Many including civilians die.

    Whites taken as prisoners. Two escape but are recaptured. One is rescued, the other ransomed.

    Whites displace darks and repopulate the area with their own people.

    Movies are made about the movie. "Kavkaskii Plennik" [1996]. A silent movie based on this or a similar story was made in the 1920s but I cannot remember the name.

    Perhaps Gintaras can fill in a few more details.

    1. oops - error: should have written, "movies were made about the book", not about the movie

    2. It's been a long time since I read the story. It actually dates back to a Pushkin poem,

      There have been a couple film versions done including this modern update,

      with one of my favorite Russian actors, Oleg Menshikov.

    3. Thanx for the link - I put it on my "To Watch" list & hope to see it very soon.

      Come to think of it, there is yet another Russian legend that I loved when I was a little kid in Brooklyn. Remember "The Sword and the Dragon":

      It, too, deals with the kidnapping of a lady, miscegenation, racial/ethnic strife, war, and had cold war ramifications.

  79. Chapter 21 was particularly interesting as it reminded me of all the film critics and their comments about this and other Western movies in the 1960s & 70s. The NY based writers, most from the Village Voice & NY Times, were not shy about criticizing the movie, Ford, or Wayne. I was frequent reader of both publications in those days & well remember how they gave praise when deserved but were adamant in their criticism where warranted. Up to that time it was more politically correct to praise anything that defended the concept of "winning the wild west" so that barbaric racist acts were overlooked or sidestepped completely. These critics were not so forgiving on those legends.

    Frankel points out how some modern day directors based their films on Ford's work. But he also says they may have overworshipped [if such a word exists] Ford. Interestingly, Stuart Byron was quoted as saying some people hated the movie because their disgust was inspired by Wayne's right wing politics [p 322]. Well, truth be told, many overpraised Wayne for precisely the same reason. Jonathan Lethem [author of "Motherless Brooklyn" - a great novel for those who haven't read it, yet] was one who particularly overplayed his hand in praising the movie and Duke.

    The one person who was most overlooked in all this was writer Alan LeMay. He died in relative obscurity and is now largely forgotten. In all honesty I do not know of anyone who has said over the years that his work warrant any more attention than they have gotten. Perhaps some day people will re-read his writings and give them more praise. But in nearly 60 years this has not happened and is not likely to take place.

    1. Writers seem to get very little credit. Ford was pretty hard on Nugent as well, who adapted the screenplay. His wife never forgave Ford for it. Even today, Scorsese rarely lets screenwriters sit in on the filming. I guess directors want to have ultimate creative control of these projects and view the writer as little more than a scribe.

    2. Writers seem to get very little credit.... as is always the case!

  80. I remember years ago when several black scholars and entertainers were interviewed on TV about the merits and demerits of the show "Amos & Andy". There can be no question that the series (radio/movies/tv) presented stereotypical characters. But the show gradually evolved to the point were Amos became a dignified businessman who owned his own cab company. Other distinguished characters were presented as well such as black police officers, court personnel, and my all time favorite TV character Algonquin J Calhoun (a comical but respected lawyer). The consensus among those interviewed was it is now acceptable to present "Amos & Andy" because Hollywood now has created shows/characters which present blacks in a more dignified light.

    When considering the merits/demerits of Ford's works, and those of his peers, there is no mystery as to why the first thought that comes to mind is racism. But as with Hollywood's presentation of other minorities, today the characterizations are a lot more balanced. On that basis I feel we should not be disposed to dismiss Ford's works because of its flawed characterization of Native Americans. Let us emphasize its artistic merits and what role these had in improving Hollywood's projection and characterizations of all minorities.

  81. There was a good documentary about Asian American actors a few years back and the long road of achieving respectability,

    Mako usually found himself cast as the "bad guy." He said he could turn down the role or play the role to full effect and give his character some dignity, which he chose to do.

    It's a wonderful documentary, with a great overview of early films, including those of James Shigeta, a great actor.

    1. Will definitely look for it.

      The other day I read a Hispanic magazine which discussed Hollywood Latino stereotypes. While Latinos make up the majority of the population in California, they make up only 1 or 2% of all tv/movie characters. And most of the portrayals are of criminal or social deviants. I don't know if these numbers are correct or if there is some way to verfiy the findings of this study. While there are more dignified Latino characters compared to the past, Hollywood has a long way to go before this problem of stereotyping is corrected.

  82. Looks like we've pretty much wrapped up this book. Enjoyed it. Time to start thinking about the next reading group.

    1. Thank you so much for recommending it. I greatly enjoyed the book, the movie, and the discussion. And it stimulated me to take a closer look at other Westerns esp at the way all the different groups are portrayed.

      In fact, I'm headed off to YouTube to see an episode of "Gunsmoke".


  83. OK. Just one last video/comment on the subject of racialism, forced sexual contact, miscegenation, and genocide. Watch this video:

    It was put together by a white, female, men's rights advocate. Most MRA's are conservatives who deny there is racism in society. This particular woman makes a convincing case as to why deniers are all wrong.