The Searchers

Director's Influence on The Searchers

John Ford was an established film director by the time he directed his best-known film, The Searchers. He came up in the film industry working on silent films, before successfully transitioning into working on "talkies." Indeed, he was one of the most accomplished directors of talkies, where he perfected his treatment of the American western. Throughout the 30s and 40s, he was a prolific director, and helped to popularize and legitimize the western in the eyes of his peers, who looked down at the genre for many years.

Before directed The Searchers, Ford directed many successful films, including Stagecoach, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley, before turning his attention, both personally and artistically, towards the second World War. The Searchers, released in 1956, was the only western that he directed between 1950 and 1959, and is regarded as perhaps the greatest western of all time. It is celebrated for its complex narrative, its incredible photography, which took place all over the American West, and the performances of its stars, including regular Ford collaborator, John Wayne. Many have pointed out that, while staying within the bounds of the traditional western, The Searchers is not simply a standard-fare, Cowboys-and-Indians movie, but a more complex investigation of American history, based on an Alan LeMay novel from the 50s, which took its own inspiration from the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a young Texan girl who was kidnapped by the Comanche tribe and indoctrinated into their way of life.

Ford did not talk much about his intentions with the film or its thematic aim. In an interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Ford was infamously silent about his aims, only offering the thought that the film is a "psychological epic." In an interview with Glenn Frankel, the author of The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, Frankel analyzes Ford's perspective: " the same time he’s giving you the hero, he’s also undermining the meaning of it, because this is a hero who does some terrible things. He shoots the eyes out of one Indian corpse, he scalps an Indian corpse, he shouts down a funeral service for the victims of an Indian raid so he can get on with his vengeance and move on, and he’s going to kill his young niece, because she’s had sex with Indians. And so Ford is giving you the racism, and yet at the same time he’s undermining it. That’s the power of The Searchers, and it’s a mature work of a man who really is comfortable with ambiguity. You’re right, we don’t have many notes from Ford, and he certainly didn’t articulate much of this, but when you read the final shooting script of the film, and then you see what Ford actually shot, what actually is in the movie, you see him making a lot of interesting choices to eliminate dialogue, to eliminate exposition."