“The Searchers” (1956) dir. John Ford

 

Arguably, the most revered Western of all time and voted 7th greatest film of all time in the esteemed British film journal Sight and Sound in 2012, “The Searchers” is my personal favorite among the 10 films selected. It was highly regarded by many of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s and its influence can be seen most significantly in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Paul Schrader’s “Hardcore.”

“The Searchers” is about a woman (played as an adult by Natalie Wood), who is kidnapped as a young girl by Native Americans and her uncle’s obsessive search to find her. The uncle, played by John Wayne, is a Confederate Civil War veteran, on the outside of the law, and extremely racist. In his mission, he’s accompanied by his adopted nephew and the woman’s brother, played by Jeffrey Hunter, who is Native American by birth. Wayne’s character doesn’t consider Hunter to be part of his family and the two quarrel throughout the film. Wayne even reveals that his mission once he finds his niece is to kill her, because she’s likely been defiled by the tribe that kidnapped her. Yes, this is not exactly the most evolved film … but stay with me, please. Though, I’m going to reveal major spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what happens … STOP READING NOW!!

The first clip shows what happens when Wayne’s character eventually catches up with Wood. As he’s been saying, you expect Wayne’s character to kill her, but instead, he lifts her up and says “Let’s go home, Debbie.” This scene leaves me in tears every time I see it.

However, the saddest moment is yet to come. Wayne’s character carries Debbie back to her home and gives her back to his brother. Wayne’s nephew joins hands with the love of his life and enters the home. And then … Wayne turns around and walks off and the door closes behind him. The End.

A devastating masterpiece.

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