Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles
Director: John Ford
Running Time: 119 mins
The Searchers is an American film about a Civil War veteran who traverses the United States to rescue his niece who was captured by Indians.
An all-time classic of the western genre, The Searchers is a sprawling, epic tale of adventure that brings with it some engrossing emotional drama. On the whole, it’s not the most awe-inspiring film in the genre, and struggles with a slow pace, but it still provides a captivating watch throughout.
There’s a lot to admire about The Searchers, from director John Ford’s classic style to a brilliantly charismatic performance from John Wayne. You might see Ford’s brand of western as a little outdated compared with the Spaghetti Westerns that came after it, but it does have a grand majesty that lends real character to the film’s setting.
Along with enormous sets that look just like the Wild West, the film takes place over the course of years, with the characters aging visibly as they search across the entire country for a captured girl. Traversing snowy forests and arid deserts with enemies at every turn, there are few films which fit the description ‘sprawling’ quite like The Searchers.
As well as its epic scale of adventure, the film also features some impressively tender emotional depth, something that’s not often a strength of the western genre. On the whole, the story here isn’t spectacularly enthralling, but its biggest strength lies in the surprisingly heartfelt emotions of John Wayne’s character as he stops at nothing to rescue his niece.
Through thick and thin, the story follows him as he faces danger from humans and mother nature, driven by a familial love that makes the story really rather sweet, and its conclusion all the more powerful.
Where The Searchers doesn’t quite manage to tell an enthralling story, however, is on its more action-focused adventure side. Visually and atmospherically, the film is a spectacular adventure, but as far as telling the story of an epic cross-country quest goes, it does struggle at times.
The slow pacing is part of director John Ford’s classic style, meaning the film lacks the striking intensity of some later westerns. It does allow for the film’s emotional streak to shine through nicely, but it does prove an obstacle to the excitement value of the central adventure.
That’s not to say that the film is a boring watch, but it just lacks a narrative majesty to go along with its spectacular cinematic style. Beautiful and emotionally powerful at moments it certainly is, but not quite all the way through.
Overall, I liked The Searchers, but it’s not my favourite western of all time. Spectacular as it takes place on an enormous scale, it’s a hugely impressive and staggeringly cinematic adventure, with surprisingly heartfelt emotional depth to boot. John Ford’s classic style is excellent, and John Wayne gives a great lead performance, but the film does admittedly struggle to overcome a slow pace to tell a really exciting adventure story, which is why I’m giving The Searchers a 7.3.