John Ford's beautifully crafted classic 1956 Western, The Searchers, opens Friday for a one-week run at Tamarac Square's Madstone Theaters. This tale of a bitter Texan Civil War veteran named Ethan Edwards (ideally played by John Wayne) who undertakes a five-year search for a niece who's been abducted by Indians is still a startling vision of ruthless pursuit, unalloyed hatred and familial revenge -- themes that might ring a new bell or two as George Bush the Younger sets his sights on Iraq.
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Ford himself called the film "the tragedy of a loner," and it embodies all of his hallmarks as a moviemaker: nostalgia for the frontier, a populist grasp of mass entertainment, some uncompromising hard edges and an underlying sentimentality. Beginning in 1939 with Stagecoach, Wayne starred in a dozen Ford movies, but he was never better -- or harsher -- than as the relentless and obsessed Ethan Edwards. The supporting cast -- Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood -- is exemplary.
Often imitated but never equaled, The Searchers remains one of the most vivid and important Westerns of the 1950s, before shifting social values and domestic political upheaval doomed that most popular of Hollywood genres to bleak revisionism and, a little later, near-extinction. Shot in his beloved Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, Ford's masterpiece inspired young directors as diverse as Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas used it as the dramatic model for the original Star Wars. This is one classic that television can do no justice. See it again on the big screen.