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The Searchers 
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Post The Searchers
I haven't seen much about Westerns on this board, so I figure I'll try to get the ball rolling. I'm taking a film course at the University of Maryland right now about the global Western. I have my degree in Business Management (extremely boring), and I'm taking this class for fun. My goal is to pursue a degree in English with a focus in film (UMD doesn't offer a straight film degree). I've seen most of the films we'll be watching in the class, but it's always interesting to get a scholarly take on them. Anyway, I'm rambling.

The class is setup to explore Western themes bi-weekly. The class meets once a week, on Thursday nights. The professor will introduce a specific theme and show us how it was represented in American films one week, then show us how it is represented in foreign films the next (usually as a counterpoint to the American representation). For instance, the theme of the frontier (civilization vs. savagery) was shown through Stagecoach and A Fistful of Dollars. Last night we moved on to the theme of The Others (races, ethnicities, etc.) and we were shown The Searchers. I'd like to hear your views on the film. I'm sure most know that it's considered the greatest Western ever, and one of the best films ever. I personally enjoy it, and think it is much more intelligent that what is going on on the surface, but don't know if I'd go so far as to call it the best western ever made. Many critics have said it is the best film made about racism, but I call that an oversimplification of what this film is trying to say. While there is fairly large racial element to the film, I think it is much more about Ethan's (John Wayne), and metaphorically America's, search for identity. The professor was urging the class to rewatch the early scenes with Ethan and Martha, and made the case that the film is about Ethan's guilt of being in love with his sister-in-law, and trying to cope with that. I completely disagreed, but to each their own. Thoughts?


Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:28 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a better western. Searchers is a masterpiece but the subplot involving Martin and Laurie and that other guy and Mose in his rocking chair is weak. I’m not sure weather or not Ford was putting down racism or not. I’ve only seen it on VHS so the visuals sucked. Maybe if I saw it on DVD I’d like it better then Sergio’s classic. Which by the way is one of my top ten films of all time.


Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:44 am
Post Re: The Searchers
PeachyPete wrote:
I personally enjoy it, and think it is much more intelligent that what is going on on the surface, but don't know if I'd go so far as to call it the best western ever made. Many critics have said it is the best film made about racism, but I call that an oversimplification of what this film is trying to say. While there is fairly large racial element to the film, I think it is much more about Ethan's (John Wayne), and metaphorically America's, search for identity. The professor was urging the class to rewatch the early scenes with Ethan and Martha, and made the case that the film is about Ethan's guilt of being in love with his sister-in-law, and trying to cope with that. I completely disagreed, but to each their own. Thoughts?


Ah, my favorite genre of film. Forgive me what I'm about to do . . .

You sum up my feelings fairly well, actually. I really like 'The Searchers.' I think it was the best acting John Wayne ever did, and I think it is, as you say, a fairly complicated film. Like most, I think what keeps 'The Searchers' from the top are the "comedy" and romance elements.

I do agree that Ethan's guilt over his love of his sister-in-law is an important element of the film, but to say that's what the film is about? I hope your professor was just trying to start discussion.

As for the best western ever made, that's a tough one. My favorite is obvious, I think. And I would list 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly' in the top 3 or 4 artistically.

However, I have to say that I think 'The Wild Bunch' is a better film, artistically, than 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly.' I also think 'Once Upon a Time in the West' would be better as well if it had someone other than Charles Bronson in the lead.

So, I guess, these are the Westerns I think you have to include in any discussion of 'the best western ever made.'

The Good the Bad and the Ugly
The Wild Bunch
The Ox-Bow Incident
Shane
High Noon
Unforgiven
Once Upon a Time in the West
Rio Bravo
McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Films I love but don't think make the cut:

For a Few Dollars More
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Outlaw Jose Wales
Winchester 73
Red River
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (I think it's a great flick, but I don't think it's a real western)
Stagecoach
The Searchers

Films I like but wouldn't bring them up as great westerns:

Silverado
High Plains Drifter
The Quick and the Dead (yes, the one with Sharon Stone--sue me--I would even agree that it's a bad film, but I like it)
Tombstone
The Gunfighter
The Magnificent Seven
A Fistful of Dollars


Wed Mar 04, 2009 3:30 am
Post Re: The Searchers
I'm just happy people finally responded to this.

I agree with both of you that TG, TB, TU is the best Western ever. It's somewhat ironic to me that an Italian made the best of a distinctly American genre. Somehow Leone just knew how to make Westerns. The Man with No Name trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West are 4 great, great Westerns.

Tuco, I like your analysis of The Searchers comedy and romance elements. The comedy especially, feels extremely dated and corny today. It really holds the film back for me. Your lists are all excellent and I agree with them for the most part. I haven't seen every film you listed, but I'm only missing 2 or 3. I really, really need to see McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I've heard great things about it, and I DVR'ed it recently. I should find time to watch it this weekend.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my top 10 favorite films ever, but I wouldn't really call it a "true" Western. I'd argue for days that it is one of the best films ever made, but I won't make a case for it to be included as one of the best Westerns ever.


Wed Mar 04, 2009 11:41 am
Post Re: The Searchers
I noticed you didn’t mention Butch and Sundance. AFI said it was the 7th best western ever. I disagree with that and some of the film isn’t western at all. It’s definitely a great film though.

As far as the Wild Bunch being better then TG TB TU that’s a hard one. I would pick TG TB TU for 2 reasons: First is the scene were Tuco is running through the grave yard looking for Stanton’s grave with Ennio Morricone score playing in the back ground, second is the mexican standoff at the end with the classic Sergio extreem close ups and wide shots. These two scene are some of the best ever.

My problem with Once Upon a Time in the West is its length and the final shoot out. They walk around, scwint, strech, drink some cooffie and eat lunch before they fainly shoot it out. I know this is Sergio’s trade mark and im not saying a long build up to vilance is bad but that scene is to long.

Is Searchers picture a hundred times better on DVD?


Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:47 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Hi PeachyPete

Sorry we've done a poor job responding to what is a very cool thread.

I'm envious of your class. i did one at college many years ago. Our was evening based and required that students watched a film during the week and came prepared to discuss it. i enjoyed those evenings so much. One of the best evenings was also a Western., Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in One Eyed Jacks

In terms of favorites I'm blown away by Tuco's list and it's hard to disagree with what he wrote..

Here are a few of mine and the list is very similar.
Unforgiven
Once upon A Time In The West
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Treasure of Sierra Madre
High Noon
Pale Rider
The Quick and the Dead - me too, but i think it's a great western
There Will be Blood - I'm curious if you'd consider this to be a western? I'm not sure.
Days of heaven - A western?
Ox Bow Incident
For a Few Dollars More
Little Big Man
Rio Bravo

As for a favorite - Unforgiven
Rob


Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:15 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
gibttbm wrote:
I noticed you didn’t mention Butch and Sundance. AFI said it was the 7th best western ever. I disagree with that and some of the film isn’t western at all. It’s definitely a great film though.

As far as the Wild Bunch being better then TG TB TU that’s a hard one. I would pick TG TB TU for 2 reasons: First is the scene were Tuco is running through the grave yard looking for Stanton’s grave with Ennio Morricone score playing in the back ground, second is the mexican standoff at the end with the classic Sergio extreem close ups and wide shots. These two scene are some of the best ever.

My problem with Once Upon a Time in the West is its length and the final shoot out. They walk around, scwint, strech, drink some cooffie and eat lunch before they fainly shoot it out. I know this is Sergio’s trade mark and im not saying a long build up to vilance is bad but that scene is to long.

Is Searchers picture a hundred times better on DVD?


Don't get me wrong--I prefer TG TB TU over 'The Wild Bunch.' The best parts of the former surpass the best parts of the latter, including the scenes you mention. But I think 'The Wild Bunch,' also a great movie, has no real weaknesses. It's highs might not be as high, but it has almost no flaws, at least in my view.

As for 'The Searchers' on DVD, I just bought it on Blu Ray. The Cinematography is remarkable. I'd always been conscious of careful construction of the final scene, shot from within the cabin/home. Seeing it this way demonstrated that there are many many carefully constructed shots like that one. It's worth a rental, at least.


Wed Mar 04, 2009 6:14 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Robert Holloway wrote:
Unforgiven
Once upon A Time In The West
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Treasure of Sierra Madre
High Noon
Pale Rider
The Quick and the Dead - me too, but i think it's a great western
There Will be Blood - I'm curious if you'd consider this to be a western? I'm not sure.
Days of heaven - A western?
Ox Bow Incident
For a Few Dollars More
Little Big Man
Rio Bravo

As for a favorite - Unforgiven
Rob


Unforgiven is an excellent choice for a favorite. It's top 3 with me (along with TG TB TU and the Wild Bunch).

'There Will Be Blood' -- I'm not sure I'd call it a Western, but it's an interesting one to throw on there. Especially in light of having 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' on there. Sierra Madre seems to have the elements of a western but thematically it feels like a different animal. TWBB has some non-Western elements (I hadn't really thought of it that way before), but thematically, it lines right up with a lot of mainstream westerns. I'm going to have to watch it again.

I've not seen 'Days of Heaven.' It's on my list of those to see, but Richard Gere has never been a favorite, and I've avoided it for that reason. I suppose it's probably time . . .

I do have a question for you. You are one of the more erudite film watchers on this board--in fact, your depth of film knowledge is remarkable to me.

With that in mind, I'm surprised to see 'Pale Rider' on your list. I'm not criticizing, nor am I arguing that it's a bad film (Clint Eastwood flicks are far and away my favorite westerns, on the whole); in fact I own it. My question, frankly, has to do with 'Shane.' I'm curious what it is that would have you put 'Pale Rider' on your list and leave 'Shane' off, when they're essentially the same films.


Wed Mar 04, 2009 6:34 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Tuco wrote:

I do have a question for you. You are one of the more erudite film watchers on this board--in fact, your depth of film knowledge is remarkable to me.

With that in mind, I'm surprised to see 'Pale Rider' on your list. I'm not criticizing, nor am I arguing that it's a bad film (Clint Eastwood flicks are far and away my favorite westerns, on the whole); in fact I own it. My question, frankly, has to do with 'Shane.' I'm curious what it is that would have you put 'Pale Rider' on your list and leave 'Shane' off, when they're essentially the same films.


Tuco, thanks for the kind words. I read your posts and feel likewise. You have a distinctive avatar :-)

My list was a little sloppy as I missed The Wild Bunch.

To be honest I have not seen Shane for over 20 years and whilst I remember enjoying the film, it would be hard for e to say it was one of my favorites. I guess I need to revisit it.

I am aware of the influence of Pale Rider and watched the Blu Ray release late last year and loved it. I think Eastwood is even more respected these days and revisiting his old westerns is an interesting experience. I thought pale Rider came over as a very intelligent and thoughtful movie alongside the easier to consume action themes.

So I'll take your advice and revisit Shane.

Rob


Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:50 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Tuco wrote:
'There Will Be Blood' -- I'm not sure I'd call it a Western, but it's an interesting one to throw on there. Especially in light of having 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' on there. Sierra Madre seems to have the elements of a western but thematically it feels like a different animal. TWBB has some non-Western elements (I hadn't really thought of it that way before), but thematically, it lines right up with a lot of mainstream westerns. I'm going to have to watch it again.

I've not seen 'Days of Heaven.' It's on my list of those to see, but Richard Gere has never been a favorite, and I've avoided it for that reason. I suppose it's probably time . . .


Tuco,

I am not sure about TWBB. I guess it asks the bigger questions. What is a Western? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that one.

Irrespective of Westerns and Richard Gere you owe it to your self to watch Days of Heaven. If nothing else it's one of the finest examples of cinematography with the entire movie being shot in the "Golden Hour". I had the great privilege to work with Tarsem ("The Cell" and others) and he constantly referenced the film and certain sequences. he has an amazing visual style as well.

Rob


Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:54 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Robert Holloway wrote:
I am not sure about TWBB. I guess it asks the bigger questions. What is a Western? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that one.

Irrespective of Westerns and Richard Gere you owe it to your self to watch Days of Heaven. If nothing else it's one of the finest examples of cinematography with the entire movie being shot in the "Golden Hour". I had the great privilege to work with Tarsem ("The Cell" and others) and he constantly referenced the film and certain sequences. he has an amazing visual style as well.


Okay, you've convinced me--'Days of Heaven' has been moved to the top of the list. I'll try to catch it this weekend if possible . . .

What is a Western? That's a good question, isn't it? The obvious things apply--second half of the nineteenth century, frontier setting, that sort of thing.

What makes a Western for me is the sense of personal autonomy and individualism. The characters in nearly all westerns end up putting their personal autonomy up against some larger enemy (the rancher opposed to fences on the range, the sheriff fighting against better-armed and more numerous outlaws, etc.), with the 'right' usually defined as whatever preserves personal autonomy as defined by the picture. It's interesting to me that sometimes the individual is the one who wants to keep the range fence-free, while in other films the individual is the one who wants to keep the rancher's cattle from eating his crops.

In that regard, I suppose 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' is a more subversive western than 'Unforgiven', 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller,' or 'Dances with Wolves.' That also allows me to get back to 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly,' which is interesting in this context because the question of who has power and authority switches so many times.

When you look at TWBB, you see the right time, setting, and even theme (as I've too-narrowly defined it). What's different is that you see the main character in the rare position of being the larger enemy rather than the individual. That's way too abbreviated a discussion of the issue, but in this limited context, the more I think about it, the more I think TWBB is at least partially a western turned on its head. Sort of like a more nuanced 'Pale Rider' where we instead get the story of how of the LaHood character ended up where he did.

Now, I think TWBB is both more epic and more intimate than that, but that strikes me as a valid way to view it.

Your thoughts?


Thu Mar 05, 2009 3:58 am
Post Re: The Searchers
With your impressive knowlegde of Westerns, maybe you can help me with identifying a film I would like to rewatch. It's a black and white film starring Kirk Douglas and is set in modern times. Kirk Douglas' character is an old-school cowboy who despises modern times and technology (cars, helicopters). For some reason he is on the run from the law and hides in the mountains.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
In the end, he is run over by a lorry.


All the great Westerns have been mentioned already, but these are worth checking out as well

Johnny Guitar: Pretty weird and unusual. Two women struggle for dominance in a frontier town with Sterling Hayden as a former gunslinger turned guitar player caught in the middle.

Hombre: Paul Newman as a half-Apache in a stagecoach, which is held up by bandits. The other passengers, some of them overtly racist, try to convince him to help them, because he is the only one competent to handle a gun.

Django: Italian "Spaghetti western" and for its time extremely violent cult film by Sergio Corbucci. Django is the iconic character who drags a coffin behind him.

My Name is Nobody: Best of the Italian comedy westerns starring Terence Hill and Henry Fonda. It is as much a spoof as poignant story about an ageing gunslinger. Sergio Leone had a hand in this one.

Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: Modern Western by Tommy Lee Jones. Reminded me a bit of Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which could also be regarded as a modern Western.


Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:51 am
Post Re: The Searchers
Tuco wrote:
'There Will Be Blood' -- I'm not sure I'd call it a Western, but it's an interesting one to throw on there. Especially in light of having 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' on there. Sierra Madre seems to have the elements of a western but thematically it feels like a different animal. TWBB has some non-Western elements (I hadn't really thought of it that way before), but thematically, it lines right up with a lot of mainstream westerns. I'm going to have to watch it again.


This is an interesting comparison. I recently read that PTA watched 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' every night while filming TWBB. I hadn't really given much thought to the comparison, but the films definitely have similarities. I've only seen TWBB once (in the theater), so I'll have to watch it again. Maybe a double feature with these 2 films is in order.

I don't know if I consider either to be a Western. Both have elements of the Western, but are also vastly different. I don't think you can consider a film a Western just because some of the essential elements are in place. By that logic, something like The Big Lebowski could be considered a Western.

These days, genre blending is something that has become fairly common. The Coens are masters of this, which is why something like TBL can effectively use Western themes, while not being a true Western. PTA used this to his advantage in TWBB to explore the character of Daniel Plainview (bit of a heavy-hand with the name). Above all, that movie is a character study and is distinctly "American". PTA used the themes of the Western (one of the 2 distinctly American genres along with film noir) as a jumping off point to go inside of the character of Plainview. I think he was intentionally pointing out that this is an American man by using a Western setting and backdrop. 'Treasure' is similiar in that way, and Huston showed how far ahead of the times he was by using such a technique. The more I think about it, the more I can see the similarities in those 2 films. That double feature is definitely in order fairly soon.


Thu Mar 05, 2009 11:01 am
Post Re: The Searchers
Tuco wrote:

What is a Western? That's a good question, isn't it? The obvious things apply--second half of the nineteenth century, frontier setting, that sort of thing.

What makes a Western for me is the sense of personal autonomy and individualism. The characters in nearly all westerns end up putting their personal autonomy up against some larger enemy (the rancher opposed to fences on the range, the sheriff fighting against better-armed and more numerous outlaws, etc.), with the 'right' usually defined as whatever preserves personal autonomy as defined by the picture. It's interesting to me that sometimes the individual is the one who wants to keep the range fence-free, while in other films the individual is the one who wants to keep the rancher's cattle from eating his crops.

In that regard, I suppose 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' is a more subversive western than 'Unforgiven', 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller,' or 'Dances with Wolves.' That also allows me to get back to 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly,' which is interesting in this context because the question of who has power and authority switches so many times.

When you look at TWBB, you see the right time, setting, and even theme (as I've too-narrowly defined it). What's different is that you see the main character in the rare position of being the larger enemy rather than the individual. That's way too abbreviated a discussion of the issue, but in this limited context, the more I think about it, the more I think TWBB is at least partially a western turned on its head. Sort of like a more nuanced 'Pale Rider' where we instead get the story of how of the LaHood character ended up where he did.

Now, I think TWBB is both more epic and more intimate than that, but that strikes me as a valid way to view it.

Your thoughts?


Tuco

I've never really thought about what defines a western until this thread. It's an interesting one.

The first and most obvious element is the era. I'd place it in the 19th century.
The second is that it tends to be about the development of the US and the move "West" wards
I think that everyting else are just parts of the genre.

I do think that the cop drama / thriller has basically become the western of the last 30 years.

Rob


Thu Mar 05, 2009 1:15 pm
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Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:44 pm
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Post Re: The Searchers
Unke, that film was "Lonely Are The Brave"

Douglas said it was his favorite of his films.


Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:59 pm
Profile
Post Re: The Searchers
Cheers, calvero.


Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:10 am
Post Re: The Searchers
What is a Western? That's a good question, isn't it? The obvious things apply--second half of the nineteenth century, frontier setting, that sort of thing.

What makes a Western for me is the sense of personal autonomy and individualism. The characters in nearly all westerns end up putting their personal autonomy up against some larger enemy[/quote]

So would No Country For Old Men be a western then?


Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:47 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
gibttbm wrote:
So would No Country For Old Men be a western then?


I think you could argue that it is (some have), probably moreso than some other 'Westerns' with contemporary settings like 'Lone Star.' My own personal bias be that a Western take place in the frontier west during the mid-late 19th or early 20th century, but that's nothing more than a personal bias.


Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:56 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
Tuco wrote:
gibttbm wrote:
So would No Country For Old Men be a western then?


I think you could argue that it is (some have), probably moreso than some other 'Westerns' with contemporary settings like 'Lone Star.' My own personal bias be that a Western take place in the frontier west during the mid-late 19th or early 20th century, but that's nothing more than a personal bias.


I'll take the opposing viewpoint and say that it isn't a Western. I think it's more of a chase film, a thriller, than it is a Western. It's nearly impossible to pin a Coen Bros. film down into one genre though. NCFOM uses some of the major Western themes, i.e. the law, violence, miscegenation to tell it's story, but the overall plot line is structure much more like a cat-and-mouse thriller. A case could actually be made that the film is even set on this generation's "frontier", that being the US-Mexico border. I've never really thought of that before, and I'm fairly certain that's what the Coens intended. Overall, Western elements are there, but since it's a Coen Brothers film, I don't think you can confine it to one specific genre.


Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:20 pm
Post Re: The Searchers
PeachyPete wrote:
I'll take the opposing viewpoint and say that it isn't a Western. I think it's more of a chase film, a thriller, than it is a Western. It's nearly impossible to pin a Coen Bros. film down into one genre though. NCFOM uses some of the major Western themes, i.e. the law, violence, miscegenation to tell it's story, but the overall plot line is structure much more like a cat-and-mouse thriller. A case could actually be made that the film is even set on this generation's "frontier", that being the US-Mexico border. I've never really thought of that before, and I'm fairly certain that's what the Coens intended. Overall, Western elements are there, but since it's a Coen Brothers film, I don't think you can confine it to one specific genre.


That's fair too. To be honest, I struggled with NCFOM, so I don't have a strong opinion, and as you say, the Coen Brothers are tough to categorize in even their most mainstream work.

As for NCFOM, I think it was very well done, and I think it captured the essence of the book without being slavish to it. With one crucial exception: in the book, the Tommie Lee Jones character has a discussion with his uncle (who was in the film) where he relates an experience that happened in WWII. That experience, and in particular his recollection of it and what it meant to him, were crucial in the book.

Not having that small scene in the film left me so bewildered I still am not sure what to make of it. I know that Cormac McCarthy collaborated on the screenplay and was reportedly happy with it, so perhaps the scene I have in mind isn't as important to anyone else as it was to me.

I need to see it again, because I think the book is brilliant, I'm big fan of the Coen brothers, and I thought that Jones, Brolin and Hardem all did magnificent jobs.


Fri Mar 06, 2009 6:39 pm
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