Film of the Week 02.10.20.

Westerns may be out of favour at the moment, despite sporadic attempts to revive the genre, but in the 1940’s and 50’s they were a staple part of the Hollywood output and the master of the Western was John Ford. His all time classic is his 1956, The Searchers, a story of revenge with John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, an embittered former Confederate soldier turned lone wanderer who embarks on a five year mission to rescue the sole survivor of a Comanche raid on his family.

This is the fifth western Ford made with Wayne but it was a major change turning him from the dashing hero to a grim, obsessive man bordering on paranoia as he ruthlessly seeks to take revenge on the native American tribe that perpetrated the atrocity. By our perception today he was a racist as were many in the West of 1868 as the white settlers pushed the indigenous population out of their homeland with brutality on both sides. Based on an interpretation of historical events Ford’s film gives a strong feel of the real West.

Although the story is set in Texas he returned to Monument Valley in Arizona, his favorite location for his Westerns and the sweeping vistas have never looked so magnificent in the deep focus Vistavision photographic process by Winton V Hoch, one of Ford’s regular cinematographers. Max Steiner adds a lovely music score.

With a fine supporting cast including Jeffery Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond and Natalie Wood the film was among the first to be preserved in the National Registry of the Library of Congress and it ranks 12th in the American Film Institute list of the 100 greatest American films of all time. The BFI places it, 7th in the 2012 survey of film critics.

For John Wayne it was his finest performance and one of his iconic lines ‘That’ll be the day’ inspired the Buddy Holly song of the same name! Watch on BBC2 on Sunday afternoon and on BBC 4 next Thursday.