The Searchers by Alan LeMay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”A man has to learn to forgive himself,” Amos said, his voice unnaturally gentle….”Or he can’t stand to live. It so happens we be Texans. We took a reachin’ holt, way far out, past where any man has right or reason to hold on. Or it we didn’t, our folks did, so we can’t leave off, without giving up that they were fools, wasting their lives, and washed in the way they died.”
The moment of realization.
Amos Edwards and Marty Pauley are helping to retrieve some cattle that have been stolen from a neighboring homestead when they discover that it was a feint by the Comanches to pull as many guns away from the settlements as possible. They are too far away to do much but watch helplessly as plumes of smoke ascend into the sky confirming their worst fears. When Amos comes to the homestead he is calling for his sister-in-law Martha not his brother Henry. His secret, that isn’t so secret, is that he carried a torch for Martha and she carried a torch for him so elegantly portrayed in the movie with a scene showing her brushing his coat lovingly with her hand. I know a lot more people have seen the truly magnificent movie made of The Searchers than have read the book, for the movie they changed the name of Amos to Ethan. The scene continues with Ethan/Amos about to kiss Martha. You can see that he wants to kiss her lips and she would let him, but with willpower he kisses her forehead instead. The sexual tension crackles.
With what happens, I’m sure he wished he’d folded her in his arms and locked onto her lips for all he was worth.
Martha, played by Dorothy Jordan, with Ethan's coat.
In the movie John Wayne comes up on the homestead on fire. He finds Martha’s dress in tatters outside. He goes inside to look for her. He comes back out a shattered man. He refuses to let Marty go into the burning building. In fact he slugs him to keep him out because he doesn’t want to go back in there either. I remember the chills that went up my spine when I first saw the movie and thinking to myself if John Wayne couldn’t handle it I don’t want to see it. All the brutality is brilliantly kept off screen throughout the whole movie leaving our own active imaginations to conjure the scenes for ourselves.
This begins an epic search for Debbie Edwards, the young girl taken by the Comanches. It spans many years and many miles as Amos and his not so welcome companion, Marty, track down every band of Comanches hoping to find her so they can work out a trade or if need be take her back by force. Well, that is Marty’s plan. Once she’s been with “bucks” Edwards believes the only decent thing to do is kill her. Marty knows he might have to stand between Amos and Debbie when the time comes.
Marty is an orphan that the Edwards raised after his parents were killed. He thinks of himself as part of the family, but Amos sets him straight.
”Debbie’s my brother’s young’n,” Amos said. “She’s my flesh and blood--not yours. Better you leave these things to the people concerned with ‘em, boy. Debbie’s no kin to you at all.”
“I--I always felt like she was my kin.”
“Well, she ain’t.”
“Our--I mean, her --her folks took me in off the ground. I’d be dead but for them. They even--”
“That don’t make ‘em any kin.”
“All right. I ain’t got no kin. Never said I had. I’m going to keep on looking, that’s all.”
Personally, I don’t want anyone looking at me that way. *shiver*
Amos is a hard son-of-a-bitch. Just like with the movie you move from one moment to wanting to kick his rear end up into his neck to the next moment wanting to give him a hug. The conflict between Amos and Marty continues for the entire book between divergent personal philosophies and even who has the right to be on this crusade.
”Like most prairie men, they had great belief in their abilities, but a total faith in their bad luck.”
What really comes across in the book is the legitimacy of the writer. The dialogue, the descriptions of the way of life, and the depictions of the scenery are magnificently portrayed.
”Now came the first of the snow, a thin lacing of ice needles, heard and felt before they could be seen. The ice particles were traveling horizontally, parallel to the ground, with an enormous velocity. They made a sharp whispering against the leather, drove deep into cloth, and filled the air with hissing. This thin bombardment swiftly increased, coming in puffs and clouds, then in a rushing stream. And at the same time the wind increased…It tore at them, snatching their breaths from their mouths, and its gusts buffeted their backs as solidly as thrown sacks of grain…”
John Ford, using VistaVision, captured some of the most stunning scenes of Monument Valley I’ve ever seen. In fact the scenes are the most amazing shots I’ve ever seen of the epic scope of nature in any movie.
A lot of the dialogue in the movie is lifted from the book. There is, of course, more in the book. The search is described in more detail than what Ford had time for on film. For those purists out there you will either not be unhappy with the book or the movie because they do part ways, in particular with the endings. Truly, you have to treat them as two separate entities. Both contribute, adding additional layers, to the overall story.
Wonderful framing of John Wayne in the doorway at the end of the movie. He is putting his hand on his elbow as a tribute to Harry Carey Sr. who always held his arm that way.
John Wayne’s performance in The Searchers is truly a work of art. For those that think the man can’t act watch this movie. His face betrays loathing, simmering anger, and determination like I’ve never seen him do before. He should have won an Oscar for this role, certainly at least a nomination, but the film was entirely ignored by the Academy receiving zero nominations. It resides high on every serious list of greatest movies ever made. I would have to agree. The book that inspired the movie was well worth my time. It added to my enjoyment of rewatching the movie.
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