Thursday, July 27, 2006

Magic in Monument Valley

The camera slowly pans through the open doorway to reveal a rugged, sparse landscape.

Off in the distance, a man slowly approaches the house. He has traveled a great distance. We sense that this is a force to be reckoned with; here is a man with many hidden demons.

Thus begins "The Searchers," John Ford's epic, the western movie of them all. So beautiful is its photography, so wonderful is the acting, so gripping the story, that this film can only be described as a work of art.

That it is Ford's best film is of no question. That it is John Wayne's best performance is obvious. It is more than a film. It belongs in a museum, hanging there in a frame alongside Monet and Picasso.

Warner Brothers has released a fine 2-disc special edition of this enduring 1956 classic. Included are several documentaries that include commentary from cast members and film directors, including John Milius and Martin Scorcese. All agree that in the "The Searchers" John Ford created what few mortals achieve -- a masterpiece.

Ford was filming in his favorite location (Monument Valley, Calif.), with his favorite actor (Wayne) at the helm. Both reach the apex of their long collaboration in this dark, brooding tale of racism, revenge and redemption.

It was as if, buried in the dark heart of Ethan Edwards, Wayne was finally able to tap into something deep within his soul. The result is stunning; it is by far his best work. That he wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award speaks volumes about the nearsightedness of that panel.

Wayne never talked much about the film. He did say years later that Ethan Edwards was his favorite role. He proved it when his last son was born. Yep, you guessed it. He named him Ethan.

The film was originally shot in VistaVision. What the nostalgic movie buff wouldn't give to see "The Searchers" in that glorious format. This DVD print (based on the surviving 35 millimeter masters) retains the cinematography beautifully.

And all the familiar faces are here. Ward Bond. Jeffrey Hunter. Harry Carey Jr. Vera Miles. Ken Curtis. Natalie Wood. Even the Sons of the Pioneers show up to sing a few tunes after supper.

The defining moment happens when Wayne encounters a gaggle of white girls who had been kidnapped by the Comanche. The look on his face when he turns to stare at one of them is fodder for the gods. The buffoons who still insist Wayne couldn't act either haven't seen this movie or just aren't in touch with reality.

Ford and Wayne made two more films together after "The Searchers." But neither the introspective, claustrophobic "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" or the inept "Donovan's Reef" match this celluloid triumph.

Watching "The Searchers" is an experience to be savored, something you remember, hold tight in your heart, saving it for rainy days or those times when the world is out of focus. Fifty years later, can we ever imagine a day when this film won't stir something deep in the American consciousness?

That'll be the day.


Blogger thinkingasiwrite said...

LOL. Yep, that'll be the day if you have anything to do with it! =) That movie sounds great...gonna have to watch that one, for sure.

7:26 PM  

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