Exhibit 17.20

The Searchers

Someone requested my thoughts on The Searchers and since I didn't see anything interesting while driving to work today, I figured why not. I'm here to please.

Despite what you may be thinking based on some recent posts, this is actually the first John Wayne movie I've ever seen. I had to look up some of his characters' names for a project, posted the character names, was told to watch The Searchers, watched The Searchers, was told to write about The Searchers, and now I'm writing about The Searchers. This has all taken place within a week or so. Like I said, I'm here to please.

Here's the trailer if you'd like to watch it, but I should tell you it gives away maybe the best scene of the movie and, if you know what to look for, the ending.

Lusty slice of history? Sign me up.

So it's not in any way lusty, but it is a great movie, sort of an earlier, American Southwest Lawrence of Arabia in visual style and something much more modern in its dark, somewhat meta conflict which rests entirely on antagonizing the audience's expectation of John Wayne-the-guy-who-plays-heroes with John-Wayne-the-guy-playing-a-racist-jerk. I know nothing about film, so I'm sure this kind of against-type casting existed before, but I can't think of an earlier example. I certainly can't think of a time it's worked this well since (it usually ends up lifeless [see Hanks, Tom, The Road to Perdition] or silly [see Carrey, Jim, The Number 23. Actually, don't. I certainly didn't]).

What's so great about it here is that Wayne seems completely unaware his character is a bad guy. Obviously he did know, but it's clear that Wayne sympathizes with him to such a degree that it would be uncomfortable if Wayne weren't so damn likable. As I said before, I've never seen a John Wayne movie, hate the guy's politics and his behavior during the Red Scare, and don't have a lot of interest in his vision of America or masculinity--I'm, you know, a wimp--but there's undeniably something big about the man and it's something that seems to exist outside of what he says or does. And believe me, I hate buying into this guy. I'd love to be contrarian here, but it's true. John Wayne had me at his first, "That'll be the day."

It's his presence outside the character that greys the movie, and it's almost impossible to imagine a movie with the same mechanics today. It's maybe as simple as the fact that the studio system doesn't create stars in the same way--although god knows they try every so often:

Movie Executive #1: Shia LaBeouf?
Movie Executive #2: Shia LaBeouf!

Or maybe it's something Marlon Brando did. Certainly The Searchers is riding the anti-hero wave:

On the Waterfront - 1954
Rebel Without a Cause - 1955
The Searchers - 1956

Thankfully, we just haven't been living in an era that wants Superman for a long, long time and in The Searchers John Wayne is Superman turned bitter after choosing the wrong team (in this case, the South in the Civil War). And so it's not just that Wayne is playing against type, it's that he's playing the death of his type. A once great man reacting to the end of his era with violence and hate.

For some reason, John Ford sought to soften the blow of this portrayal with laughter. There's a lot of comedy in The Searchers and it's all very broad--a cartoony simpleton, pratfalls, misunderstandings with (hilarious) consequences. There's absolutely no reason for any of this to be in the movie, but it's there nonetheless. The only thing odder than its existence is the fact that it's actually funny more often than not. Still, it's completely disposable and unwanted, scenes that most people probably forget when remembering the movie.

(The Searchers is apparently the AFI's greatest Western of all-time. Fair enough. It is quite awesome and I don't know anything about Westerns. But I do know it would be hilarious to take some of these comedy scenes and insert them into, say, Unforgiven. Watching Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman have a surprisingly girly fight played for laughs? Yes. Yes indeed).

Last thought: And maybe it's just because of how inherently unassailable Wayne is, but I think there's an argument could be that the character Ford objects to most is Ward Bond's Reverend Captain, who is both the local priest and the local marshall. While he's as complex as the rest of the characters here, even Wayne seems to hate the power and hypocrisy at work when these two roles combine in one man. Considering the movie was made at the end of the McCarthy-era, it's easy to see Bond's character, and not Wayne's, as the real anti-hero. Wayne is going to die and take his character flaws with him, leaving behind nothing but a son-figure who represents the opposite of what Wayne believes in. But men like Bond and their "good-intentioned" facism aren't going anywhere.

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