John Ford’s The Searchers has been described as one of the greatest Westerns of all time – with its marvelous score, its game-changing cinematography, especially its astonishing use of landscape around Monument Valley; and its underlining story about a man out for revenge for the murder of his brother and sister-in-law, and the capture of his nieces by Native American Indians. Moreover, it is brave and bold, but also unapologetic in its racist attitudes to Native Americans, something that we would all probably today express an inward shiver of embarrassment thanks to enlightened eyes. But even though we are made to feel sympathetic towards actor John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards plight, crisscrossing the West in search for his nieces, it personally doesn’t sit well with me knowing that he is an unforgiving racist. For instance, the scene where he desecrates the burial of a Comanche warrior by shooting out his eyes is quite startling and brutal. But deep in my heart I know The Searchers was made that way to shock us, maybe even to challenge our notions of what drives us despite our prejudices. And that there I have to admit is the genius of John Ford’s compelling story! We don’t have to like the main protagonist in order to be moved or aroused by a good story. Though, I must say, you almost don’t want Wayne’s character to find his missing niece, especially after he finds out that she is happy living amongst her captors. “Livin’ with Comanches ain’t being alive”, a vile Ethan Edwards retorts. At that moment, rather than bringing her back home, he plans instead to kill his niece for her underlining sympathies to the ‘enemy’.

I will not spoil the ending for those readers who haven’t seen The Searchers, but I will leave you instead to ponder whether one man’s lifetime of prejudices can be redeemed with one act of kindness? To find out I sincerely recommend you watch The Searchers.

Photo credit: The header image is a scene from the film The Searchers (1956) which is presumably courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. I make use of the image under the rational of fair use. It enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone by placing the key character of the film, played by John Wayne into the frame. I am not the uploader of the YouTube clip embedded here.

Posted by Robert Horvat

Robert Horvat is a Melbourne based blogger. He believes that the world is round and that art is one of our most important treasures. He has seen far too many classic films and believes coffee runs through his veins. As a student of history, he favours ancient and medieval history. Music pretty much rules his life and inspires his moods. Favourite artists include The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Garbage and Lana Del Rey.


  1. Excellent review of the movie. I feel the same way about the character John Wayne plays. You did an excellent job relating the tension we feel watching this character look for his niece, knowing he has dark motives towards her!


  2. Haven’t seen it, but this makes me want to! Thanks.


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