Saturday, 15 November 2008

Figure a man's only good for one oath at a time; I took mine to the Confederate States of America.

No 164 - The Searchers

Director - John Ford

Once again I'm sat at the Hughes residence watching another film. This is my first western (I don't think Back to the Future III really counts) and is also the favourite film of Mojo Award Winner Keith Hughes. So the three of us at down and I was in the privileged position of being joined by Keith who knew every nuance of this film and was able to answer all my questions about it.

The most striking thing that you see with this film is the sense of scale and scope and sheer breathtaking beauty. The film was shot in VistaVision, which was only used for 7 years, but which allowed massive levels of clarity. When mixed the exaggerated vibrancy of Technicolor it creates an image which must have looked phenomenal in the cinema. It certainly translated well to DVD, the large desert vistas and the saturation of colour looked amazing and made me wish I had been able to see it on a cinema screen back in 1956. One moment especially is when Marty (Captain Pike in the original Star Trek fact fans) finds the burnt remains of his family home. His part Apache sun-tanned skin is framed by the vibrant blue of the sky. Although it is only a small moment in the film it really shows off the visual splendour of the film. The only moments that really compete with this are the huge epic desert landscapes, the deep oranges of the rocks against the blues of the sky. This is truly a beautiful film to watch in all its epic scope.

The epic scope is not just in the visuals and the vistas. Considering the flimsy nature of the film (2 men go and search for a girl who got kidnapped by a group of Comanche Indians (or Native Americans as they should be called these days), this is a film which spans over 5 years and which tackles a load of very strong themes, especially for a film from the 50s.

Let us begin with the character of Ethan Edwards, played to perfection by John Wayne (although I get the impression that he may struggle playing anything that isn't the grizzled frontiersman) he is in every way the hero, a war veteran who commands and earns the respect of his peers and followers. However, as well as being the hero he is a narrow minded bigot. A racist, intolerant of everyone and with a shady mysterious past which has landed him an awful lot of freshly minted gold. As Ethan carries on his motivation becomes more and more dubious - he begins the quest trying to rescue his niece but as time goes on he becomes convinced she is either going to be dead or have been brainwashed by those dirty In'jun savages. Ethan believes that a life with the Comanche is worse than no life at all - and he just wants to ride in and destroy the village and get his vengeance on everyone. And if that means killing his niece Debbie, then so be it. This exploration of racism and motivation is a pretty big theme and especially weighty considering the era when the film was released. When dealing with a genre where the cowboys are the all American good guys and the Indians are the savage enemy. To show a moral grey area in that world is a brave and daring move.

But enough about brave thematic choices and striking palettes! This is a blog about the casual fripperies which my befuddled mind take fancy to. When one is watching a film from the 50s one will always notice one thing - the women. There is something about the sirens of the 1950s that I have not found in any other era, but they all are truly beautiful and all seem to be Iconic as well. But hey! I ain't complaining. In this film we are graced with two very beautiful actresses. Firstly Vera Miles, who has both the natural advantage of being a bit of a redhead in the film (photo doesn't quite capture her full TechniColor glory) but also is so sexually precocious in the film that you can't help but warm to her. However, the real starlet to mention is Natalie Wood, who does not play a convincing child at all, being 18 at the time of filming. But is a truly gorgeous young lady indeed - and she played Maria in West Side Story. She also dated Elvis for a while, which is very cool. It is little moments like this when you realise just how many cool people were living in the 50s that I mourn the fact I was born in the wrong decade....

I think I will have to watch something incredibly modern in order to stop this....

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