Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Director: John Ford
Ford made many fine westerns, but this one has become the definitive western film.
It’s about Ethan (Wayne), who loves his family and his secretly in love with his brothers wife. When he is drawn away by pursuing some Indian cattle thieves, he returns to find the ranch decimated, his two nieces kidnapped and his brother and sister in law killed.
He spends the next five years in search of the Commanches that have taken his nieces, with the help of Martin (Hunter), and comes ever closer to finding them and having his revenge on Scar, the man responsible for it all. But as the film progresses, we start to understand that while he is a manly man of epic proportions, and the only one who can save the women, we also see that he’s driven by racial hatred and not pure reasons. He’d rather see his niece dead than associated with the Commanches.
It’s an amazing film in that sense, gently subverting the idea of the Native American as the bad guy, or at least, the sole bad guy. It’s a complex film, in that sense. But it’s also beautiful to watch. Ford captures a beautiful landscape, harsh and bleak, where there is no guarantee of survival, where hardness is necessary to survive, but really only gets you so far. It’s also a film of strong feelings, of being driven to a task and not turning from it, with both the positive and negative aspects of that explored.
See It If: you like Westerns and narratives of the American psyche, this one is great. Also loaded with drama, it’s a fun ride.