Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent from the novel by Alan Le May
Warner Bros./C.V. Whitney Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#318 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Ethan: That’ll be the day.
My husband said “It’s that sad Western, isn’t it?” That’s right. Also the really beautiful one with the great John Wayne performance.
Ethan Edwards (Wayne) comes home to the Texas wilderness three years after the civil war. He has a cache of Yankee gold which he never really explains, giving him a mysterious air. “Home” is the household of his brother Aaron, sister-in-law Martha, nieces Lucy and Debbie, blood nephew Ben and adopted nephew Martin Pawley. Wordlessly, we learn that Martha and Ethan have feelings for each other. Also that Ethan resents Martin for his 1/8 Cherokee heritage. Lucy is being courted by Brad Jorgenson (Harry Carey Jr.), son of Swedish settler Lars Jorgenson (John Qualen). Martin is shyly courting Jorgenson’s daughter Laurie (Vera Miles). Debbie is maybe ten years old.
On the very night of Ethan’s return, Rev. Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond) comes to call. Clayton is also a Captain in the Texas rangers and is there to deputize Martin and Aaron on a mission to chase some Indians who have slaughtered Jorgenson’s cattle. Ethan volunteers to take Aaron’s place. It turns out that the rustling was a trick to draw the men away from their homes. By the time Ethan and Martin can return to the Edwards homestead the Indians have burned the place down. They find the bodies of Aaron, Martha, and Ben. Lucy and Debbie have been spirited away to some unspeakable fate.
The Raiders set out on the trail of the war party. Clayton and Ethan clash over strategy, Ethan always favoring the most brutal method, and eventually the Raiders go home leaving Ethan and Martin to search on their own.
So begins a search that lasts many years. Martin and Ethan spar throughout. Martin is determined to stick with Ethan to the end though as he fears that Ethan will kill Debbie if he finds she has adopted Indian ways. With Olive Carey, Hank Worden, and Wayne’s son Patrick.
I seem to love this film more every time I see it. The vistas and compositions leave me awestruck. It’s also a powerful story of racism in the old West along with the bravery and strength of the people who conquered it. Wayne was never better. He has a taciturn, savage edge that complements his heroism. Most highly recommended.