Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent and Alan Le May
Produced by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney
Cinematography by Winton C. Hoch
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Adventure / Classics / Drama / Western
John Wayne as Ethan Edwards
Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley
Vera Miles as Laurie Jorgensen
Ward Bond as Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnston Clayton
Natalie Wood as Debbie Edwards (older)
John Qualen as Lars Jorgensen
Olive Carey as Mrs. Jorgensen
Henry Brandon as Chief Cicatrice (Scar)
Ken Curtis as Charlie McCorry
Harry Carey Jr. as Brad Jorgensen
Antonio Moreno as Emilio Figueroa
Hank Worden as Mose Harper
Beulah Archuletta as Wild Goose Flying in the Night Sky (Look)
Walter Coy as Aaron Edwards
Dorothy Jordan as Martha Edwards
Pippa Scott as Lucy Edwards
Patrick Wayne as Lt. Greenhill
Lana Wood as Debbie Edwards (young)
Ethan Edwards, an Indian hating Confederate soldier, returns home to his family in Texas after the Civil War. It’s been three years since his family has seen him, and he is a changed man. Living amongst his family is a half-breed Indian boy, Martin Pawley, who Ethan regards with barely disguised contempt, even though it was Ethan who rescued the boy years earlier. Shortly after being home, he reluctantly joins a posse of Texas Rangers who are looking into some missing cattle. They track the cattle down to discover they have been led away and massacred by Indians. Ethan suspects that the cattle raid was a staged diversion to lead the men away from his home, and the posse ride back to discover Ethan was right. Ethan’s home has been burnt to the ground, and his family killed, save for his two young nieces, Debbie and Lucy. Ethan sets out on a quest to find them, and Martin accompanies him.
Throughout the search the two endure Indian attacks, nefarious schemes by greedy white men, the harshness of the elements, and their own conflicts between each other. As time goes by, Martin becomes convinced that when they find Debbie, Ethan’s hatred of Indians and the way he views the whites that have lived with them, that Ethan will kill Debbie instead of rescue her. The desire to protect her from her would-be rescuer forces him to endure Ethan’s scathing remarks and contempt. In a search that spans years, will the duo ever find Debbie, and when they do, what will be Ethan’s reaction?
Many have drawn parallels between The Searchers and the real life case of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped at the age of 9 by Comanche warriors from her home in Fort Parker, Texas. Cynthia spent 24 years with the Comanche, becoming married to a war chief and having 3 children, and then being forcibly rescued by Texas Rangers. James W. Parker, her Uncle, had spent most of his life searching for his niece, much like Ethan Edwards.
The Searchers was named the Greatest American Western of All Time by the American Film institute in 2008.
The Searchers was one of the first movies that used a making-of documentary on TV to promote it.
Although The Searchers was supposed to take place in Texas, it was principally shot in Monument Valley, Utah.
As a tribute to western star Harry Carey, John Ford cast Carey’s wife, Olive Carey and his son, Harry Carey Jr., in the film. At the end of the film, Wayne strikes a pose holding his right elbow with his left hand, which was a distinctive pose of Harry Carey’s.
Two Wood sisters, Lana and Natalie, portrayed Debbie Edwards at different times in the movie to simulate the age difference between scenes.
During filming, Natalie Wood was still attending high school, and John Wayne was sent several times to pick her up, causing a great deal of excitement at the school.
A large piece of the puzzle of Ethan’s burning hatred of Comanche’s is subtly revealed in a prop visible just before the Indian raid on the Edward’s homestead. A tombstone is shown for a moment, and the text reads, “Here lies Mary Jane Edwards, killed by Comanches May 12, 1852. A good wife and mother in her 41st year.” Ethan’s mother was killed by Comanches.
In a biography of John Ford, it is revealed that Ward Bond would walk around his hotel room naked with the blinds open in the hopes of attracting Vera Miles. His plan did not work.
Reportedly, Buddy Holly watched The Searchers in a theater in Texas in 1956. Buddy so loved the term “That’ll be the day” that he went on to use it in the standard Rock and Roll song that was one of his biggest hits.
All of the Indians in the film, with the exception of Scar, were actually portrayed by Navajo, not Comanches. Ford made frequent use of the Navajo tribe located near Monument Valley, Utah for his films.