Give me your opinion of "The Searchers" and "Red River"

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Terry H, Dec 30, 2001.

  1. Terry H

    Terry H Second Unit

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    I enjoyed these films greatly right up till the end where, in my opinion, both were ruined by stupid endings. I grew up in the 60s when it seemed that fully half of all TV shows and movies were westerns. I admit that I see most westerns as light entertainment or as some would say nowdays, "popcorn flicks". However, I also see that some are far superior to the typical "horse opera". A few of my picks for best of breed are "Shane", "High Noon", "My Darling Clementine" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". I list these to give a better idea of my tastes to better address the question at hand, not to start a debate on the best western ever. I also thought "The Searchers" and "Red River" were in the same class... until I saw their endings. I saw the ending of both films as a complete sell out because a "happy ever after" or "ride off into the sunset" ending was mandated by someone.
    I don't know if that is true but that is the way it seemed to me. I know many think highly of these films and I would like to know exactly why you regard them so highly and what you really think of the ending of both films. Opinions appreciated.
     
  2. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    As for the SEARCHERS I don't agree that it has a happy ending at all.
    For example:

    In the final scene Nathan is forsaken to forever wander the West without family or home.

    besides:

    Did you really want the Duke to blow Natalie Wood away? The main conflict of this story was Nathans struggle with hatred and his redemtion at the end.

    Now I do agree with you about RED RIVER. I always feel cheated and agrivated by the ending of this film. IMO it's one of the greatest Westerns but with the weakest ending of all time.

    The difference between the Duke's characters in these two films are the exact opposite. In the SEARCHERS John Wayne was the flawed hero struggling with himself. In RED RIVER the hero was Montomery Clift and his struggle against John Wayne's almost villainous character. The proplem I have is the Wayne character was portrayed with such a singleminded purpose of revenge against Clift(almost an unthinking force of nature)throughout most of the film and this makes his sudden change of heart at the end a big Hollywood sellout.


    I don't know if they had another ending originally planned for RED RIVER. Maybe Crawdaddy knows the details.
    Jim
     
  3. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    The ending of The Searchers left me with a completely different feeling. While others may be united once again, Wayne is still left to be alone, and, lonely. It's as if all his hard work in the movie was for.....other people, not himself. That final image, him standing in door way and having the door shut on him
    , is stunningly beautiful, but we also realize that he cannot live with these people after the movie ends. Like other western heroes, such as Shane, he must seek adventure in unknown places, but even if he achieves heroism, he still must seek another to continue his otherwise very little meaning life.
     
  4. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    In my lifetime, the film "The Searchers" is probably my most watched film. For some strange reason I have a very strong emotional tie to this film and in my opinion, it's influence on me in regard to my love of film can never be overestimated. Whenever, I watched this film a smile comes over my face. The film is one of the most visual films ever made and Ford who I admired as a director didn't miss a beat here with his film vision.

    The character Ethan Edwards is a true paradox! He is one of the most complex characters ever captured on film. Why would a man so knowledgeable in "Indian Ways" chase over the whole frontier for several years in search of a niece who's fate is already determine once she becomes of age. The picture never draws out the reasoning regarding that but film historians who read the book made mentioned that Debbie wasn't just Ethan's niece but actually his love child with Martha. That is the dark secret as to why Ethan didn't come home right after the Civil War like everyone else. So after so many years, he finally decides to see his daughter only to have her taken away from him just days after arriving home. There is little doubt that Edwards is a hard and uncompromising man but usually those type of individuals are driven quite differently than most other people. That is what keeps him going after her! He means it when he says he wants to kill her but the internal conflict within him as a man will be the determining factor whether he'll be able to carry out that terrible task. I don't know why Ford or screenwriter Frank Nugent didn't draw that out, maybe they felt they had their hands full showing the film's protagonist and the United States Cavalry in a critical manner. The racism explored in this film was landmark stuff for it's time, especially during the 1950's when race relations was coming to the forefront in this country.

    Now, regarding the ending, unlike "Red River" it is not a patented happy ending. It is considered by many film historians and well-known directors as one of the most influential film closings ever in cinema. The following lyrics are sung when Ethan arrives at the Jorgensen ranch with Debbie.

    A man will search his heart and soul

    Go searching way out there

    His peace of mind, he knows he'll find

    but where, oh, lord? Lord, where?

    Ride Away

    Ride Away

    Ride Away

    Ethan Edwards is your classic loner who knows deep inside that he shall remain one, the rest of his life. He has no place in society or even in a family environment, all of those things he knows already which is why he never enters the house and why as the door closes, he looks out towards the landscape. There is little doubt in my mind that Ethan would be leaving again, maybe not that day but very soon afterwards leaving him to wander the frontier again.

    I'm running short on time but I'll return later with my analysis about the ending of "Red River". One thing I will tell you is that Howard Hawks changed the ending of the film from how the novel "The Chisholm Trail" ended which the film was based on. It doesn't take any rocket scientist to figured out that in the book, Tom Dunson dies at the end which should have been the case in the film.

    Crawdaddy
     
  5. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    I would definitely agree that the ending of Red River is poorly done. It was a tacked on ending to replace the original in which Wayne was killed. Hawks didn't want him to die, thus the silly ending. However, considering what a great film it is up to that point, I still love it.

    As for The Searchers, I couldn't disagree more. The ending is absolutely key to story of Wayne's character. He is searching for his neice for years, with every intention of killing her, but when the opportunity to do so presents itself, he is too overwhelmed by love for her to do it. In the end, as was already pointed out, he is once again an outsider, left to wander the world alone. Far from being a bad ending, it is poetic and haunting.
     
  6. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Since you're asking for opinions, I'll simply say that while OK, I feel both of these are overrated and there are a lot of better westerns, and I'll just leave it at that.
     
  7. Todd Hostettler

    Todd Hostettler Second Unit

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    Weird coincidence. Having just watched Red River for the first time two days ago, I was left with the same feeling a lot of you had.
    The "Darn, I never could've killed ya... even though I just shot Cherry" ending just felt like a cop out.
    On top of deflating the drama, it does a complete 180 when it comes to Dunson's character. This guy has unjustly killed someone, and wanted to kill again. Are we - and Matt - supposed to just forget that?
    Don't get me wrong, though. It's still one of my top five (Okay, top six) Westerns. Clift was great, especially considering it was his first role.
    The Searchers on the other hand, is perfect. Right down to the last frame.
     
  8. Calvin Cullen

    Calvin Cullen Stunt Coordinator

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    I have no problem with the ending of The Searchers. But it is far from "perfect". Natalie Wood was just wrong for the part she played; it was as if the tornado had yanked Dorothy out of the Wizard of Oz (perfect teeth, comically excessive makeup) and dropped her in the Old West. And everytime Scar makes an appearence I end up thinking 'What's Regis Philbin doing in this movie?'. I realize there weren't too many Native American actors in those days, but this really dates what could be a timeless film. I also feel that some of the comic relief scenes were mishandled, ala George 'Jar Jar' Lucas. (BTW, Kurosawa knew how to do comic relief properly, but that's a subject for a whole other thread).
     
  9. MikeAW

    MikeAW Second Unit

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    Both films work for me totally...even the endings. Both films are chock full of signs and meanings to talk about.

    I love the way Ford's and Hawks' films create their own sense of order and rules, usually outside of society as we know and understand it. Another film to look at is Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings".

    It would be nice to see a Criterion version of both, but especially a restored, director's cut of "Red River".

    See Paul Schrader's homage to Ford and "The Searchers" in his underrated early film, "Hardcore" with George C. Scott in the brilliantly updated John Wayne role. Hopefully it will be released on DVD.
     
  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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  11. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

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  12. Terry H

    Terry H Second Unit

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    Well I can see why most of you feel as you do about the ending and I agree in part. However it is clear I did not express myself well in detailing what I find objectionable. I don't really mind the ending. What I cannot understand is Ethan's sudden and inexplicable change of heart. I didn't buy it. Not at all. The Ethan that Wayne portrayed would never have simply changed his mind. All through the last third of the movie the director and all the actors led me to believe he would kill Debbie. They were successful. I believed them. Yet, when it comes down to it he sweeps her up in his arms and recues her (white knight style) and they ride off into the sunset to a happy ending in the next scene. Yes, happy. Everyone got what they wanted, even Ethan. Kirk said he would have to seek adventure elsewhere and I agree but I don't see any sadness in him. It was just what he wanted. Remember that after the war ended he was (I assume) a robber still fighting the yankees. He was a loner and liked adventure. He didn't want to stay "down on the farm". He would have gone crazy.
    Well, that is the way I see it. Maybe it is silly that I cannot let this point slide but it was the major plot point and I thought the way it was handled was a huge mistake. I have seen nothing to change my mind. Clearly, we will never agree but I thank you all for your opinions. Special thanks to Crawdaddy for all the insights provided. What a shame they could not work the "daughter" insight into the movie somehow. That would have made it much easier for me to swallow the plot resolution. Just knowing it provides a better understanding and helps me enjoy the movie more that I did before.
     
  13. Danny_N

    Danny_N Second Unit

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    I am a big John Ford fan and The Searchers is my absolute favourite film of all time. Robert Crawford has already more or less pointed out why Ethan does not kill his niece and has this sudden unexpected change of heart. Ethan was in love/had an affair with her mother and the girl may actually be his child.
    The original script was a bit clearer on this affair (Ford changed several bits while filming) and the ending is also clearer. In the original script, Ethan is ready to shoot her (pulling out gun and cocking back the hammer already) and asks her to shut her eyes. The girl does not comply but stares fearless into his eyes. Ethan lowers his gun and says the following piece of quite explanatory dialogue: "You sure favor your mother ..." So, the girl's eyes remind him of the woman he loved and love prevails over hate in the end (the script does not have the beautiful ending shot of Ethan as an eternal loner either but it ends with what's left of the family riding home).
    For me this change from the obvious to the more puzzling ending emphasizes the enigma that is Ethan Edwards and adds to the beauty of the movie.
    Anybody interested in the script for The Searchers can download it here: http://www.geocities.com/classicmoviescripts/ Apart from the ending there's some other interesting differences.
    I can very highly recommend Edward Buscombe's "The Searchers" in the BFI Film Classics range as a companion to the movie. There's a similar book on Red River btw.
    An essential book on Ford with a long, detailed analysis of "The Searchers" (and all of his other movies for that matter) is Tag Gallagher's "John Ford, The Man And His Movies".
    Btw, Creative Design Art is meant to release a boxset of The Searchers in the (hopefully near?) future. It will contain the current Warner DVD, the original movie poster, a commemorative book on the movie, a senitype (35MM film frame) and a cd with the original soundtrack. This is what we can expect: http://www.creativedesignart.com/del...hersBoxExp.jpg [​IMG][​IMG]
     
  14. James D S

    James D S Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the link Danny. That Searchers set looks great.
    BTW I found the ending of The Searchers to be fitting. It's a great story and it's "open" ending leaves an indellible emptiness that strikes me as more provocative than "half-assed."
    By Hollywood law, there can be no "happy ending" for a man who turns his gun on his family.
     

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