John Ford’s Classic Screens During Friday Flix

Eric Bourse

John Ford’s classic “The Searchers” dazzled audiences in 1956 with its cinematography and anti-hero performance by John Wayne (“The Shootist,” 1976) and, although it was initially overlooked by critics, it is now considered one of the greatest Westerns.

On Friday, an audience of 13 saw “The Searchers” as a part of the weekly film showcase “Friday Flix!” in SG334. The Blu-ray version of the film was projected on a 14-foot screen with 5.1 surround sound.

The film follows Ethan Edwards, played masterfully by John Wayne, an ex-Confederate soldier who visits his brother’s family in Texas. Edwards’ prejudice is quickly revealed when he meets his adopted nephew, Martin Pawley, played by Jeffrey Hunter, (“The Great Locomotive Chase,” 1956) who is a quarter Indian. While Edwards and Pawley are investigating the disappearance of cattle, a Comanche tribe led by Chief Scar, played by Henry Brandon (“Assault on Precinct 13,” 1976), kills Edwards’ family.
Now the question is whether a vengeance seeking Edwards and Pawley can put their differences aside as they go on a five-year journey to track down the kidnapped niece, Debbie.

Although the movie contains many serious themes such as racism, genocide and revenge, there is an unexpected amount of humor throughout the film. Wayne’s character uses the iconic catchphrase, “that’ll be the day,” all the way through the film with comedic results. Pawley’s relationship with Laurie, played by Vera Miles (“Psycho,” 1960), is put to the test as he is determined to find Debbie despite Laurie’s insistence that they get married immediately.

In a scene in the film, Pawley declares that they should start going on a steady relationship to which Laurie replies, “Why, Martin Pawley, you and me been going steady since we was three years old! About time you found out about it.”

The film was dissected and analyzed by the viewers in a discussion led by Media Arts instructor Mike Petros.

The movie’s subtexts were the main point of analysis. Questions were raised, such as whether Edwards had a possible love affair with his sister-in-law and whether Debbie was his daughter.

The film also hints that Edwards became a bandit after the Civil War because his brother becomes suspicious when he is given newly minted gold coins.

“It’s a multilayered and rich film,” said Petros. “It didn’t have to spell out much background information on its characters like many films today.”

Wayne’s character brought differing views from audience members about his search to rescue Debbie became a search to kill her after he finds out that she becomes assimilated into the Comanche culture and is one of Chief Scar’s wives.

“His final act of benevolence in the film brings to question whether Edwards becomes a changed man or he is too much ingrained into his old ways and will continue being a violent and prejudice man,” said Petros.

“I thought the movie was good,” said student Bryan Chang. “John Wayne is certainly more macho and rough around the edges compared to actors today.”

“The Searchers” is available on DVD and Blu-ray wherever movies are sold.

The next “Friday Flix!” event will be on Friday and will start at noon and last until 2 p.m. in SG334. The movie will be the Blu-ray version of the 1939 Civil War epic, “Gone with the Wind.” Admission is free and open to the public.

Faculty members can receive flex hours if they participate in the discussion after the film. Teachers are required to obtain a fixed number of flex credit hours every year.