There aren’t many film partnerships as iconic as John Wayne And John Ford. “The Duke” starred in countless Western films, but Ford’s classic storytelling techniques were the perfect vehicle for him to succeed. Wayne and Ford have made several Westerns together and have extensive knowledge of the genre. 1939s Stagecoach triggered the western film trend in the USA and in the 1962s The man who shot Liberty Valance served as a ripe opportunity to reflect on how the era had ended. However, The Seekers is considered the most iconic and perhaps the best of their collaborative work. While The Seekers is easily one of the darkest films the two have ever worked on together. A comic book adaptation seemed to misinterpret the film’s more nuanced ideas about race relations and ongoing violence.

John Ford’s The Searchers is much darker than you remember

Image via Warner Bros

The Seekers was first released in 1956, at a time when the Western genre was as popular as superhero films are today. Wayne had already been a western star for over a decade, but The Seekers gave him a very different character than anything he had done before. Former Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards has spent his life killing and finally wants to put his past behind him when he visits his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) in West Texas. Ethan would also like to see his sister-in-law Martha again (Dorothy Jordan); It is subtly hinted that the two may have had a romantic encounter in the past.

Despite Ethan’s desire to retire and never have to engage in conflict again, he finds himself once again drawn into bloodshed when a Comanche tribe raids the family ranch. Both Aaron and Martha are killed and their young daughter Debbie (Lana Wood) was kidnapped. An angry Ethan vows to find Debbie and kill her captors; The kidnapping and attack awaken in him a long-simmering desire for revenge. Although it is an act of violence that unravels Ethan’s mission, it is suggested that his bloodlust stems from his racist feelings and psychopathic nature. Finding Debbie is just a means to an end for Ethan – the mission to save her is just an excuse to kill as many natives as possible.

It never seems that Ford and Wayne are operating on the same wavelength The Seekers. Wayne seems to genuinely believe that Ethan is a hero, even though he proves more than once that violence is the only thing he wants. The brilliance of The Seekers is that Ethan doesn’t see himself as a villain; He is no different from such anti-heroes taxi driveris Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), Fight Clubis Tyler Durden (Edward Norton), or The player‘s Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). Ford makes it clear that the end isn’t really about saving Debbie. When Ethan finally finds an older Debbie (Natalie Wood), he is disgusted when he sees that she has “assimilated” into the Comanche culture and is living happily among them.

This moment reveals the racism that actually drives Ethan. He is not relieved to see that Debbie is safe and tells her that he would rather see her dead than adapt to the Comanche lifestyle. Ethan even tries to kill Debbie before his young companion Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) stops him. The ultimate conflict between Ethan and the Comanche tribe is entirely his fault – he is so intent on “saving” Debbie from her captors that he is willing to almost kill her. Although Ethan eventually brings Debbie home safely, he does so only after he is satisfied with his own bloodlust and kills several members of the Comanche tribe. There is no indication that Debbie is happier now. The whole “rescue” was just a way for Ethan to assuage his own fears, which Debbie had “assimilated.”

RELATED: How John Wayne’s Western Filmmaking Career Ended With a Bang

Does the comic “The Searchers” fit with the film?

Image via Warner Bros.

While The Seekers Because it is clearly a study of how racism can lead characters to become violent and obsessive, the film is designed as a traditional Western adventure. This was a brilliant decision on Ford’s part as it exposed the fundamental flaws of many traditional “hero” narratives and showed how the Western genre was dominated by white men. While this was a clever narrative device for analyzing the genre, Ford’s subtle commentary may have been lost on some viewers. If the audience ignores Ethan’s blatant racism and irony at the end of the film, The Seekers works like a standard action-adventure film.

The original comic adaptation of The Seekers I definitely interpreted it that way. The comic removes many of Ethan’s comments and deletes the film’s powerful final scene. The film ends with Ethan and Martin returning from their mission dejected. Martin has reunited with his lover Laurie (Vera Miles), but Ethan has no one who really loves him. It’s an ironic ending – Ethan has only hate in his heart and is not happy with the mission. Being allowed to “play the hero” was just a violent fantasy that hid who Ethan really was: a lonely, miserable man whose life’s work was meaningless.

The film ends with a now-iconic shot of Ethan framed by a door, showing how isolated he is. He is still “looking” for a mission because he is not satisfied with his reality. Although The Seekers While the comic attempted to present the material like a standard Western adventure, the attempt to portray Ethan as a real hero is actually even more problematic. Even without his racist comments, Ethan is still a violent character who intentionally puts others in danger so he could portray himself as a hero. Even though his comments are removed, the events of the film suggest that it is the attack on Ethan’s honor, not the kidnapping of Debbie, that drives his quest.

The Seekers is easily misinterpreted due to its stirring epicness, particularly in the beautiful landscape shots that accompany films such as: B. inspired war of stars And Hunter of the lost treasure. However, The Seekers turns out to be a much darker study of the inherent ugliness of Western-era America. While the comic may have tried to make this a superhero story, Ethan’s dark impulses couldn’t be more obvious.

The big picture

  • The Seekers is a dark film that deals with the themes of racism and violence in the Western genre and shows John Wayne’s character as a deeply flawed anti-hero.
  • Ethan’s mission to find his kidnapped niece is driven by his racist views and bloodlust, which leads him to endanger others and kill members of the Comanche tribe.
  • The Seekers The comic adaptation fails to capture the nuanced commentary on racism and the flawed nature of hero narratives, instead portraying Ethan as a hero and removing key scenes from the film.

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