“The Searchers” takes place in Texas in 1868, where Ethan Edwards (Wayne), a hard bitten ex-Confederate soldier with a checkered reputation, is visiting the ranch of his brother Aaron. Drawn away from the ranch to pursue Indian cattle thieves, Ethan soon learns the livestock theft was only a ploy to draw most of the men away from the Edwards ranch, and returns too late to save his brother, sister-in-law and nephew from death, and both nieces from being kidnapped. Eventually, Ethan is advised that the two girls, Lucy and Debbie, have been abducted by a Comanche called Scar. With the help of Lucy’s fiancé Brad and Debbie’s adopted brother Martin, Ethan begins on a long search to find both Scar and his two nieces. The quest becomes very complicated when Martin comes to realize that Ethan has some very harsh views concerning women who have lived with Indians, and his agenda upon finding Debbie is even more disturbing.
Although “The Searchers” was completely snubbed at the 1956 Academy Awards, it would, in time, receive the recognition it deserved. The American Film Institute ranks “The Searchers” in 12th place in its 100 Years…100 Movies list, and places it 1st in its Top Ten Westerns of all time. Still, the lack of a single Oscar nomination remains a mystery, particularly in the categories of Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture. If anyone knows anybody who thinks the 1956 winner for Best Picture, “Around The World In 80 Days” is a better motion picture than “The Searchers,” tell them I’m looking for them.
Notes: Natalie Wood played the role of Debbie as a grown girl, while Natalie’s younger sister Lana appears as the young Debbie. Jeffrey Hunter’s part of Martin was originally offered to Fess Parker, who was coming off his success as Davy Crockett. Parker was under contract with the Disney studio at that time, and, according to Fess, it was Walt Disney himself who prevented Parker from playing the role. John Wayne’s oft repeated line, “that’ll be the day” inspired the Buddy Holly song of the same name.