Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Searchers (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Searchers (1956)

In John Ford's classic and landmark western, featuring breathtaking cinematography of Monument Valley, and set in Texas of 1868:

  • the opening credits (portrayed in a Playbill font-face) displayed before a backdrop of an adobe brick wall, with the words of the romantic Stan Jones ballad (sung by The Sons of the Pioneers) that played during the credits, What Makes a Man to Wander? - defining the central theme of the film - one man's wanderings and obsessive search: "What makes a man to wander? What makes a man to roam?..."
  • the horseback entrance of loner, Civil War ex-Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) to the solitary, Texas frontier farm of his estranged brother Aaron Edwards' (Walter Coy) family with radiant wife Martha (Dorothy Jordan) - with everyone expectantly watching and taking positions on the homestead's porch, including Ethan's young niece Debbie Edwards (Lana Wood) and her older sister Lucy (Pippa Scott)
  • the strained relationship between prejudiced, racist Indian hater Ethan and Aaron's adopted son, part-Cherokee (one-eighth) Martin "Marty" Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) - an orphan saved years earlier by Ethan from an Indian slaughter and raised by the family
  • the pre-massacre images - the hysterical close-up of the scream of Lucy realizing a deadly Indian attack was imminent and that they were in grave danger, the sight of menacing renegade Chief Scar (Henry Brandon) casting his dark shadow while standing over young Debbie hiding out in a small family graveyard
  • the return of a posse of Texas Rangers (with Ethan and Martin and others) to the now-burning frontier home after being lured away to search for Comanche marauders or cattle rustlers that had stolen some cattle from the Lars Jorgensen ranch nearby, and their discovery that most of the family (Ethan's sister-in-law and brother) had been butchered, and both of Ethan's young nieces had been kidnapped
  • the burial ground scene when Ethan shot out of the eyes of a dead Comanche corpse (buried under a large sandstone rock) to prevent him from entering the spirit world - and then explained how his defilement of the Indian had thwarted the spiritual belief of the Comanche, causing his spirit to wander forevermore: ("...but what that Comanche believes. Ain't got no eyes, he can't enter the spirit-land. Has to wander forever between the winds")
  • the start of Ethan's relentless years-long search for his kidnapped niece and his ominous statement to fellow searchers after finding Lucy's mutilated and raped body, and telling teenaged Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr.), Lucy's sweetheart and fiancee: "What you saw was a buck wearin' Lucy's dress. I found Lucy back in the canyon. Wrapped her in my coat, buried her with my own hands. I thought it best to keep it from ya....What do you want me to do? Draw ya a picture? Spell it out? Don't ever ask me! Long as you live, don't ever ask me more"
  • Ethan's oft-repeated: "That'll be the day"
  • the much later sequence of Martin finding now adolescent Debbie (Natalie Wood) in a teepee - one of the squaws of Comanche Chief Scar, and shooting dead the Indian chief (and then Ethan scalped him)
  • the dramatic scene in which Ethan chased on horseback after Debbie - ostensibly to kill her, as Martin yelled out: "No, no, Ethan!" - and she ran down a hill and toward a cave, when Ethan scooped her into his arms in one motion and told her: "Let's go home, Debbie"
  • the final famous scene of a family reunion back at the Jorgensen frontier home - and the exit scene in which Ethan was framed and isolated by the silhouetted dark doorway (in front of the harsh outdoor sunshine) and watched as reunited friends and family entered the homestead, clutching one arm, but he was left out, 'cursed' and doomed to wander - and so he turned and ambled away as the door shut behind him


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