Release Date(s)1956 (April 7, 2009)
Studio(s)Warner Bros (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
The behind-the-scenes marriage of John Wayne and John Ford produced some of cinema’s most enduring time pieces. It’s perhaps the greatest of all partnerships in the history of Hollywood, from Stagecoach and Rio Grande to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance. All of these films are masterpieces, but nothing the two ever did compares with the breathtaking scope and raw beauty of The Searchers.
Based on a story by Alan Le May that was later published into a novel, The Searchers was developed by screenwriter Frank S. Nugent specifically with Ford and Wayne in mind. Shot primarily on location in Monument Valley, Utah, and released through Warner Bros. in 1956, the film received mostly good reviews from critics, but was ignored entirely when the awards season came around. It became a big money maker for the studio and has gone on to influence a plethora of talent within the industry. Wayne himself said that it was his favorite picture out of everything he made.
The story follows Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (Wayne), who is pursuing a band of Comanche that have kidnapped his niece. With him is young Martin Pawley (Jeffery Hunter). Along their travels, Martin matures and Ethan develops a tolerance toward the Comanche. The textures and subtleties that are represented in the dialogue and the visuals were very irreverent for their time, particularly in a mainstream movie. The stunning photography and the captivating storyline have made this film age tremendously well.
This Blu-ray release only enhances the film’s reputation as one of the most visually striking ever committed to celluloid. The presentation is absolutely phenomenal. The grain structure of the transfer is very solid, with only infrequent imperfections (mostly attributed to the actual negative and/or lenses used to shoot it). The clarity that comes through is a real testament to the restoration team behind it. The colors are lush reds and oranges for the most part, but blacks are also quite deep. The contrast is perfect, as well. And for you purists out there, you’ll be happy to know that this release comes with the original soundtrack in English mono DTS-HD. Seeing the film with its original sound is an utter delight. The dialogue, the score and the sound effects are pretty even and well laid out, making it easy to actually hear everything that’s going on in the film. There’s also an alternate French Mono track, plus subtitles in English, Spanish and French for those who might need them.
The extras contain a nice healthy bit of material to comb through for enthusiasts of the film. They start off with an introduction to the film by Wayne’s son Patrick. Next is an audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, the director of the excellent documentary Directed by John Ford and the early 1970s classic The Last Picture Show. He gives some useful information, but sparingly. My only gripe is that he speaks so softly that it’s difficult to discern what he’s saying at times without cranking the volume up. The best of the extras by far are the 3 featurettes. The Searchers: An Appreciation spends its time talking to directors like Martin Scorsese about the influence this film had on their work. A Turning of the Earth is perhaps the most interesting documentary of the bunch. Featuring still photographs, behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, home movies, and quotes from cast and crew, it tells the story of the making of the film from a very unique perspective. Behind the Cameras features four segments (Meet Jeffery Hunter, Monument Valley, Meet Natalie Wood, and Setting Up Production) culled from the Warner Bros. archives that paint an interesting picture of how the studio kept tabs on the films it was producing at the time. The extras round out with a pair of theatrical trailers, one for the film itself and another for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
To sum up The Searchers in a few paragraphs seems like an insurmountable task to me. It’s a favorite of mine, but it’s also considered to be one of the greatest westerns ever made. If you haven’t seen this gem, don’t hesitate to go out and pick up a copy of this release. It’s well worth your money and it’s a joy to behold on Blu-ray.
– Tim Salmons