Western Watchins #78
If you know me at all you know I love Westerns. But it may come as a surprise, despite having the love in me, that I’m not a huge fan of John Wayne. I know, it seems like sacrilege. The Duke and Clint Eastwood are pretty much Father and Son filling out the trinity next to the Holy Spirit of the West but I’m a revisionist Western guy so, irregardless of the fact that the movies I have seen Mr. Wayne in weren’t as goody-two-shoes as I’d expected, I still prefer my High Plains Drifter rape ’em to set things right over anything even moderately wholesome. But The Searchers was supposed to come across as a challenging piece of cinema rife with racism and a morally grayed-out main character in Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. I started out the viewing with hope but by the end I was glad to just have consciousness. Okay, it wasn’t that uninteresting. I did somewhat enjoy it. But seeing as I hadn’t recoiled at anything Ethan did made me think I might be watching too many Clint Eastwood movies. Then I thought, you stupid fucking fuck of a fuck…you can never watch too many Clint Eastwood movies! Unless it’s Ambush at Cimarron Pass or The Beguiled. Those were fucking horrible, yet it’s not like those movies ever suggested shipping all black people back to Africa en masse nor did they use the dreaded “N” word with alacrity. That was all Abraham Lincoln. A supremely racist mother and ghastly liberal fucker despite what Spielberg says (read a book kids!) So next to him Ethan seems altogether temperate and his obvious hatred of the Comanches is not unwarranted. A fact you learn through clues subtle (a certain headstone at the homestead) and not so subtle (he defiles a fallen Native stopping short of rape because, you know, that’s Eastwood territory). And c’mon are you really going to tell me, no matter how you feel about this portrayal, that Ethan Edwards is Wayne’s most racist role?
It’s okay if you laughed just now. I asked the nice man upstairs if he was offended and he gave me a most emphatic “no!”
See. We can all get along even if you did bomb the fuck outta Pearl Harbor. I think we did you one (or two) better anyway. But what’s past is past even if the Duke can’t let it rest. And if he had The Searchers wouldn’t have really been much of a movie now would it? And so we begin as John Ford often does: in Monument Valley.
Breathtaking. Nobody saw Monument Valley quite the same way as John Ford did and that’s even before he tore his eye out of his head due to that notorious control-freak burdened impatience of his. I understand his obsession though, the desert is one hell of a backdrop for a gritty Western. Especially gritty Westerns with fresh home-made spaghetti:
The Duke spent most of the first act carb-loading so he’d have more than enough energy to propel his baneful boots past as many sphincters as possible later in the film. Because he’s pissed. Everything he loves has been raped, murdered, set on fire and/or kidnapped. No amount of pasta can assuage this man’s hunger for revenge!
It’s a really cool moment when you realize, with so much big shit up in the air, that what goes up must soon reverse course. And big shit is indeed about to go down. With one flick of the wrist Ethan casts away his rifle’s case along with any semblance of self-control (and all that spaghetti too!) It’s a scene that makes your balls swell with excitement for the retribution soon to come. If I could sum it up for you in say two frames that you could stare back and forth at quickly as to either get my point or have a seizure, this is what it would look like!
Fucking grand if not a wee bit ridiculously presented. Grand and ridiculous. Story of my life. The Searchers is fairly grand and ridiculous too as Ethan searches and searches and searches. And then searches. I’m not sure exactly how long his search lasted but what started a few years after the Civil War ending with a chase down a paved highway. His ape-shit intensity is understandable though as I’ve said. He is a man at war and is willing to kill any Comanche who crosses his path and even his long captive niece once he finds her if she’s acting to Indian-y. He makes several Indians dead and even enjoys desecrating any already dead ones he finds. He’s so ruthless in his actions and relentless in his quest to wipe out the Natives that tribesmen begin calling him “Worse than Blankets.” Ethan Edwards was a hard man made even harder by a group of other hard men. Maybe you think that last joke was absurd, but that’s nothing compared to how absurd it’s about to get up in here.
And we’ll start (and pretty much end) with you Chief Scar, totally indigenous looking leader of the proud Comanches!
Wait, who’s this Anglo dude? Where’s Scar? What? That is Scar? But that’s Henry Brandon, a Berlin born not-at-all-Indian actor. Maybe some dramatic lighting and war paint will help.
Shit, somehow he looks even more white now. How many dicks did this FSU logo looking mother fucker have to suck to land the role? Next you’ll tell me that all the Comanches are Navajos or something!
“The actors playing Comanche Indians are all Navajo.”
-courtesy IMDB Trivia
What the feathered fuck!? Is this entire fictional movie some sort of fictional movie? Calm yourself, you can’t go and get bent out of shape every time a casting decision is made that throws race and/or national origin out the window but when it’s this farcically arresting the narrative will suffer and the viewer along with it. We keep heading down this road and before you know it Johnny Storm will be a black guy! Start bitching if you want, but when Blade is re-made with a white guy let’s see how much you bitch then, bitch! No matter where you’re from nor the color of your skin, when the source material is ignored we should all feel slighted. And The Searchers was drawing from a very rich source commonly referred to as “history” in which every Indian was usually an Indian.
And boy does Ethan hate Indians. Have I mentioned that yet? He rides far and wide through rain and sleet and snow tracking his niece and when he locates her at long last she’s all grown up and turned into Natalie Wood. In case you’re not familiar with who she is let me see if I can find a picture of her for you. Ah, here we go…one from an old family vacation:
Weird. She was just there a minute ago. Oh well, if she’s gone missing (again) I’m sure John Wayne will start looking (again) and she’ll be fine. Call me crazy but yes she was murdered. Not by this guy though.
Even though he’s four wheels, two axles, some baseboards, steel framing, canvas coverings and every other part of the wagon short of a wagon. He’s Mad Mose Harper and he’s weird as fuck supposedly based on some real dude who was also weird as fuck. It’s a shrewd case of weird as fuck imitating weird as fuck. He was trustworthy and capable but gave off an unmistakable vibe that although he wouldn’t kill you in your sleep he might jerk off on you. Or jerk you off. Or both. I told you he was fucking weird.
The whole of The Searchers felt odd to me though. It never picked up as much steam as I was expecting but maybe that’s what Ford wanted. Maybe it’s an allusion for life and the search we’re all on through it with those requisite ups and downs and slow parts and shit-this-is-out-of-control parts and German-Indian guys. I can’t argue that there weren’t explosive moments nor expected and satisfying resolutions yet instead of sitting on the edge of my seat I mostly sat not on the edge of my seat. I did however find another pic of Natalie Wood!
She’s right there behind Christopher Pike I swear! She’s pulling a Jareth from Labyrinth juggling trick sticking her arms past his. Remember that? David Bowie didn’t do all that crystal ball work, it was another performer behind him with his arm’s reaching out past Bowie’s to make it look like the Goblin King was all that but you and I both know that you and I were really just staring at the Goblin King’s mighty codpiece the entire time thinking “you remind me of the babe?” “what babe?” “the babe with the power to make sure you can’t walk without wincing tomorrow mother fucker!” Ah, good childhood memories. For years, because of that movie and confused adolescence, I thought the word “muppet” was code for “pronounced gentalia!” And even though balls aren’t my cup of tea I can still appreciate ol’ Ziggy Stardust’s impressive talent. And speaking of tea…
Or coffee I reckon, the Duke handed these out on the set of The Searchers emblazoned with his trademark phrase from the film. I did enjoy every time he said “that’ll be the day” as a soberly sarcastic response to any number of cunt-versations he was having with folks he didn’t particularly agree with. Buddy Holly even wrote a song about it impressed by Wayne’s I’m-a-dick-and-yet-so-cool aesthetic. Ethan was obsessed and fairly unwavering. I can respect that. He was also not completely rigid. I can respect that too. The movie wasn’t one of my most memorable but Ethan Edwards? Pretty goddamn cool.
3 redman hating rounds in the cylinder this week. The Searchers didn’t resonate with my soul or touch some deep, uncharted depths in my heart. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t intoxicating either and I love to get drunk on my Westerns. You realize though that Ethan rode true to himself his entire life. No matter any other gripes I might have with this film, that’s definitely something I can always find comfort in amigos.
See you on down the road.