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Warner Home Video presents
The Searchers: Ultimate Collector's Edition (1956)

Rev. Capt. Sam Clayton: When did you get back? I ain't seen you since the surrender. Come to think of it, I didn't see you at the surrender.
Ethan Edwards: Don't believe in surrenders.

- Ward Bond, John Wayne

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: June 07, 2006

Stars: John Wayne
Other Stars: Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr., Antonio Moreno, Hank Worden, Beulah Archuletta, Walter Coy, Dorothy Jordan, Pippa Scott, Pat Wayne, Lana Wood
Director: John Ford

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, thematic content)
Run Time: 01h:58m:40s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 012569767003
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A+B A-

DVD Review

John Wayne and John Ford may very well stand as the best actor/director pairing in cinematic history. Their collaborations grasped the American psyche with uncanny skill, making astute observations under the guise of an evening's entertainment. Over a period of roughly 30 years, each man benefited from the other's genius. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Searchers, which is not only their best work (together or otherwise), but to my thinking stands as one of the greatest pieces of 20th-century filmmaking.

Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns home to Texas in 1868 as a grizzled loner. His solitary figure emerges on the horizon that not even a child could confuse for Texas, but Ford and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch aren't concerned with such trivialities. Setting the story within the breathtaking vistas of Monument Valley, Ford uses the weathered terrain brilliantly as a visual note to the character of Ethan. The Duke's domineering, powerful physique brings a quiet intensity to the role. Arriving at his brother Aaron's (Walter Coy) ranch, Ethan is granted a hero's welcome by sister-in-law Martha (Dorothy Jordan) and the couple's three children. There's no doubt in the mind of the audience that Ethan is our hero. He exhibits all the trademarks of the strong, silent type of man. But he wears a black hat. Normally reserved for the western's villains, Ford places it atop Ethan's head to accentuate the character's detestable nature.

It is astonishing how quickly Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, adapting from Alan Le May's novel, cement Ethan's persona. With quiet glances at Martha, we see his tender love for her and, based on her handling of his gear, we know the feeling is mutual. Moments like these are the strength of The Searchers, and how it develops a rich, complex character study out of a rather simple, paint-by-numbers plot. When the Rev. Capt. Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond) arrives at the Edwards' ranch, there's an undeniable premonition that things are about to be destroyed. Ethan senses this and quickly agrees to join Clayton's Rangers, despite his undying loyalty to the Confederacy, as their posse searches for missing cattle along with the Edwards' adopted son Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter). Miles away from numerous vulnerable ranches, each man knows that the Comanche are planning an attack.

Returning home, Ethan and Martin find the ranch destroyed. Martha, Aaron, and their son have all been murdered and their home burnt to the ground. Worse yet, their daughters, Lucy (Pippa Scott) and Debbie (Lana Wood), have been kidnapped. Thus begins a five year search that goes deep into the dark heart of Ethan and bears witness to Martin's transition from boy to man. The two not only battle the elements and engage in fights with Comanche Chief Scar (Henry Brandon), but also rival one another. Ethan, although our hero, is far from a perfect man. Racist to the bone, he shows a callous disregard for our nation's indigenous people. Needlessly killing buffalo only to starve the Comanche and shooting out a dead warrior's eyes to spit on their religious beliefs, Ethan's hatred only grows.

Despite such foreboding subject matter, Ford never ceases to make the film undeniably entertaining. Set to the strings of Max Steiner's score, the action sequences make for enthralling cinema. Shot in VistaVision, there's a powerful depth to every shot that brings every detail to life. Watching Ethan and Martin duel with Scar's tribe is thoroughly riveting. Ford puts all of his years of experience to good use, shooting each scene with a minimum of coverage and only showing the audience what it needs to know. Take, for instance, the Edwards' ranch as the Comanche approach. As the family realizes their fate, Ford daringly lets us become trapped in the house with them. He doesn't need to show us the violence, because his direction captures something far greater—the mindset of those who are about to die.

With unparalleled skill, Ford also weaves comedy into the film. A subplot concerning the Jorgensen family, whose daughter Laurie (Vera Miles) provides Martin's love interest, makes for the most hilarious wedding scene I've ever seen. Additionally, Ward Bond's performance as Clayton is a memorable bit of relief, as is a delicious bit part by the Duke's son Patrick prior to the climax. However, the overall power of the film trumps all these well-earned laughs. As Ethan Edwards, Wayne turns in his most daring and complex performance. Unafraid to tarnish his good guy image, he brings genuine malevolence to the part. More than in any other role, Wayne's talent is on display here. If anybody denies him that he is great actor, one need only refer to the scene in which he tells his posse about Lucy. Yet, I find his softer moments to be more affecting.

The story concludes with one of the most striking shots in cinema. The character of Ethan Edwards stands as the embodiment of America: stubborn, courageous, flawed, and heroic. Forget about its artistic brilliance and excellent acting. For that reason alone it deserves to be called a masterpiece.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.75:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Before writing this review, I popped the original DVD release of The Searchers into my player to compare the transfers. Simply put, there is no comparison. This newly restored picture not only preserves the original 1.75:1 VistaVision cinematography, but practically gives it new life. The image is richer in every respect. Colors are more vibrant, blacks more textured, depth is stronger, and detail is sharper. Absolutely stunning!

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: In an attempt to help duplicate the original theatrical experience, Warner has cleaned up the film's original mono mix. Dialogue is crisp and always audible, with well-balanced music and sound effects making a pleasant listening experience. Home theater enthusiasts might lament the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but from a film preservation point of view, this mix is a blessing. A French mono track is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 44 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
2 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Patrick Wayne— a brief video introduction by John Wayne's son Patrick, who has a brief part in the film.
  2. The 1956 Dell Comic Book—a reproduction of the original movie tie-in product.
  3. Original Press Book—a reproduction of the original press book containing poster art and other advertising material.
  4. Studio Memos—a reproduction of two memos about the film sent to Jack L. Warner.
  5. Photos— publicity stills of actors and crew during the movie's production.
Extras Review: Warner is releasing The Searchers in two different packages. The first is as a two-disc special edition while the other is billed as the "Ultimate Collector's Edition." This review is of the latter, though the disc content is identical between the two releases. As part of the John Wayne/John Ford Film Collection, The Searchers: Ultimate Collector's Edition is a beautiful starting point. Decked out in pitch-perfect packaging, this set is what the film's fans have been waiting for.

On Disc 1, an Introduction by Patrick Wayne (01m:52s) starts things off. The Duke's son speaks from the cave featured in the film and, despite the cheesy posturing, candidly expresses his pride for the work and gives a nice introduction to the movie. Things continue along with a feature-length commentary by Peter Bogdanovich. His relaxed tone creates an enjoyable ambience as he analyzes Ford's shooting style, Wayne's line readings, and the movie's themes. It isn't quite as informative as I'd have hoped, but this is still a fine commentary. The movie's original theatrical trailer is also shown in 1.75:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo.

On to Disc 2, The Searchers: An Appreciation (30m:59s) contains interviews with filmmakers Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorsese, and John Milius. The three men recall seeing it back in 1956 and its effect on them at that time, as well as over the years. Each man brings a unique voice to the documentary and helps shine light on the movie's many layers—from its aesthetic to its religiosity to its portrait of America. This is an excellent look at the film, but even better is A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne, and The Searchers (33m:08s). Made by Nick Redman, who also made the excellent documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage. He employs the same stylistic design here as in that earlier work, using surviving cast members and John Milius to provide voiceover about the shooting of the production. Their readings give a great sense of the film's production, as does the incorporation of behind-the-scenes footage.

Also provided here are four Behind the Cameras featurettes hosted by Gig Young for TV. As part of the film's publicity campaign, the material here is fairly superfluous. The four featurettes—Meet Jeffrey Hunter, Monument Valley, Meet Natalie Wood, and Setting Up Production—can be played together (21m:48s). There's a theatrical teaser for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, shown in 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo.

Additional supplemental material for the collector's edition begins with a reproduction of The 1956 Dell Comic Book. Reading this highly condensed version of the story is tantamount to sacrilege. Still, it is a compelling memento of the movie's original tie-ins, as is the original press book. Showing various poster designs, news articles, and merchandise tie-ins, this is a unique look at how movies were marketed during the 1950s.

Reproductions of two studio memos also give a candid view of the production. The first is from producer C.V. Whitney to Jack Warner about distribution deals, while the second is a detailed account of an advanced screening and the audience's reaction. Rounding out the special features are 10 photos of the cast and crew working on set. Each is in black and white, and features a striking gloss. While not the most amazing collection of special features, they are a wonderful complement to the film.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Warner Home Video continues to exist in a realm by itself with The Searchers: Ultimate Collector's Edition. Featuring a gorgeous restoration and wonderful supplemental material, this set gives the film proper respect in time for its 50th anniversary. Neither John Ford nor John Wayne could have hoped for better treatment of their classic.

 


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