The Searchers - Love and Ethics
The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne’s line “That’ll be the day” that Buddy Holly (pictured right below)
turned into a classic rock ’n roll song.
Texas, USA, in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
An actual kidnapping in 1836 by Native American Comanches of a nine-year-old Texan white girl, Cynthia
Ann Parker (c.1827-70), .
Twenty four years later (having married a chief and had three children), she and her daughter were captured by
white soldiers (pictured right together in 1861).
She missed her sons and starved herself to death after her daughter’s death.
John Ford (pictured right, who won the best director Oscar a record four times).
Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), ex-soldier (pictured right).
Marty Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), his adopted nephew.
In 1868 in Texas Ethan Edwards (pictured right) visits his farmer brother,
Aaron, and his family:
- children (Ben, Lucy and ten-year-old Debbie).
Ethan and Martha’s old love for each other is shown by his affectionate kiss on her forehead.
The next day Ethan meets a group of local people including a preacher, Reverend Clayton. Ethan
hates Native Americans because they killed his mother 16 years earlier.
Some Native American Comanches (led by their white German born chief, Scar) then:
- kill Aaron (pictured right above), Martha and Ben.
- kidnap Lucy and Debbie.
Ethan joins the Texas Rangers (led by Reverend Clayton), and they fight the Comanches. Ethan breaks away to
rescue the girls with:
- Marty Pawley (Aaron’s adopted son, pictured right).
- Brad Jorgensen (Lucy's fiancé).
Ethan finds Lucy’s murdered body, and then Brad is killed by the
Ethan and Marty;
- visit the Jorgensens (where Marty is reunited with his old sweetheart, Brad's sister,
- continue their search for Debbie.
Debbie has married Chief Scar (pictured right) who hates the whites just as much as Ethan hates
Once Ethan finds out about the marriage, he wants to kill Debbie , because he believes
that being a Comanche wife is worse than death. Marty stops him.
Ethan and Marty:
- eventually find Debbie (now aged 15) who wants to stay with the Native
- return to the Comanche camp with the Texas Rangers.
- escapes with Debbie (who now wants to return to her original home).
Ethan lifts her in his arms just as he did when she was a child (pictured right).
They bring her back to the Jorgensens’ home, where Marty is reunited with Laurie (having abandoned her
fiancée, Charlie McCorry, for him).
Ethan leaves them, walking into the desert sunset (pictured right).
Lessons for love and ethics
1. Hatred consumes your soul
Ethan’s hatred of Native Americans drives him to nearly kill Debbie.
Chief Scar is also consumed by hatred of whites.
2. Love conquers evil
Ethan’s love for Debbie (pictured right) finally overcomes his racist hatred.
3. Revenge is easy, forgiveness is difficult
Mrs. Jorgensen warns Ethan how harmful vengeance is. Initially it makes him more interested in
killing the Comanches than finding Lucy and Debbie alive.
4. Be determined
Ethan never gives up in his pursuit of Debbie and her kidnappers.
In response to Reverend Clayton’s suggestion to quit, he says:
“That’ll be the day”.
5. Racism is wrong
- loathes Native Americans.
- shows how whites exploited them by stealing their land.
Ironically his most evil enemy, Scar, isn’t Native American but a white German!
6. Respect other people’s views
Ethan’s hatred of Native Americans makes him ignore Debbie’s initial desire to stay with them.
7. Look on the bright side
Despite the problems early white settlers like herself faced, Mrs. Jorgensen is optimistic
about the future. She says:
“Some day, this country’s gonna be a fine place to be”.
8. We all need love and friendship
Ethan tragically finishes the film as he begins it - a lonely outsider who has no one to
Martha doesn’t marry him, because Aaron is a more dependable, family man.
Key quote on success
That’ll be the day, Ethan (to Reverend Clayton’s suggestion to quit).
Key quote on America
Some day, this country’s gonna be a fine place to be, Mrs. Jorgensen
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)