We wanted to include a western. If you watch some of the cheap cable channels, they show some very ordinary old westerns and are best avoided. But there are some, a few great movies.
“The Searchers”, starring John Wayne, is one such. It is a true epic, and one of the first films we got on bluray. It’s filmed in VistaVision.
Here is a brief summary of the plot of this 1956 film: Ethan Edwards returns to his family. The family have their cattle stolen, while Edwards is away the family home is destroyed, the family killed but the young daughters are abducted, all by the Indians. Edwards sets out on a pursuit to find the missing girls.
If you have seen the tv series Hollywood you will know something of the background to the making of this film.
It’s a movie that looks great on the big screen, like those paintings by Remington, but has some controversial themes. The Indians are depicted as thoroughly evil, and Wayne’s character is a loner and racist. When he discovers Debbie (Natalie Wood) has become Indian, has probably been raped and more, he determines to kill her.
Anyway, enough of that.
Our actual choice is “High Noon”, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, directed by Stanley Kramer from 1952.
Cooper plays Kane, a retiring marshall, just married (Kelly). His wife is a Quaker and therefore a pacifist. Kane learns that a criminal he sent to jail is arriving at noon to join his gang and seek revenge. Wife Amy is leaving on the noon train with or without Kane, definitely without him if he engages in a shoot out with the gang.
There are several aspects of the film that make it memorable. There’s a wonderful music score, clever direction, an understated performance by Cooper and the film pretends to be in real time. Clocks feature a lot and a minute of film time is supposed to be a minute of real time. More or less.
John Wayne hated it. He is quoted as saying “[it’s] the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life”. I imagine Trump would hate it too. It undermines the historical view of “the wild west”, much as Altman’s “McCabe And Mrs Miller” does. Kane is the strong silent type and only turns to violence when he has no choice.
You can read it as a commentary on the House Committee on Un-American Activities that were going on at the time. Or you can just watch it as a celebration of the individual against the mobs.