The Searchers (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton & Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) has returned home to his brother’s ranch, but the toll taken on him has not been small. He fought for the Confederate forces and did so with pride and true belief, not because he had to take up arms. Even with the conflict over, he harbors hatred for the Northern people, but he also hates anyone who isn’t white like he is. This is even true after he saves the life of a child, as when he discovers the child has Cherokee blood, he refuses to accept it, even as it is adopted into his family. He has become a bitter man and his actions after the war are unknown, but suspect. So now he is worse than ever, unable to accept the love and affection of his own family, not even his wife can comfort him now. While at the ranch, a band of Comanche attack and kill those at home, but also taking the two young daughters prisoner. Now Ethan and his brother lead a rescue team to search for the girls, but the search is more extensive than they imagined. As days turn to weeks, weeks to months and months to years, almost everyone abandons hope. But Ethan pushes on and by his side is Martin, the only ones left to continue the search. Ethan eventually learns that one girl has survived, but he plans to kill her if she is found, as she is no longer part of the white world. Martin remains at his side, but knows he must protect the girl from Ethan if she is found. So the two work together in the search, but when the time comes to take action, what will become of Ethan and Martin’s shaky bond?

The Searchers may or may not be the greatest western ever produced, but it is one of the best and that much isn’t debatable. The movie didn’t spark much praise when it was first released, but time has been kind to this one, as it is now revered as a classic. John Ford directed a number of great films in his career, but this was his apex, his masterpiece. So of course, it is natural to find his frequent star John Wayne present. While I think Stagecoach (another Ford picture) has Wayne’s best performance, he is excellent here as well. He is allowed to show off his darker side and it works wonders, showing that he could be more than a one dimensional performer. This isn’t the kind of role he is remembered for, but to be, it is one of his finest efforts, as he works outside his typical range and succeeds. The rest of the cast is also quite good, with Vera Miles and Ward Bond as standouts, but even the small roles are well played here. The film is not the kind we’re used to with Wayne in the lead, not the straight forward “settlers vs. Indians” storylines, but that is good, I think. Ford and Wayne spent so much time working the cowboy tale in one style, to see them switch up really makes The Searchers stand above the crowd. This is an excellent movie with excellent performances and of course, Ford’s direction is just shining here. Warner’s new Special Edition boasts a new restored transfer and a host of supplements, so this release is well recommended.

Video: How does it look?

It’s a bit odd that only a few months ago, Warner came out with two different versions of “The Searchers” and both had new and improved HD transfers. Then the HD-DVD comes out and I took this opportunity to compare the two side by side. As anyone will attest, they both look great and for the most part, are nearly identical. I noticed more of a depth in the HD-DVD version as opposed to the standard DVD release. The original VistaVision technology used here really makes the Monument Valley scenes sparkle and that added level of detail makes it hard to imagine that the movie is fifty years old. There’s more clarity on this release, but it’s not that the standard DVD looks bad, it’s just that the HD-DVD looks that much better.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio on “The Searchers” is essentially the same as the standard DVD and it’s a pretty standard mono track. Dialogue seemed a bit more natural as compared to the standard offering, but lest we forget the movie is now 50 years old and there’s only so much we can do with technology these days. The track does have some high points, but not too many. Fans of the film will know how this has sounded in the past and suffice it to say, this sounds as good as it ever has.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Warner insures that when you buy the HD-DVD version of a title, you’re getting every supplement that’s availaboe on a standard DVD and in some cases, more. You get all of the supplements that are on the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition”, though the comic book, press book and photos are not included with this release, only the supplements that appeared on the DVD. The audio commentary here is with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who never ceases to amaze with his vast knowledge of film. He is a brisk listen, as he packs in ample information, but also entertains, so you’re never bored with his sessions. This one proves to be no exception. A trio of featurettes is next, each of which run about half an hour, give or take a few minutes. The first is a discussion between various filmmakers about The Searchers, the second is a behind the scenes piece on the shoot, and finally we have a vintage featurette on the production. Not in depth stuff here per se, but all are welcome and substantial inclusions. This release also features an introduction from John Wayne’s son, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

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