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In Search of History

July 04, 1993

Kenneth Turan's "John Ford's Monument" (June 20) is the most well-rounded piece on "The Searchers" I have read in some time. Were I to add yet more heralds for the film (or point out any more of its flaws, which, although incidental, are myriad), it would likely come across as prattling.

Turan's commentary has a couple of minor flaws of its own. Ford's scenarist-screenwriter, Frank Nugent, was not Ford's son-in-law. I believe Turan may be thinking of the late Ken Curtis (Charlie McCorry in "The Searchers"), who at one time was married to Ford's daughter, Barbara. Also, in the famous last scene, John Wayne pays homage to Harry Carey by clutching his right arm with his left hand, not the reverse.

Certain aspects of "The Searchers" may indeed strike contemporary audiences as old-fashioned. However, if these audiences can discard historical and cultural solipsism long enough, they will experience with Ethan Edwards a remarkable journey across the timeless landscapes of both Monument Valley and the soul in all of us.

GREGORY B. TROTTER

Los Angeles

*

Turan fails to recognize why "The Searchers," arguably the greatest Western film ever made, "was not exactly fawned over when it first appeared." The answer lies in two words: John Wayne .

The condescending diatribe by the vast majority of film critics to Wayne's acting and films extended, almost unabated, with the exception of the institutionalized groundswell of adulation for "True Grit," one of Wayne's less taxing portrayals, from the late 1940s to his last role in 1976. Under the guidance of directors Ford and Howard Hawks, "Red River," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Wings of Eagles" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" demonstrated ample proof of Wayne's acting ability.

In the late 1940s, as Wayne's popularity reached its zenith, his conservative political beliefs failed the litmus test of the liberal ideologues, and consequently his performances became legitimate fodder and a target of ridicule for the bastion of liberal film critics. The attacks on Wayne became most vitriolic in 1968 with the release of "The Green Berets." Instead of legitimately reviewing the film and its entertainment value, the critics, in a feeding frenzy, blasted Wayne, the military and Warners for having the audacity of releasing a film that did not conform to their ideals.

Coincidentally, one of Wayne's lesser efforts, "McLintock" (1963), has just been released on tape. Viewers can judge for themselves the politics and principles that guided Wayne throughout the later years of his life. In this film, 30 years before "political correctness" and "do the right thing," Wayne spoke eloquently in defense of the American Indian, against big-government encroachment and for conservation and the national park system.

FRED LANDESMAN

Chatsworth

*

I enjoyed Turan's piece, but it omits a critical fact: "The Searchers" was based on a novel by Alan LeMay. The late Mr. LeMay, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, was one of the most prolific American novelists, short-story writers and screenwriters of the mid-20th Century (roughly 1929-69). That "study in character development that if anything feels more provocative today than when it first came out" came from LeMay's own wry, sardonic mind that always gave a little extra depth to his "Westerns."

I wish you'd publish a postscript in Calendar giving credit to LeMay: Who knows? Perhaps someday another version of "The Searchers," more faithful to the novel, will be filmed. May I nominate Kevin Costner for the job?

JOSEPH H. COULOMBE

Pasadena

*

If a piece of bigoted garbage such as "The Searchers" is John Ford's monument, then whatever his technical achievements in direction of motion pictures, as a person he amounted to pretty close to a zero.

At one point, John Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, is referred to as "bitter racist." The actual racist was Ford himself, his virulently anti-Indian strain permeating and warping his work long after more "enlightened" Westerns (such as 1950's "Broken Arrow") had appeared.

No, this is not "political correctness" talk of the '90s. Some of us were anti-Ford even before the release of "The Searchers" in 1956. For us, this vicious streak throughout the film far overshadowed its being what the critics said was "Ford's greatest tone poem" and "most perfect philosophical statement," full of "unexpected density" and "muscular poetry," "inexhaustibly rich in implication, every object, every action, every gesture carrying a significance beyond itself."

As justification for Ethan Edwards' loathsome stance, Turan cites the Comanches' "brutal killing" of Edwards' family. No mention is made, however--in either essay or the film itself--about the white man's brutal killing of Indian families and entire nations. As always in discussing our Western films, this is a definite no-no. Incidentally, it's interesting to note that the Monica's roster of 11 "Classic Westerns" includes not one even remotely pro-Native American entry.

DAVID R. MOSS

Los Angeles

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