So I’ve finally watched The Searchers. For a couple years I’d heard that it was one of The Greatest Films so wanted to see it badly, but then I changed my mind and decided I probably wouldn’t like it because of John Wayne, then I stewed on that for a few years until finally it sat as maybe the movie I’d been meaning to see longer than any other.

All those expectations, and I end up liking it. Worst of all, I thought John Wayne was good, damn it all.

IMDB plot summary: “Ethan Edwards, returned from the Civil War to the Texas ranch of his brother, hopes to find a home with his family and to be near the woman he obviously but secretly loves. But a Comanche raid destroys these plans, and Ethan sets out, along with his 1/8 Indian nephew Martin, on a years-long journey to find the niece kidnapped by the Indians under Chief Scar. But as the quest goes on, Martin begins to realize that his uncle’s hatred for the Indians is beginning to spill over onto his now-assimilated niece. Martin becomes uncertain whether Ethan plans to rescue Debbie…or kill her.”

Jeffrey Hunter (Jesus in King of Kings) is Wayne’s sidekick nephew and Vera Miles (psycho, the wrong man) is the nephew’s love interest. Natalie Wood and her young sister Lana play the kidnapped Debbie. John Wayne’s iconic performance in The Searchers came the same year as one of his most hated roles ever, as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror.

Very meaningful opening shot:
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Horses are neat:
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Hunter tries to temper Wayne’s anti-Indian rage:
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Indians are neat:
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Very meaningful closing shot:
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So what’s the new “movie I’ve been planning to see longer than any other”?
Sunset Blvd? Weekend? Nashville? Something I started and never finished like Crumb or Night On Earth? DVDs I bought ages ago like Benjamin Smoke and Henry V? I’m gonna go with Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

Another bizarro Western from the same year as Red Garters and with some similarly fake-looking sets/backdrops, but this time it’s not done on purpose. To be fair, much of the film is shot in a national park and looks fine.

More of a family drama than any kind of Western. Mitchum plays an unlikeable guy who’s strong-arming his family for lack of anyone else to strong-arm. He lives with Ma and Pa, middle brother Arthur, young brother Harold, sister Grace and 100-year-old Indian servant Joe-Sam. Neighbor Gwen comes over and wants to marry Harold and get him out of his dysfunctional nowhere household. But then, Mitchum and Arthur go hunting and a wildcat kills Arthur. Mitchum goes out in search of it, but loses his food by accident, then goes hungry and mad, running off a cliff to his death after a few days.

A strange idea for a movie, but stranger still is the fact that a third of the movie seems to take place in the snowy wilderness with Mitchum (the titular tracking of the cat) and the rest is screamy family drama, with Grace trying to help Harold escape, Pa always drinking, Joe-Sam being generally creepy and Mitchum hating on everyone. What kind of a Western is this? I’d heard the movie was bizarre, but it doesn’t feel bizarre while watching it (camera, sets and acting style are all pretty regular) until you stop and think about what is happening.

Katy hated the movie because she played video games while listening to it, so she hears the yelling and bitterness but doesn’t watch the tense/serene snowy bits in between. I liked it, but couldn’t imagine putting it on my top-100 all-time faves list or anything like that.

This was the year before Mitchum stunned in Night of the Hunter (that and Out of the Past being far likelier candidates for personal top-100 status).

Sister Grace starred in Shadow of a Doubt, girlfriend Gwen was the younger sister in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and young brother Harold was one of Tab Hunter’s first roles. Tab later had his own TV show and appeared in Grease 2. Ma was a professional Ma-actress, playing Ma in Make Way For Tomorrow almost 20 years earlier, Ma Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. She’s also in Baron of Arizona. And damned if 100-year-old Indian Joe-Sam wasn’t played by Alfalfa from Our Gang.

IMDB user writes “ham-handed satire”, but I didn’t find it ham-handed at all. It’s somewhat a Western parody, but it’s not that the characters are unbearably macho (they’re actually kinda sharpshooting sissies, but that’s because it’s a 50’s musical) just that they follow “the code of the west”. There’s certainly not much Western about the look of the movie, which way out-fakes Track of the Cat in its deliberately artifical sets and backdrops. The movie was originally shown in 3D, so reportedly with the fakey sets it was supposed to feel like a stage production.

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Reb Randall comes to town on the day they’re burying his brother, the much-hated Robin Randall. Reb doesn’t tell anyone who he is, just hangs out waiting to find out who killed his brother. Becomes friends with a fake Mexican who confesses to the killing, but wait, it turns out he was drunk and missed Robin, who was actually killed by the town’s self-professed coward (Robin killed the coward’s brother I think).

There’s no other killing, just some loving and lots of singing. Local song and dance sensation Calaveras Kate is sweet on town giant Jason Carberry, our hero is sweet on Carberry’s ward, and the Mexican fella falls for the daughter of a stuffy east coaster who has come to town to check up on things, having heard about the lawlessness of the wild west. The west is tamed at the end (with no help from the east-coaster), the code is thrown out, and it looks like a triple wedding on the horizon.

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You wouldn’t think it from a plot description, but Kate is the star here and gets to sing most of the songs. Nobody here is an especially convincing actor, but the songs are nice and the movie’s just cool/weird enough to forgive all that. It’s also kind of awkwardly funny and half-heartedly romantic. Just good fun to watch a low-key (but quality) nearly-forgotten musical from back when it was okay for white people to play any race and school shootings were treated as light comedy. This was made three years before my other favorite white-people-with-painted-faces Western, Run of the Arrow.

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Above, L-R:
Calaveras Kate: a very white Rosemary Clooney, also a singer who hardly did any other acting, appeared in White Christmas and Radioland Murders… George’s aunt.

Stuffy east-coaster: Reginald Owen of the ’38 Christmas Carol, who played the awesome butler in Double Harness.

Jason Carberry, who somewhat runs this town: Jack Carson from a bunch of films, always third or fourth-billed. This same year he was #3 man in A Star Is Born and Axelrod & Robson’s Phffft.

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Above:
Our hero’s Mexican friend: Gene Barry, who played Dr. Clayton Forrester (!) in the original War of the Worlds, cameoed in the Spielberg remake, and starred in his own TV series through the 60’s. He does a good job singing in a low voice with a fake hispanic accent with his face painted brown.

Stuffy east-coaster’s pretty, black-haired young daughter: Joanne Gilbert, who was only in a couple other movies, including Gena Rowlands’ debut film The High Cost of Loving in ’58, directed by Rosemary Clooney’s husband José Ferrer.

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Above:
Our nameless hero: Guy Mitchell, a singer who hardly did any other acting.

Jason’s ward, Latina Susana: TV actress Pat Crowley

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Above:
Nonviolent coward who turns out to have killed our hero’s brother in the end: Buddy Ebsen, Holly’s ex-husband in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Jason Carberry again

Goofy desexualized Indian woman: Cass Daley, an unmistakably white singer/comedian.

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Pretty okay movie. Definitely a strong western with lovely Australian landscapes. Good enough story. Guy Pearce is the bad guy with conscience, part of a whole bad guy family. Arrested with his daft younger brother in a whorehouse shootout, the chief lets him go, promising to free the younger if Guy kills his older, a hardcore killer living in the mountains. Well done, with great acting by Pearce, Ray Winstone (captain), Emily Watson (capn’s wife), and Richard Wilson (younger) and loopy fun acting by David Gulpilil (always the tracker) and John Hurt (bounty hunter).

Fall just short of loving this movie, only because it seems to have no real point besides “Nick Cave wanted to write an Australian Western”. I don’t have much Western history to compare it to, though… Good/Bad/Ugly, Dead Man, The Unforgiven, Fistful of Dollars… so no comment on its place in the great Western tradition. Little bit of mob-rule in there as the townsfolk find out about the captain’s deal, take younger brother from prison and flog him almost to death. E. Watson participates in that (cuz the brothers raped/killed her friend), then faints from the brutality… later is raped and has husband killed by older brother after he finds out. So it’s a cycle of violence thing (even though older bro planned to kill her husband before he even knew that younger bro had been whipped). Scenes about the aboriginal Australians’ relation with the whites… Gulpilil works for the captain’s men (gets killed), others are captured/enslaved, others attack without warning, spearing Pearce (see below) and some of captain’s men, and getting their heads blown off by older bro. Don’t think there’s much political commentary going on here, just attempts at historical accuracy.

Abandoned the commentary after 30 minutes as Cave & Hillcoat were just alternating between “this scene was really hard to do” and “this actor is brilliant”. The two made a movie in the late 80’s called Ghosts of the Civil Dead and have a comedy coming this year called Death of a Ladies’ Man [note 3 years later: this is probably Death of Bunny Munro, got postponed due to The Road].

Best outcome of the movie: getting on a Nick Cave kick and buying the 2DVD/2CD “Abbatoir Blues Tour” set. The 15-minute music video for “Babe, I’m On Fire”, also directed by John Hillcoat, is almost as good as The Proposition.

Tried to find the least-interlaced screenshots.

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Not as interesting as Sam Fuller’s later I Shot Jesse James, but a lot better than I’d expected. Maybe I can enjoy a Western more than I’d thought. Some story differences, too… for instance, Fuller’s movie has Bob Ford re-enacting the murder as a play pretty much the same way it happened, while Lang’s has the Fords camping it up onstage and acting the heroes. Don’t know which really happened, but each version was well-suited to its own movie.

Henry Fonda is James, hears news of Jesse’s death and sets out with young Jackie Cooper (not Jackie Coogan) to get Bob Ford (a nervous bearded John Carradine) and brother Charlie.

Not technically the last Fritz Lang film I have to see, but the last one available until Human Desire shows up on cable again. That’s 36 down, 1 to go! Guess I’ve been trying to watch all of Lang’s movies since college, so seven years. At around five per year, it didn’t go nearly as fast as my Sam Fuller quest. Even if I didn’t pick up on the geometric patterns hidden within Lang’s mise-en-scene that auteurists wet themselves over, it was neat to see forty years of cinema from one director’s perspective. He covered 1920 to 1960, the period I know least about, and Sam Fuller was 1950 to 1990. And they both made so many movies… gives me a convenient handle on chronology. Oh, 1953, that was the year Pickup On South Street and The Big Heat came out. Anyway, on now to Bunuel, Rivette, Marker and Resnais for a western european perspective.

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I followed up Fritz Lang’s early sound stinker Liliom with this real good western. More of a musical than Liliom, every few scenes we get a troubadour singing the Chuck-a-luck song.

This came after Secret Beyond The Door and House By The River, and right before The Big Heat and The Blue Gardenia, square in the middle of that great ten-year period for Lang. Just like in Big Heat, our hero’s wife gets killed at the beginning, but this time it’s not part of any conspiracy, just mean ol’ thievery and rapery and murderry. Our hero is Vern (Arthur Kennedy from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Sam Fuller’s Shark, Bright Victory and Lawrence of Arabia) and when the townsfolk and lawmen won’t help him hunt the baddies past the county line, he goes undercover-vigilante and dedicates his life to revenge.

He follows clues across the country to Chuck a Luck, Marlene Dietrich’s secret baddie hideaway ranch, and fakes being bad long enough to figure out who’s the sumbitch what killed his wife. He thinks it’s this slick-shooting shifty guy for the longest time, but in the end it turns out to have been some cowardly sideman, who gets what for. But Marlene dies trying to save our guy. So heroic and good natured is our guy that even selfish Marlene would die for him!

Cool as hell movie, with Marlene in her early 50’s still looking good and a buncha actors I don’t recognize doing a fine job too. Somehow I missed both Jack Elam and George Reeves (who was already Superman when this came out). Best part is the first few scenes of Vern seeking out the ranch, hearing legends about Marlene via not-necessarily-true flashbacks. That Herr Lang could make a tight little revenge thriller when he wanted to.

TRIVIA: Lang wanted to call this movie “Chuck a Luck” but the studio forced the title “Rancho Notorious”. Both titles, of course, are stinky.