It's only natural — it's only human — that in any large and loved body of artwork, something will have to be singled out as The Essential One. For some reason in John Ford's body of work, The Searchers seems to get singled out the most. At least among the cognoscenti: the ignoranti may have thought it was still Stagecoach. But no, it's this one, a solemn and self-conscious (even self-parodying) Western epic, an Iliad in Indian territory, with an Odyssey of geographical scope, in which Ford shows no surer grasp than usual of what's wonderful in his work and what's awful. John Wayne, as an unabashed racist, is one of the wonderful things (though his wide-brimmed white hat isn't); but Jeffrey Hunter as his fellow searcher and Natalie Wood as the sought-for white girl abducted by Comanches, if not awful, certainly could have been better: could have been someone else. With Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Hank Worden. (1956) — Duncan Shepherd
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