Sunday, May 26, 2002


I'm not a Western fan, but this movie seems to have influenced lots of directors, so I felt compelled to watch it. My first reaction was not especially favorable, but since I've thought more about it and written about it in my movie journal, I'm more impressed by it. John Wayne plays a loner (he had been a Confederate soldier, but vanished after the Civil War) who returns to his brother's home in Texas, seemingly to settle in for a while. Jeffrey Hunter plays a orphan that Wayne found as a baby years ago, but whom Wayne wants nothing to do with because Hunter is part Cherokee and Indians slaughtered Wayne's family. While Wayne & Hunter are away, Comanches slaughter Wayne's brother's family and kidnap the two young sisters. Wayne & Hunter spend the next 5 years tracking down the Indians and the girls, forging a fragile bond along the way. Wayne wants to kill the surviving daughter (Natalie Wood) because she will have been "tainted" through her contact with the Indians, but Hunter vows to save her.

Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, seems to be a prototype for the Clint Eastwood Western characters of the 60's and 70's: alone, restless, enigmatic. But I don't think Wayne quite pulls it off. Eastwood probably could have; in fact, he did play a very similar role in UNFORGIVEN. But Wayne does at least have the weight of his well-established screen persona so his surface performance doesn't really hurt the film that much. Hunter is, in the words of someone on IMDb, "absurdly handsome"; I agree, he is beautiful here, but his performance carries little weight, and he doesn't have the preexisting aura of character that Wayne has. We don't know much about Wayne's character, and what little we know is tantalizingly ambigious, primarily that despite his hatred of Indians, he knows much more about their language and customs than any of the other characters. A scene where he mutilates a corpse in order to violate a sacred Comanche religious belief is chilling. The climax, which I won't give away, is very weakly motivated. The movie is a bit too long, spending too much time on some peripheral plot developments and some lame comic relief. But the film is gorgeous looking, shot mostly in Monument Valley, and definitely worth seeing.

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