The Searchers

This is one hell of a story, as Hollywood director John Ford is reputed to have said of Alan LeMay’s epic tale of two 19th century Texas plainsmen and their search for a young girl kidnapped by the Comanches who murdered her parents, and three siblings.

Years ago I read about the John Wayne movie Ford made of the novel but I never saw it or read the book. Now I’ve read the book, thanks to a tip from J.D. at Mouth of the Brazos, and I see what the fuss was all about. It’s a classic Western, beautifully told in southwestern dialect (“Far behind him, the others put the squeeze to their horses, and lifted into a hard run”), about Texas pioneers on unforgiving terrain under pitiless weather,  Indian raids in general and the bloodthirsty Comanches in particular.

No sentiment is wasted on the “spiritual” Indians of contemporary myth, but likewise no space is wasted condemning their systematic rape, torture and gruesome mutilation of their helpless captives. They were what they were and LeMay details that and the reader is as relieved as the protagonists when the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Cavalry finally run them all down.

I believe I’ll skip the movie, though. While the John Wayne character dies in the book and his younger sidekick resolves the story, the reverse happens in the flicker. The star must triumph. I’m sure it’s a dandy show but I prefer LeMay’s telling. Even great directors like Ford and great actors like Wayne seldom match the power of their written sources.

One response to “The Searchers

  1. Lemay’s The Unforgiven, it turns out, is NOT the Eastwood movie of the same title. The movie is from an original screenplay by a guy named Peoples.