Ethan (John Wayne) returns from the civil war to his family. The very next day he’s brought into this posse to try and catch some Indians. It was a diversion. Ethan returns home to find that the Indians have murdered his family and taken his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). Ethan and Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) spend the next five years searching for these Indians in order to bring his niece back home safe and sound.
When I decided on the ordering of my marathon I didn’t really try to do much other than make sure to begin and end with John Wayne films. Only for the simple reason that up until this point in my life, I’ve actually never seen one. I can now say that I have, and I completely get why people love him. When we talk about actors of today, like Robert Downey Jr. and George Clooney, who just ooze charisma into every inflection of their dialogue and every step in their movement on screen back when the only kind of movies that made money were westerns that man was John Wayne. Somehow I knew I wasn’t that impressed by the movie on a whole, but I was able to get into it anyways because I was watching John Wayne.
My problem with the film lied with pretty much every character that wasn’t played by John Wayne. If you were to watch a western parody, like let’s say Blazing Saddles, then you’ve seen every character that’s on display in this movie. Scar (Henry Brandon) says almost nothing all film and when he actually does it just aggravates me. Rev. Capt. Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond) is the stereotypical thinks he’s a smart/good leader when he really isn’t; I felt at one point in the film that they should’ve made say something like ‘darn’ so that I would at least know it was supposed to be a joke. Finally the relationship between Martin and Laurie (Vera Miles) was just too laughable from the get go. If the Wild West was the age of real men then I don’t know what women did back then. The silliness that was onscreen just for the sake of comic relief just took me out of the film so much it’s just sad. For a film whose plot is seemingly so well conceived, I have no idea why it feels it needs to resort to these distractions from what the audience wants.
John Ford is supposed to be one of these great American directors, but honestly I don’t know what the big deal is. This is only the first film that I’m seeing by him, but call me more than just unimpressed. Calling him a great after seeing this is like calling Pierre Morel the greatest filmmaker because he cast John Travolta in From Paris with Love. Yes the lead is fun to watch and he keeps me interested but that’s not exactly what I was promised.
In the end it’s a good story filled with a lot of horrible characters and even worse actors. If you watch this film, watch it for John Wayne and John Wayne only. The rest of it is almost not worth the effort.
IMDB says 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes says 98%
I say 6.0/10