Friday, January 02, 2009

#3 All Time Favorite Film. tie Unforgiven, The Searchers

This was probably the hardest choice to make in this entire list. I have seen both of these film numerous times and I am still surprised by how much I enjoy these films.

What you have in both of these films are actors who have made their mark in the Western genre (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood) also another feature that both films share is how much is a life really worth?

The plot of "The Searchers"...(Spoiler Alert)

The year is 1868. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns from the American Civil War, in which he fought for the Confederacy, to the home of his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) in rural northern Texas. No one knows what he's been doing for the past three years since the war ended in 1865. But despite hints and supposition that Ethan has been up to no good, the movie's early scenes never explicitly frame Ethan for wrongdoing. However, Ranger Captain Clayton (Ward Bond), who is also the local preacher, dourly observes, after Ethan refuses to take an oath of allegiance to the Texas Rangers ("no need to, wouldn't be legal anyway") "you fit a lot of [wanted poster] descriptions." Moreover, Ethan has a medal that he gives to his niece Debbie (Lana Wood), which suggests he has been in Mexico during the period of the Emperor Maximilian. He also gives Aaron 180 freshly minted Double Eagle $20 dollar gold pieces to help with the ranch. Martha and Aaron wonder, but do not ask, where they came from. Shortly after his arrival, a Comanche raid leaves his brother and sister-in-law Martha (Dorothy Jordan), his nephew, Ben (Robert Lyden), all dead, and his two nieces, Lucy (Pippa Scott) and Debbie, abducted, and the family homestead burned down.

After the funeral, a group led by Captain Clayton goes in search of the raiding party. When they discover the location of the encampment, Ethan wants to attack immediately, before daylight. Clayton points out to Ethan that the Comanche generally kill their hostages at the first notice of a raid, which is something that Ethan already knows. This is the first sign that Ethan is willing not to bring the girls back alive. Captain Clayton gives the order that they will sneak in easy and scare off the band's horses. By the time they get to the encampment the Indians are gone. The Rangers are then caught in a pincer movement trap and have to make a run for the river. As they cross the river, one of the group, Nesby (William Steele), is wounded. The Rangers take up a defensive position using the river as a buffer, and they manage to repel the attack. The Indians retreat. When Ethan attempts to kill one more Comanche, Clayton stops him by knocking his rifle barrel down. This enrages Ethan who says that from now on he will do the job by himself. Captain Clayton decides that they are too few to continue and must get Nesby back home to treat his wound.

One of the group, Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey, Jr.), also Lucy's fiancĂ©, says that someone will have to kill him to make him stop looking for Lucy. Aaron's adopted son, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), who is 1⁄8 Cherokee, feels the same way, and with the two of them, Ethan continues to pursue the Comanche. The three of them find where the main trail goes one way and four horses take off to the right, into a tight canyon pass. Ethan tells them that he will follow the small trail and that the two of them should stay on the main trail. When Ethan returns he is distracted and seemingly upset, but doesn't say anything. He also seems to have lost his Confederate Army long coat. Later Brad is out on scout duty on foot and returns to Ethan and Martin saying that he has found the Comanche camp, and has seen Lucy. At this point Ethan tells Brad and Martin that it wasn't Lucy, that he had already found the murdered body of Lucy in the canyon. He had wrapped her body in his coat, and buried her with his bare hands. Brad, enraged, mounts his horse and charges into the encampment alone, dying in a fruitless, suicidal attempt to avenge Lucy.

Ethan and Martin lose the trail when the winter blizzards come. They go to Fort Richardson, Fort Wingate (near Gallup, New Mexico), Fort Cobb and the Anadarko Agency both in Indian Territory, among other places trying to pick up the trail. After a year, they return to the Jorgensen ranch. When they arrive, Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) has been pining and waiting for Martin, and Ethan has a letter waiting for him from a man who runs a trading post on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River, Jerem Futterman, saying that Futterman has information about Debbie. The next morning Martin learns that Ethan has left without him, but Laurie has stolen the letter to give to Martin. She also lets Martin take her horse. Laurie doesn't want Martin to go, but knows that he must. Ethan and Martin continue to search for Debbie, a search that goes on for five years. During that time, she grows into adolescence and is taken as mate by Scar (Henry Brandon), the chief of the Nawyecka band of Comanche. Scar is presented as the cultural mirror image of Ethan. He hates whites every bit as much as Ethan hates Indians. Once Ethan realizes that Debbie (now played by Natalie Wood) has been mated to Scar, he undergoes a change. He no longer wants to rescue Debbie; he wants her dead, believing that a white woman being a Comanche's "squaw" is worse than death. Martin follows in hopes of stopping Ethan from killing the girl.

Eventually Ethan, Martin, and the Texas Rangers find Debbie. Martin kills Scar and Ethan scalps the dead chief. Martin tries to prevent Ethan from killing Debbie, but it is Ethan himself who realizes how close he has come to destroying the last link to his family and how, in the act of scalping Scar, he himself has become what he hated so much. Instead of killing Debbie, he lifts her in his arms just as he did when she was a child. Ethan brings Debbie to the safety of friends and then walks away. The film, which opened with a near-identical shot of another doorway, slowly revealing the film's landscape, finishes with a reversal: the film's players enter the darkness within the doorway, and the door closes, just before the end title, leaving Ethan isolated outside where he turns and wanders away into the wilderness.

The plot of Unforgiven (Spoiler alert)

The film opens with an introductory crawl: She was a comely young woman and not without prospects. Therefore it was heartbreaking to her mother that she would enter into marriage with William Munny, a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition. When she died, it was not at his hands as her mother might have expected, but of smallpox. That was 1878.

In 1880 Wyoming, in the town of Big Whiskey, a cowboy with the aid of a fellow cowboy slashes a prostitute's face for laughing at his small penis. The venomous local sheriff and former gunfighter, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), fines the cowboy and his friend seven ponies, payable to the prostitute's pimp and saloon owner Skinny. The other prostitutes, furious over the cowboys' lax punishments, conspire with each other to offer a $1000 reward to anyone who kills the two. Miles away in Western Kansas, the Schofield Kid (Woolvett) approaches a farm owned by William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and his two children, looking for a partner to do the hit. Munny, known in his youth as an infamous gunfighter, murderer and bandit, has since retired, having forsworn his criminal ways through the influence of his late wife. After initially declining the Kid's offer to join up and split the reward money, Munny reconsiders amidst his financial troubles and recruits a former associate and neighbor, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), as his partner before catching up with the Schofield Kid.

Back in Wyoming, English Bob (Richard Harris) and his biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) get off a train and ride into Big Whiskey. English Bob ignores the sign that prohibits the possession of firearms and blatantly lies to a deputy about the revolver he carries in plain sight. Following a quick shave, he emerges onto the barber's porch and is confronted by five armed deputies and Little Bill, who remembers Bob from his gun fighting days. After disarming the gunfighter, Little Bill ruthlessly beats him in front of the townspeople, shouting ominous warnings about pursuing the prostitute's bounty. Little Bill then ridicules and insults the jailed English Bob for the benefit of his biographer. Finally, Little Bill deports English Bob with a warning that he will kill him should he return. The humiliated and furious English Bob shouts and curses at the entire town and the American system as he is taken to the train station in a carriage.

After a long way through wet, frigid weather, Munny, Logan and the Kid enter a saloon for a drink and inquire about the reward. Feverish and sick after the long wet ride, Munny remains at a table while Logan and the Kid go upstairs to be serviced by the prostitutes. While Munny waits downstairs for his friends, Little Bill arrives and confronts him. A town ordinance prohibits guns — upon entering town that stormy night, Munny failed (or chose not) to see the warning sign posted alongside the road. Weak from his illness, Munny is in no condition to fight back as Little Bill brutally beats him in full view of the patrons. Munny manages to drag himself out of the saloon as Ned Logan and the Kid escape through a second-story window. The three partners retreat to a barn outside of town. Munny is nursed by his friends and the prostitutes, and after recovering sufficiently from his injuries, the three men ambush and kill one of the two cowboys in a canyon. It is at that point that Logan realizes he can no longer stomach murder, and decides to head home. Munny and the Kid find the other cowboy and Munny allows the eager Kid to shoot the man in an outhouse outside the isolated cabin where he had been holed up for safety.

Logan is captured and brought back to Little Bill, who beats all the information he can out of him, inadvertently killing Logan in the process. Logan's corpse is put on display in an open coffin outside the saloon as an example of frontier justice. Outside town, the Kid is shaken by the murder he has just committed and admits that it was his first kill; he renounces his planned gun fighting career. He tries to justify his guilt by claiming "Well, I guess he had it coming." "We all have it coming, Kid," returns Munny.

One of the prostitutes brings the reward money to Munny and tells him of the death of Logan. This enrages Munny who, breaking his vow of sobriety, drinks half a bottle of whiskey. In fear of Munny's reputation, the Kid attempts to refuse his share of the loot, to which Munny replies "I'm not gonna kill you Kid, you're the only friend I've got." The Kid gives his pistol to Munny who rides into town to confront the sheriff after giving the money to the Kid to deliver his and Logan's share to Logan's widow and Munny's children.

That night, Munny quietly walks into the crowded Greeley's Saloon. Inside the saloon, Little Bill has assembled a posse to pursue Munny and the Kid. Munny demands to see the saloon's owner while holding them all at bay with a double barreled shotgun. When Skinny, the owner, identifies himself, Munny shoots him with one of the two barrels. Little Bill curses Munny, as he states that Skinny was unarmed, but Munny retorts that he did it because Skinny had decorated the saloon with Logan's body.

Munny trains the other chamber of the shotgun on Little Bill, but the gun misfires and Little Bill commands the others to shoot Munny. A gun fight ensues where Munny pulls out a pistol and kills three posse members outright, and seriously wounds Little Bill and another deputy. Munny has a short encounter with Little Bill's erstwhile biographer, who is scared witless, yet amazed and admiring of Munny's cool dispatch of 5 armed men. Beauchamp leaves having finally, after false starts with English Bob and Little Bill, found the real western anti-hero he has sought to document in his penny pamphlets. Munny hears Little Bill cocking his pistol. Munny steps on Little Bill's hand and points Ned's rifle directly into his face. Little Bill realizes what is to follow and tells Munny that he'll see him in hell, then after a three-second glare into Little Bill's beaten eyes Munny shoots Little Bill dead. Munny heads to the door, shooting the last injured deputy without bothering to aim. After shouting threats of wanton violence through the open door to anyone who might be outside waiting for him, he leaves the saloon and rides away on a gray horse, unmolested by the frightened townspeople, who recoil in fear, glad to see him ride out (with the possible exception of the disfigured prostitute, who watches Munny leave with something approaching gratitude and/or compassion).

The film ends with an epilogue that echoes its introduction: Some years later, Mrs. Ansonia Feathers made the arduous journey to Hodgeman County, Kansas to visit the last resting place of her only daughter. William Munny had long since disappeared with the children... some said to San Francisco where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods. And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.

As was stated earlier in the review, What is a life really worth? In both of these films the answers are not that clear.

John Wayne later revealed that "The Searchers" Director, John Ford, hinted throughout the movie that Ethan had an affair with his brother's wife, and was possibly the father of Lucy and Debbie. This meant Ethan's thirst for vengeance stemmed not from the murder of his brother, but of the woman Ethan had loved. This was so subtle that many viewers at the time missed it altogether.

A significant portion of the film's labyrinthine plot is revealed on a throwaway prop that most casual viewers also rarely noticed. Just before the Indian raid on the Edwards homestead, the tombstone that Debbie hides next to reveals the source of Ethan's glaring hatred for Native Americans. The marker reads: "Here lies Mary Jane Edwards killed by Comanches May 12, 1852. A good wife and mother in her 41st year." Sixteen years earlier, Ethan's own mother was massacred by Comanches.

John Wayne played his most difficult role as the racist Civil War veteran who hates practically everyone - but Indians in particular. After he discovers that his niece Debbie has mated with an Indian, he intends to kill her.

Ford from the onset strove to make a movie unlike any made before it in Hollywood. Wayne had played outlaw characters before (the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach), but never one as driven and borderline psychotic as Ethan Edwards - indeed, Edwards is played as hovering on the verge of a complete breakdown. Jonathan Lethem said of Wayne’s portrayal of Edwards that he was “tormented and tormenting ... his fury is righteous and ugly, at once, resentment branded as a fetish.” His racism and hatred are blatant and open, and Ford's comments suggest that he intended it so. His remarks make clear he is seeking to portray the racism of white America that led to the genocide practiced against Native Americans. Lethem also writes of his first look at The Searchers, “Weren't Westerns meant to be simple? The film on the screen is lush, portentous.”. (From Production notes)

In this film, John Wayne, took the role of Ethan and makes it his own. Thought the entire film, you feel that he has one foot in heaven and the other one in hell and
damned be the man that tries to stop him in his road into redemption.

This film really needs no long words from me telling you that it is a great film. I will let this from wikipedia be the end...

The 2007 American Film Institute 100 Greatest American Films list included The Searchers in twelfth place. In 2008, the American Film Institute named The Searchers as the greatest Western of all time. The Searchers is and was a favorite of Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ramesh Sippy, James Robert Baker, Brent Spiner, Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Leone,Wim Wenders, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman and John Milius.

(George Lucas alludes to the film in his Star Wars movies. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the burning of Luke Skywalker's home parallels visually and narratively the burning of the homestead in The Searchers; also the framing of the shots through the opening of the cave where R2-D2 is hiding, when Obi-Wan Kenobi first appears, directly matches the framing of the screen shots of Ethan Edwards' reunion with his niece, Debbie. Another direct quote comes in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones when Anakin Skywalker approaches the Tusken Raider settlement to rescue his mother, a scene which is framed in the exact same manner as Ethan Edwards surveying the Comanche camp before rescuing Debbie)

For Unforgiven

This film opens up with a scroll about a bad man who became good when he met the right lady. He stopped becoming a killer and tried to settle down. When the killer was needed to return, he did not want to do it. It is only when his friend is killed and dead body displayed in town, does the killer re-emerge. The shots of the killer returning and unleashing his hell upon this town is what makes this film.

Clint Eastwood has stated that he wanted to bury the western with this film. There are no heroes in this film, and the differences between good and bad are deliberately blurred so by the end of the film, are you cheering for Clint or for Gene to fishing the deed.

As with Eastwood's other western roles, he is a man of few words. He can stay very quiet and look like he is a peace with the world, but when the time comes to act. The viewer should be ready for a very real look at the results of his actions. Watch the scene where all Clint does is squint his eyes, take a drink and listen to how his friend dies. Right before your eyes you see the pig-farmer being shut down and the return of the man on a white horse, who is going to unleash death and hell upon a small town.

Both films tell of love lost and how men will protect their family and friends. Both of these films are considered classics and should be seen back-to-back to show two great actors playing roles that helped to define their careers.

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