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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Cinespia Presents The Searchers at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

CINESPIA Presents John Ford’s Supreme Masterpiece: THE SEARCHERS Saturday, August 19th at 8:30 pm (Gates at 7:00 pm). This is a NEW TIME for the weekly screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. $10 (suggested) Donation Tickets at gate. As a courtesy to all please do not bring TALL CHAIRS.

It’s mid-August and summertime is coming to an end. As kids we had all sorts of fun events that encapsulated the feeling of summer vacation, from summer camp, to Fourth of July fireworks, to beach barbeques and drive-in movies. But as adults we get cheated out of a lot of the summer fun. With our grown-up responsibilities we have few opportunities to celebrate the season in a fashion unique to the time of year. There may not be any drive-ins available for the occasion, but the Film Society of Cinespia provides a unique movie-going experience in a venue that will satisfy the need for a summertime thrill. This week they’re screening a spectacular Western that should be required viewing for every movie fan.

Widely acknowledged as one of the most complex and acclaimed Westerns, The Searchers is also considered to be one of the best and most influential of all films ever made. The John Ford classic is consistently ranked near the top of every “best of” list since its release in 1956. The accolades are well earned due in large part to the film’s enormous scope, its breathtaking beauty and the magnificent cast lead by an against-type John Wayne. Interestingly enough, with such accolades, it’s hard to believe that the film was not recognized by the Academy with even a single nomination. The only professional acknowledgement the film did receive upon its release was a Directors Guild nomination for John Ford for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.

Frequent Ford collaborator Frank S. Nugent (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man) brilliantly adapted the screenplay from the Alan Le May novel of the same name. A gifted screenwriter, Nugent crafted each character into clearly defined and fully realized individuals with a depth rarely seen in Westerns. The true genius of the script is in its ability to keep the audience’s sympathy for a bigoted and angry main character, Ethan, depicted by mega superstar Wayne in a stunning exhibition of his vastly underappreciated ability as an actor. Instead of preaching a message, the script examines the complexities of the American experience of racial differences.

John Ford’s moody epic stars the director’s favorite leading man (Wayne) as Ethan Edwards. The Civil War veteran spends five years on a vengeful journey to rescue his captured niece, the sole survivor of brutal Comanche raiders who massacred the rest of Ethan’s family. Accompanied by his half-native and adopted nephew (Jeffrey Hunter), Ethan is forced to confront his own prejudices. When his relentless pursuit leads him to his niece, now grown up and assimilated with her captors, Ethan’s true motivation becomes questionable as to whether he wants to rescue his beloved relative or kill the young woman now “contaminated” by her cohabitation with the enemy.

Ford actually had to battle with a reluctant studio over casting the popular Wayne against type as the bigoted lead role of Ethan Edwards, a colossus who not only physically dominates every other man, but who possesses an overwhelming and indomitable personality whose mere presence commands attention from settlers and Comanche alike. Known for his larger than life persona rather than for his acting ability, Wayne gives what is arguably his finest performance. He conveys a depth of character as the ex-Confederate soldier, Ethan that is unsurpassed in any previous role. Wayne is nothing less than obsessive in his quest, eaten up with hatred of the Indians. It becomes clear that his search to rescue his niece is driven by extreme racism, transforming his goal from rescue to murder. But during the course of his long search, he rediscovers his own humanity.

Wayne himself considered the role to be the best character he ever portrayed on-screen (he even named a son Ethan in homage). And in a year dominated by the likes of Peyton Place and Sayonara, Wayne truly did deserve a nomination. The Duke is surrounded here by a powerful supporting cast of impressive Ford regulars, including Vera Miles (a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock), Ward Bond, John Qualen, Hank Worden, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey, Jr., and soon to be matinee idols Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood (sister Lana Wood plays the same role as a child).

Another supporting character is the actual location itself, the ever-impressive Monument Valley, stunningly shot by three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Winton C. Hoch (Joan of Arc, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man). Ford shot many films in Monument Valley, a visually stunning and isolated region on the border between Utah and Arizona. The eroded red sandstone rocks and looming plateaus are an awesome spectacle. The gorgeous photography and Ford’s unerring eye for composition heightens the luminescence inherent in the majestic setting. Overshadowed by the gargantuan landscape, the human figures seem especially vulnerable, and the life of the Texan settler is especially precarious.

Listed among many prestigious rankings including the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” and the “Entertainment Weekly Greatest Films” of all time, The Searchers is more than a necessary viewing experience for the classic film enthusiast; it’s a prime example of the height of exceptional filmmaking by one of the art form’s most talented and prolific teams of collaborators, John Ford and John Wayne. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to view a true masterpiece on a large screen while enjoying the cool evening breeze at a Hollywood landmark. Bring along some blankets and a picnic dinner and bask in the pleasure of a summertime thrill.

DJ Chris Curtis spins before and after the screening. For more info or to join the Cinespia email list visit

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