Sunday, December 1, 2013


Caught this for the eighth or tenth time last night on TCM's "Essentials" with Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore.  I knew Drew a little back in my Hollywood days when she was still a teenager. An incredibly bright, mature and competent person even then. Watching her grow as a film commentator on TCM's Saturday night showcase for movies Robert Osborne and her select as "essentials" has been a treat.

Last night particularly because Osborne for the first time (in my perspective) was reacting to aspects of THE SEARCHERS, which as he pointed out is considered by many critics and the American Film Institute as the greatest Western film ever, like a kind of grumpy old fogey. For instance saying he didn't like the technicolor and preferred the way the director John Ford shot the same locale (Monument Valley I believe) in black and white in his other Westerns.

He said that in response to Drew's enthusiastic response to the deep and bright primary colors in the film. Osborne also objected to Natalie Wood getting movie star credit and then not appearing in the film until very near the end which he felt distracted from the story and more or less predicted the outcome for her character.

But Drew again said that was one of the things she liked most about Wood's character, though hardly on screen Wood gave the character a kind of depth and fullness just with her movie star presence and stature. Only Drew said it better.

THE SEARCHERS is definitely high on any list I used to make (pre-brain op when I constantly made lists) of favorite Westerns and movies of any genre. But like the majority (probably more than ninety percent unfortunately) of Hollywood movies set around the time of The Civil War, this one three years after it, the ex-Confederate soldier is always cast as more noble, a better warrior and battle strategist, more honorable and more dependable and braver than anyone else and the Yankees, especially the soldiers are either shown to be fools or devils or slobs or unreliable or devious or incompetent or cowards etc.

It's despicable and partly came from early movie people sympathetic to the South, like D. W. Griffith, and partly from the post-Reconstruction period's attempt to placate the losers' bitterness and revenge fantasies by capitulating to the myth of the supposed honor and nobility of their cause. But in fact their cause was the perpetuation of an evil, the institution of slavery, and the facts show that more Union soldiers showed nobility and bravery and honor than their enemy.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE should be required viewing after any of old Hollywood's movies that mythologize the Confederacy and its defenders (as John Wayne's character is in THE SEARCHERS). But that major caveat aside, THE SEARCHERS is still a pleasure to watch for everything else about it, including the vibrancy of its technicolor and the beauty of Natalie Wood's cameo performance and presence. As well as the entire cast of great Hollywood character actors.

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