Film: The Searchers
Director: John Ford
Performers: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Henry Brandon, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Breed featured: Mutt/unknown mix
Production information: Warner Brothers, 1956 (USA)
When Civil War veteran Ethan (John Wayne) blows onto his brother’s Texas ranch, a scruffy mutt joins in the welcoming crew. And just before Comanche Indians come to slaughter the family, rape the women and kidnap the youngest daughter Debbie, the dog does try — rather weakly — to protect the girl.
They called him Prince in the movie. He only appears in a few shots in the beginning, and is abandoned when Ethan and his 1/8th Cherokee adopted nephew Martin set off on their journey of vengeance. Somewhat interestingly, when they finally meet the Comanche chief that they’ve been tracking over the course of years, your hear the sound of numerous reservation dogs though you never actually see any. They’ve been deliberately incorporated into the audio track to set a certain dangerous and foreboding mood. But like the numerous Native Americans who were relegated to “background” players, the reservation dogs remain unseen, uncredited, and devoid of personality or significance.
The dogs of The Searchers are barely worth mentioning, so I’ll just cut this short. Despite some beautiful cinematography, gorgeous landscapes, and striking visual compositions that just beg to be closely analyzed — elements which no doubt contributed to the film’s high esteem — much of this was painfully crude. John Wayne is a screen icon I’ve never cared for, as this film reconfirms. I’d have been happier had we followed the dog’s multi-year search for his long-lost girl. But even though John Ford once directed a film that was told from the perspective of a horse, he probably thought that such a narrative twist would have been beneath him at this stage in his directorial career. Too bad. I bet John Ford could’ve made a very fine dog movie, had such a concept been more acceptable in his chosen genre.