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An obsessed, racist Civil War veteran (John Wayne) undertakes a vengeful seven-year search for the Comanches who kidnapped his young niece (Natalie Wood) in John Ford's perennially celebrated masterpiece.
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Interminably cited as John Ford's masterpiece, The Searchers maintains its strong hold in polls for the best films ever made. (The American Film Institute named it the greatest western of all time.) Inexhaustible both as ideological text and as a work of great resonance and beauty, The Searchers stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a bitter, taciturn Confederate veteran whose family is slaughtered and whose young niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) is abducted by Comanches. Ethan's obsessive search for the girl — "he had to find her . . . he had to find her" ran the cutline on the original poster for the film — turns into a vengeful seven-year odyssey into the wilderness of Monument Valley, from the shattered safety of "home" to the final return to that outpost of "civilization" in the west Texas wilderness. As controversial as it has been influential — Schrader, Scorsese, Spielberg, and many others have invoked it in their own films — The Searchers has frequently been condemned as racist and rabidly right-wing, and equally praised for its psychological and thematic complexity, its formal beauty and harsh poeticism. "Moving and mysterious . . . A riveting, tragic, and complex experience" (David Thomson).