The Searchers

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Details At A Glance

Category Western Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 1.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) No
Year Released 1955 Commentary Tracks No
Running Time 113:57 minutes Other Extras Featurette - Excerpts from WB Presents
RSDL/Flipper Dual Sided
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director John Ford
Warner Bros
Warner Home Video
Starring John Wayne
Jeffrey Hunter
Vera Miles
Ward Bond
Natalie Wood
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music Max Steiner

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1 Dolby Digital 1.0
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Now this is classic film making! Directed by one of the great directors in John Ford (How Green Was My Valley, Rio Grande, Mister Roberts), starring one of the biggest stars to ever grace the screen in John Wayne (far too many films to choose from) and filmed with every cliché that you could possibly think of in the genre, minus the shoot-out at high noon. This is the sort of stuff that I lapped up as a kid in Saturday matinees and it is a delight to return to a film that I have not seen in a fair old while. Generally recognized as one of the greatest Westerns ever to grace the big screen, it is not hard to see why. This is a VistaVision and Technicolor treat of the highest order that still has the ability to wow the viewer: for a forty-five year old film, this comes up amazingly well.

    The broad story is not exactly the greatest ever written, but what the heck - it is a lot of fun! Former confederate soldier Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns somewhat belatedly from the Civil War to the farm of his brother on the Texas frontier. However, his return coincides with some raiding activity on the part of a bunch of Comanche Indians. When a neighbour loses his cattle in a raid, he calls upon the local troop of the famed Texas Rangers, lead by Reverend Captain Samuel Johnson Clayton (Ward Bond). The troop heads out into the desert in search of the raiders, eventually discovering the dead cattle. Realizing that this has just been a ruse, the troop heads back to the farms expecting the worst. Ethan and his "nephew" Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) return to the family farm to find it ablaze, his brother and sister-in-law murdered and their daughters missing. Vowing to find the girls, Ethan heads off in search of Lucy and Debbie (Natalie Wood) with the aid of the Texas Rangers. After mixing it with some Comanche, it becomes clear that Ethan has a different agenda than the rest so he heads off in search of the girls with only Martin and another for company. Lucy is found soon enough, dead. For five long years Ethan and Martin wander the west looking for the band of Comanche that has Debbie - Ethan to kill her and Martin to save her. Since this is after all a John Wayne film, they naturally encounter a bunch of nasty people but eventually triumph, finding Debbie, kill the bad guys and triumphantly return home with Ethan having had a change of heart over killing his niece. The subplot here is poor suffering Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) sitting back at home for five long years waiting for some indication from Martin that he does actually love her and for her to wait for him.

    Sure, we have seen the film made dozens of times over with minor variations, but this one is a little bit special. Firstly, this had the great John Ford at the helm, which always seemed to elevate any story from the ordinary into something special. Secondly, you have the Duke. No one denies that he could not act to save his life, but this is the sort of thing that he could do better than anyone. These men, together with Ward Bond worked together on a number of occasions, and to some extent this shows in the performances on screen - there is an easy-going nature to this film, so clearly no one was taking this too seriously (an unfortunately too common trait in films nowadays). The result? Probably one of the best efforts that the Duke managed in his long and illustrious career. However, what really elevates this film is the cinematography. This was filmed in Monument Valley, Arizona back in the days when it was pretty much isolated country, and the region was used brilliantly as a backdrop to the film. This results in a rather visually stunning setting, and has been well captured in glorious Technicolor. Such is the grandeur of the setting that one tends to overlook some of the more glaring continuity problems in the film.

    The story is very much of the idiom and hardly pushes the envelope in any way, but I doubt that we will see the likes of this film made ever again. Even if you don't normally go for Westerns, this one is worth a look - and I doubt that the film has looked this good in years. Given a fairly solid ranking of 8.3 by the voters on the Internet Movie Database, it currently resides in their Top 250 at number 117. I can't really say much more than that, other than the fact that this has been voted into the National Film Registry in the United States, meaning it is one of the important cultural assets in the history of American film.

Transfer Quality


    It may be forty-five years old, and it certainly has not been given a complete restoration, but this is a great-looking transfer. If it looks this good unrestored, I would die to see how well it would look after a full restoration.

    The dual-sided disc provides two complete transfers: the widescreen transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 which is 16x9 enhanced, with a Full Frame version (not 16x9 enhanced) being on the other side of the DVD. There has been some conjecture about what the true aspect ratio is for this film, but the majority of reliable sources seem to suggest that 1.75:1 is the correct theatrical aspect ratio for the film. The DVD cover refers to regular and widescreen 1.85:1 ratios, which is not correct.

    For a film of its age, this is about as sharp and detailed as I could ever have hoped for. In reality, this so far exceeds what I was expecting from the transfer that I could not resist the odd wow whilst watching the film. There is no real drop off in the high degree of sharpness in the film - which never borders on demonstrating edge enhancement - and in this regard, this is a remarkably consistent transfer. There is plenty of detail to be seen here, and it is only in some of the darker, more confined scenes where the shadow detail is not quite up to the mark that the true age of the film is noted. There is basically nothing about the quality of the transfer that I would complain about in view of the age of the source material. There was the odd sequence that was somewhat affected by grain, but overall I found this to be a minor problem and overall this is quite a clear transfer. Low level noise did not appear to be an issue in the transfer. Considering this was made four years before I was born, I can only say that I wish that I looked this good!

    What really stands out here is the glorious Technicolor palette of colours. Like many Technicolor films of the era, this demonstrates very nicely saturated colours that come ever so close to oversaturation, but never really cross the boundary. As a result, I would hardly call this a natural looking transfer, but it definitely is a better looking transfer than other Technicolor efforts I have seen from the era. This is a nicely vibrant looking transfer, and there did not seem to be any problem at all with colour bleed. The only minor quibble I have here is that between about 47:30 and 51:20, there was a rather noticeable "strobing" effect to the colours as they lightened and darkened with a very slightly greenish tinge. It was noticeable, and a little distracting, but others may be less or more affected here than I.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were no noticeable problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. The age of the film is however well and truly indicated by the prevalence of film artefacts: they did at times become quite noticeable and a little intrusive, and this is perhaps where the lack of a full restoration is noticed the most. Overall though, whilst they were obviously present, I did not find them especially disruptive to the enjoyment of the film.

    This is a dual sided disc, with a complete set of extras on each side with each version of the film.


    If there are quibbles about the lack of a full restoration of the film, there may well be more over the fact that what we have in the way of audio seems to be the original mono soundtrack. That being the case, it definitely has not sounded any better than it does here.

    There are three audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. Not wishing to find out how bad the Duke sounds dubbed in a foreign language, I listened to the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant problems with audio sync in the transfer. The odd and decidedly minor hints that were there were probably a reflection of the age of the film, as opposed to any problem with the transfer itself.

    The original music score is from the great Max Steiner, and whilst I would hardly call it the best thing he ever did, it is nonetheless a decent effort that is better than most given to a Western.

    Naturally you can forget all those speakers that you spent thousands on buying when you listen to this effort. You will probably get as good a sound out of the television speaker! Since this is a very mono soundtrack, coming right at you from the centre speaker, there is nothing at all noteworthy about the sound, other than the fact that it is remarkably free from hiss and distortion. For what it is, I doubt that we could have expected any better at all.


    Remarkably for a Warners release, we actually have some real extras! They are presented in their entirety on both sides of the disc.


    Notable for being 16x9 enhanced and being oversaturated in colour, and therefore visually not the best to look at.

Featurette - Excerpts from WB Presents... (24:50)

    Now this is something quite special. Director John Ford had a camera recording the making of the film, possibly one of the very first times this was ever done, and the results were used as part of the WB Presents... series in the 1950s. This was basically a promotional type program where Warner Brothers presented one of their films on television, then immediately followed it with some promotional stuff. Judging by what was said in the first of the segments included here, there were seven reels of this stuff, and I am presuming that the four segments presented here are from four of those reels. The segments that we get to see are:     The first comprises a short interview with Jeffrey Hunter, then a rising new star in Hollywood, that sort of sets up the whole sequence. The second shows the setting up of the mini-town that was created in Monument Valley to house the cast and crew during the filming. The third segment shows some more stuff from the film with a short interview sequence with a very young Natalie Wood. The final segment shows off a bit of Monument Valley, where the bulk of the film was shot. All very interesting, made doubly so for the fact that we also get the advertisements that were originally aired with three of the segments! Mind you, I do find it rather odd that Warners have got away with showing two cigarette adverts! The whole lot is shown in Full Frame format of course, and is black and white only. The sound is Dolby Digital 1.0. The whole lot is also badly affected by noise and film artefacts, but otherwise this is a fascinating inclusion. I can only ponder why we do not have the other segments from the original airing: perhaps they have gone walkabout or are far too damaged to be included.

Theatrical Trailer (2:43)

    A surprisingly good-looking trailer for the era, although somewhat affected by film artefacts. Presented in an aspect ratio of what appears to be 1.75:1, it is 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. Whilst just a little over the top, it makes it very clear who is the star here!

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version is also double sided, but splits the WB Presents... segments across the two sides to make space available for the production notes. Still, I would hardly call the lack of production notes a major issue that would influence me to acquire the Region 1 release - especially as it presumably suffers the dreaded snapper case packaging. I would suggest a Region 4 winner yet again.


    The Searchers is a great film that really hearkens back to the good old days of Saturday afternoon matinees. I doubt that the film has looked this good in years and what problems are here are more than compensated for by the general quality on offer. Fans of The Duke should indulge in this without reservation, but really this does demand consideration for inclusion in every collection.

    A terrific video transfer for an unrestored film of this vintage.

    A decent enough audio transfer.

    A decent extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
14th August 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR and subwoofer ES-12XL