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The John Wayne Classic That Inspired Martin Scorsese – My Blog

Martin Scorsese revealed his passion for “The Searchers” early in his career. In his first feature film, 1969’s “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” the main character, J.R. (Harvey Keitel, playing something of a Scorsese avatar), spots a pretty girl reading a French magazine, and uses that to make small talk. After all, he recognizes the man on the cover: John Wayne. He gets especially excited talking about one John Wayne movie, “The Searchers,” a western that he talks about at length. When the punk gangsters of 1973’s “Mean Streets” con some kids out of twenty bucks, they drive out to go see “The Searchers.” Even “Taxi Driver” draws heavily from it.

“The Searchers” was a western that came late in the career of director John Ford, whose movies were markedly different from what Scorsese would go on to make. Their big open skies and cheery Irish-Americana were directly opposed to Scorsese’s gritty, urban, rock-and-roll-scored crime movies. Where Ford found freedom in the dazzling beauty of Arizona’s Monument Valley, Scorsese made cinematic poetry out of the dimly lit tenements in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But both filmmakers used their movies to explore similar ideas of America: a society of immigrants, a society built on violence.
The evolution of John Wayne
Fresh-faced John Wayne in Stagecoach

“The Searchers” played to Scorsese as an evolution, or even a culmination, of earlier movies that Ford had made with John Wayne. Before he paid attention to who got the director’s credit, his focus was on the movie stars. John Wayne, gun-toting, slow-talking western hero, led the charge. Going to these movies repeatedly, Scorsese “began to realize what a director did … translate ideas into images.” 
Ford and Wayne had had a complicated artistic relationship stretching back decades, to when Ford hired the UCLA grad as a prop manager in the late 1920s and then refused to cast him in anything until 1939’s “Stagecoach.” Over the decades, their working relationship became the stuff of legend, directly influencing Scorsese’s own long-term collaborations with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Wayne led many Ford projects, shining in westerns as the tough-but-tender face of white manifest destiny in 19th century Indian Territory. It wasn’t until “The Searchers” that the tender side of the equation was totally scraped off, leaving only a violent man who refuses redemption.
In his “Personal Journey Through American Movies,” Scorsese notes the frightening nature of the shift, next to Wayne’s portrayal of the sweet outlaw Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach” and the genial old Cavalry officer in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” There was something to be said for the honesty of “The Searchers’” approach.
Unsettling charactersWarner Bros.
Harry Carey, Jr. and John Wayne in The Searchers
Once they were making movies, it didn’t take long for Scorsese and most of his New Hollywood peers to strip “The Searchers” for parts. Nevertheless, the imagery of its opening moments, as Ethan Edwards (Wayne) rides into his brother’s Texas farmstead, retains its power. The lazy pace of the cutting, as the family goes onto the porch to meet with this lonely figure, does little to suggest the doom on the horizon.
Edwards departs the next morning with Sam Clayton (Ward Bond, another Ford regular) and nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) on a routine search for their neighbors’ cattle, and he returns to see the farmstead burned down by Comanche. His family has been killed. But he and Martin have reason to believe that little Debbie (Natalie Wood), implied to be Ethan’s daughter, is still alive, in the camp of Comanche Chief Cicatriz, or Scar (Henry Brandon). Martin and Ethan go on to spend the next seven years seeking out Debbie, finding worthless clue after worthless clue before they eventually make contact.
With a premise like that, the movie could have been a simple western potboiler with good white men going up against bad Native Americans. Indeed, that was how it was received by much of the public on its release, with the New York Times’ review calling it “a rip-snorting western.” But it complicates that premise from the beginning, as Ethan continually belittles his partner Martin for being “one-eighth Comanche.” Scorsese would go on to call Ethan “one of the most unsettling [characters] in American cinema.”
Ethan’s violent nature — from his fighting for the Confederacy years before, to his shooting out the eyes of a dead Comanche so his spirit is left to “wander between the winds” — is far from heroic, and more in line with Travis Bickle, the racist, homicidal protagonist of Scorsese’s 1976 film “Taxi Driver.”
Men in exile
Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune discussing The Searchers in Who's that Knocking At My Door
When Quentin Tarantino asked Scorsese about the “Who’s That Knocking At My Door” scene in 2019, he said he “had to do it.” As the characters talk about “The Searchers,” J.R. gets most excited about a scene that comes near the end of it, where Ethan meets with Cicatriz. J.R. notes that Cicatriz is a nasty figure, but that John Wayne is too, euphemistically referring to the same realization that Scorsese had. In “The Searchers,” the scene is tense, a cross-cultural exchange between men who protect their home and men who invade it, told from the perspective of the invader. It’s a scene that’s found its way into many Scorsese movies, from “Gangs of New York” to “Casino” to “Silence.”
Even more Scorsese movies borrow from “The Searchers’” eternal ending: Ethan, having rescued Debbie, returns home, but stays back at the doorway. The implication of exile reverberates throughout many of Scorsese’s movies, in the nightclub routine of “Raging Bull” and “Wolf of Wall Street’s” infinite, dead-eyed seminars. But it’s the character of Ethan Edwards, unsettling, unfit for society, and deliberately, challengingly unsympathetic, that influenced Scorsese the most.

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Ann-Margret’s precious memories of ‘teddy bear’ Duke on The Train Robbers – My Blog

JOHN WAYNE was “slightly infirm” on The Train Robbers but tenaciously pushed through filming despite two fractured ribs, balance issues and a daily lie down, according to co-star Rod Taylor. Ann-Margret remembers Duke appearing strong despite his declining health and admitted the Western star “gave me the confidence I lacked”.

By the 1970s, John Wayne was coming towards the end of his career as a Hollywood star. In 1973, aged 65-years-old, he had been living with one lung for the best part of 10 years and was suffering from emphysema on the remaining one. That year he released two Westerns which aren’t remembered as his best but saw the ageing icon carry on with much determination. One of the films was The Train Robbers, which co-starred Ann-Margret and Rod Taylor.
The Train Robbers saw Ann-Margret’s feisty widow work alongside three cowboys in recovering a cage of gold that was stolen by her late husband.
Before shooting started, Wayne had fractured two of his ribs, which was so painful he struggled to sleep at night.

This meant that his action scenes had to be scaled down and co-star Taylor remembered Duke being “slightly” infirm during the shoot.
The Time Machine star said the Western legend had trouble with his balance and understandably needed afternoon naps.
train robbers cast

Despite his health problems on the movie, Wayne refused to delay filming and strived forwards.
Ann-Margret had fond memories of her co-star’s tenacity, recalling: “Duke was still a strong, rugged, formidable man, larger-than-life and incredibly personal. He was a big teddy bear, and we got along famously. Duke gave me the confidence I lacked.”
The Viva Las Vegas star appreciated this given that 1972 had been a very difficult time in her life, having been seriously injured when performing in her Lake Tahoe show.
john and ann
Ann-Margret felt John Wayne gave her the confidence boost she needed (Image: GETTY)
train robbers poster
The Train Robbers poster (Image: GETTY)
In terms of the confidence boost she needed, the actress had to overcome her fear of horses as there was much riding needed for her character. It was here that Wayne gave her the support she needed.
The Train Robbers had average reviews and later Quentin Tarantino would comment the film was “so light it’s barely a movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not amusing.”
Wayne also released Cahill: US Marshall in 1973, which saw a significantly weakened Wayne having to use a stepladder to climb onto a horse.
That year also marked the death of his most famous collaborator, the director John Ford.
Upon news of the filmmakers’ death that August, Wayne told journalists: “I’m pretty much living on borrowed time.”
Duke would go on to make a couple of better-reviewed Westerns in True Grit sequel Rooster Cogburn opposite Katherine Hepburn and The Shootist.
The latter film was his final one and saw him playing a terminally ill gunfighter.
The Hollywood icon himself died of cancer just a couple of years later in 1979.

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John Wayne Snuck An Emotional Tribute Into The Searchers’ Final Scene – My Blog

Celebrity culture has been around since the advent of film. The stars of the silver screen become our heroes, and sometimes they transcend to become almost mythical heroes. John Wayne is one of those actors, a name that instantly floods your mind with specific images and characters. Wayne would become synonymous with the Western genre during Hollywood’s classical film period and defined masculinity through memorable roles such as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” Sheriff John T. Chance in “Rio Bravo,” and Lt. Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort in “The Longest Day.”

Because he’s so well known for his iconic tough-guy image, it’s hard to imagine a young Marion Robert Morrison (Wayne’s given name) looking up to a hero. And yet, “The Duke” tipped his hat and secretly told us. A small unscripted gesture in one of his most famous films gave us a glimpse at his softer side and a clue as to just who might have been Wayne’s childhood hero.
It is beautiful in its simplicity
John Wayne standing in doorway

John Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers” was groundbreaking in how it challenged the racist male heroes of early Westerns. The film stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in what many consider Wayne’s most memorable role. Edwards is not a strong, likable hero but rather a bitter, racist loner who is redeemed only in the final moments of the film. Scott Allen Nollen’s book “Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond” describes how Wayne’s unscripted gesture in the final moments of “The Searchers” was an homage to a childhood hero, early Western star Harry Carey. The final shot of the film has Wayne standing in a doorway by himself before turning to ride off alone (presumably into the sunset).
The shot is brilliantly framed and lit by Ford, with the interior of the house dark, emphasizing the solitude of Edwards’ life as he walks away from what little family he has left. Just before turning to leave, Wayne made a familiar gesture that was not in the script. Nollen writes:
“He was to look and then walk away, but just before he turned, he saw Ollie Carey, the widow of his all-time hero, standing behind the camera. It was as natural as taking a breath. Duke raised his left hand, reached across his chest, and grabbed his right arm at the elbow. Harry Carey did that a lot in the movies when Duke was a kid in Glendale, California. He’d spent many a dime just to see that.”It was beautiful in its simplicity, like the scene it occurred in. But the gesture was a nod to much more than Carey himself.
‘One of the most resonant gestures in the entire body of Ford’s work’
Harry Carey at saloon
Before Ford’s relationship with John Wayne, there was Harry Carey. To put it in a modern context, it was like Martin Scorsese collaborating with Robert De Niro before his work with Leonardo DiCaprio. According to Mostly Westerns, the pair collaborated on more than two dozen films, and Ford said that he learned a lot about the industry with Carey as his tutor. It was during these early days of the Western where Carey would develop his iconic arm pose where he grabs his right arm with his left hand at the elbow. The gesture would permeate throughout Ford’s films by other actors.
The pose can be seen at the 1:09:30 mark of Ford’s 1917 film “Straight Shooting.”

After Carey died in 1947, Ford would continue to cast Carey family members including Harry Carey, Jr. Both Harry Jr. and Carey’s widow Olive appeared in “The Searchers.” And though the brief gesture might have been inspired by Carey’s widow, it was felt far beyond the Carey family. As Nollen notes:
“Joseph McBride referred to Wayne’s spontaneous, profound re-creation in ‘The Searchers’ as ‘one of the most resonant gestures in the entire body of Ford’s work, a gesture movingly encapsulating whole lifetimes of shared tradition.’”It turns out the rough, tough cowboy John Wayne did indeed have a hero. He also showed his soft side in paying tribute to Carey, his family, and the Western icons that came before him.

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John Wayne Almost Walked Away From One Of His Most Beloved Roles – My Blog

Early Hollywood Westerns, a staple of the classical film era, largely stereotyped Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages. The growing popularity of post-World War II social problem films had the film industry reflecting on its portrayals of minorities, including Native Americans. The man synonymous with the Western introduced a film in 1956 that sent ripples throughout all of Hollywood and reinvented the genre.

John Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers” looked like a typical western. It pitted “Cowboys vs. Indians” in a familiar landscape, the wide-open desert plains of the Monument Valley area of Arizona and Utah. But its content was vastly different than any Western we’d seen before.
In “The Searchers,” Ford presents complex themes and a racist protagonist played by an actor that audiences had become programmed to root for — “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. The role became career-defining for Wayne — not that he needed it –— because of the depth of the film. It begs the question: How much of an impact would “The Searchers” have had without “The Duke” involved? We almost found out.
The legacy of The Searchers

Jeffrey Hunter John Wayne sitting on horse

The legacy of “The Searchers” is that it is a social problem film as much as it is a Western, exploring the inherent racism of Western heroes. The film turns a mirror towards its own stubborn, racist characters, mostly though Ethan Edwards, played by Wayne. Edwards is an explicitly racist former Confederate soldier, motivated by killing Comanches while searching for his kidnapped niece. When he learns she is living among the Comanche, he threatens to kill her, justifying it with, “Livin’ with Comanches ain’t being alive.”
Ford presents a version of John Wayne that challenges masculinity rather than defines it. The typically strong, stoic hero portrayed by Wayne instead slips into a baneful, obsessive hunter intent on killing not only his enemy but his own kin. Ethan Edwards’ hatred for “the other” is greater than the love of his family, something even the staunchest Wayne fan surely struggles with.

The impact of “The Searchers” has permeated throughout Hollywood masculinity. It inspired a new wave of adult-themed Westerns that would continue to challenge social conventions, including Ford’s own 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The narrative of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” heavily echoes “The Searchers.” And Edwards’ redeeming line, “Let’s go home, Debbie” precedes Rocky Balboa’s “If I can change, and you can change, we all can change!” plea for foreign relations harmony in “Rocky IV” by nearly thirty years.
It’s hard to believe that John Wayne’s portrayal of Ethan Edwards, called by Martin Scorsese in THR as “the greatest performance of a great American actor,” almost didn’t happen.
Wayne almost wasn’t in the film
John Wayne holding Natalie Wood
On the film’s 60th anniversary, Newsweek revealed that John Wayne almost wasn’t in “The Searchers.” After being cast in the film he was offered the starring role in the Western “Seven Men from Now.” Because Ford and Wayne had such a close relationship — the two collaborated on more than a dozen films — Ford gave Wayne the chance to back out of “The Searchers.” Wayne kept his obligation and turned down the other film.
Randolph Scott was ultimately cast as the lead in “Seven Men from Now” and though the film opened to positive reviews, Newsweek points out, “It doesn’t come close to the legendary stats of ‘The Searchers.’”
Film critic Roger Ebert described Ethan Edwards as one of the most compelling character Ford and Wayne ever created. Ebert writes:
Did they know how vile Ethan’s attitudes were? I would argue that they did, because Wayne was in his personal life notably free of racial prejudice, and because Ford made films with more sympathetic views of Indians … I think it took a certain amount of courage to cast Wayne as a character whose heroism was tainted. Ethan’s redemption is intended to be shown in that dramatic shot of reunion with Debbie, where he takes her in his broad hands, lifts her up to the sky, drops her down into his arms, and says, ‘Let’s go home, Debbie.’”The film made such an impact that the American Film Institute ranks it as the 12th ranked film of all time and it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. And we got the performance of a lifetime out of John Wayne because he stuck to his guns and stayed loyal to a friend like only “The Duke” could do.

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