In these Westerns, why do all these people give up good lives with very pretty women to go off on some mission to try to kill people. Yeah, it works out in the end, but it seems like a stupid risk to take.
There are lots of ridiculous aspects to this movie, which I just saw at the Aero in Santa Monica. John Wayne is spending five years looking for this girl who’s been kidnapped by Native Americans, just so he can kill her because she’s now one of them? Kill her? For that? Seriously? I actually can’t remember ever seeing another John Wayne film. How did anyone take this guy seriously?
And did John Ford think the West really worked like this? Did he do research into what the Comanches actually looked like in the 1860s and 1870s? Did people talk that way? It all seems pretty unconvincing to me. All that bright yellow and red war paint, the they look like Washington Redskins fans. And the kid is all “gee whiz, pa" and two characters — Mose and George — are so dim-witted, they must have mental problems, right? Or is that just meant to be a sign of the times? Remember how people say “The Godfather” was the best mob movie because it was made by actual Sicilians? I’m inclined to think that Westerns can never reach their full potential because there’s no way they can be made by people who actually lived in the old West.
And on top of that, this film is really depressing. A whole family gets killed. Would they do that in movies today?
Some of it is moving, though. I felt especially sympathetic towards the girl, Laurie, who is rightfully pissed that her true love Martin goes off for FIVE YEARS in search of this kidnapped girl. When he comes back, she says"You sent one letter in five years?" Damn right. Martin, are you stupid? This is the old West, there aren't that many attractive, single girls, buddy. I really liked John Wayne's turn at the end. And I remember reading about that famous last shot with Wayne standing in the doorway, and it gave me chills to see it here, as I wasn’t expecting it.
Westerns are not my thing and I haven’t seen that many of them. But I wanted to try to educate myself by seeing one on the big screen. I’m not sure if the tone of this movie is unique among Westerns, or if it's characteristic of the genre as a whole, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a strange hybrid: at times it’s so ridiculous — Wayne is so stilted and the Comanches are so stereotyped and the comic relief is so dumb — that it reads like camp. But at many points it’s dead serious. I stayed for a discussion afterwards with the film critic Kevin Thomas, and he made clear just a few points that illuminated the film a bit — like the fact that John Wayne’s a bitter, Confederate soldier, which explains his racism. And that he’s in love with his brother’s wife, and is avenging her death.
Thomas talked about how the film influenced other quest movies, like “Star Trek.” And, come to think of it, “Star Trek” is rather similar. Stilted, slightly campy, really dumb comic relief (from the bits of it I’ve seen). “Star Wars” too, I suppose, since it’s about a search for a kidnapped girl. Westerns are camp for straight people, science fiction is camp for nerds.
During the discussion, I was standing at the back of the theater and someone came up to me and said, “I couldn’t stand this film and I think John Wayne is a horrible actor.”