In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Searchers

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Autobiographies and Biographies
  • Interviews
  • Journal Articles
  • Production and Preproduction
  • Original Release Reviews
  • Critical Reputation
  • Auteur Approaches
  • Genre
  • Narrative Structure, Myth, Allegory
  • Landscape and Visualizing the West
  • Music
  • John Wayne as Actor and Icon
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Native American and Native American Studies Perspectives
  • Race
  • Captivity Narratives in Film, Literature, and History

Cinema and Media Studies The Searchers
Gaylyn Studlar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0143


Since the 1970s, The Searchers, directed by John Ford, has become one of the most discussed films of 1950s US cinema. A story of captivity and revenge set in post–Civil War Texas, The Searchers is now regarded as one of the best films ever made, although it received mixed reviews upon its original release. The film’s artistic reputation did not rise until the early 1970s, buoyed by auteur critics like Andrew Sarris and Peter Bogdanovich and by film school–trained directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who paid homage to The Searchers in their own movies. An important trend in scholarship coalesced around the film’s depiction of fear of miscegenation, with literary antecedents illuminated by June Namias, Barbara Mortimer, and Richard Slotkin. A significant number of considerations of The Searchers focus on Ethan Edwards, the psychologically complex Indian hater played by John Wayne. Many film scholars address the film’s relationship to genre, with Edward Buscombe and Peter Cowie calling attention to the film’s debt to pre-cinematic visual representations of the frontier. Gaylyn Studlar and Hubert I. Cohen emphasize the film’s break from western conventions. Major biographies of John Ford by Scott Eyman, Joseph McBride, and Tag Gallagher provide insight into the film’s production history, as does Glenn Frankel. Analysis of The Searchers has been sustained by many academic scholars who are not film specialists, by literary critics such as Jane Tompkins; political scientists such as Robert Pippin; Native American studies scholars such as Tom Grayson Colonnese and Cristine Soliz; philosophers such as Richard A. Gilmore; feminist critics such as Susan Courtney; historians, including James F. Brooks; and classicists, such as Martin M. Winkler and James Clauss. In spite of the variety of methodological approaches applied, the literature on The Searchers often seems to follow the nonlinear trajectory of the film’s own narrative with a retreading of familiar terrain.


A useful starting point for study of the film, Eckstein and Lehman 2004 is the only anthology devoted exclusively to The Searchers. Studlar and Bernstein 2001 contains articles that each purposefully reference a number of Ford’s westerns, including The Searchers, in relation to a central issue. Kitses and Rickman 1998 is typical of the many anthologies on the western that include articles devoted to The Searchers among the discussion of a variety of films.

  • Eckstein, Arthur M., and Peter Lehman, eds. The Searchers: Essays and Reflections on John Ford’s Classic Western. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

    Addresses a wide range of aspects of the film through a number of reprinted and new essays. Although dominated by film scholars, the anthology also has many useful contributions that are interdisciplinary in cast.

  • Kitses, Jim, and Gregg Rickman, eds. The Western Reader. New York: Limelight Editions, 1998.

    Especially useful for including classic essays on the western by Robert Warshow and Andre Bazin that appeared shortly before the release of The Searchers as well as three articles with extended discussions of the film in relation to representations of the home, Indians, and space.

  • Studlar, Gaylyn, and Matthew Bernstein, eds. John Ford Made Westerns: Filming the Legend in the Sound Era. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

    Articles by extensively published film scholars address topics such as capitalism, ethnicity and multiculturalism, femininity, music, narrative structure, Ford’s reputation, and significant influences on the sound-era westerns, such as painting and literature.

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