HIDDEN GEMS: 26. THE SEARCHERS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

An obscure Western, The Searchers brings together cult director John Ford with little known B-actor John Wayne. Wayne actually started his career as a full time squinter, but started appearing in films when it was discovered he could drawl as well. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, who following a murderous attack on his brother’s ranch sets off to ‘seek’ his kidnapped niece, accompanied by young part Indian Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter).

Beginning as a revenger’s tale, The Searchers soon swells into something more epic – a road movie of sorts that traces a map of the American West, of racism, guilt and violence, driven by Ethan’s relentless obsession. The landscapes of Monument Valley are suitably ludicrous and low comedy mixes with the sublime. There’s a richness to life here that Ethan’s narrow frontier outlook can’t hope to comprehend. He is a man who is vanishing into his own hatreds. Useful to break a land – but a liability to civilization.

It is unclear why the film didn’t become a part of the Western canon. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Jeffrey Hunter became hugely famous as the captain of the Starship Enterprise, making his presence a distraction. Or maybe it was that by 1956 the Western had outstayed its welcome. Hundreds of westerns plagued the screens every week and almost every single one of them, directed by John Ford. As Ethan might have said, ‘Put an amen to it!’

Whatever the reason, The Searchers is actually a great film, a masterpiece even. So if you can dig up an copy somewhere, I highly recommend it.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER RECALLS HUMPHREY BOGART

HOLLYWOOD- Sir Edwin Fluffer once again delves into his personal memoirs – soon to be published as ‘Not THAT Kind of Fluffer!!!’ – to recall the grumpy Humphrey Bogart.

Back in those early days Hollywood was a land where the sun never set.  This may have been something to do with the smog, but it was at night when the stars came out! There was always a premier to attend, a charity gala to support, or an award ceremony to get thrown out of, so if you want to know why I’ve never won a coveted Golden Globe you’ll have to ask Gene Tierney! And if she says I was fired from The Ghost and Mrs Muiryou tell her that actually I resigned before they could fire me. 

Anyway, one of my best drinking buddies in those days was dear old Humphrey Bogart. It was no secret that darling Bogie enjoyed a Scotch after work, but what is less well known is that he loved playing bingo. He spent all day long acting the tough guy, but as soon as the director shouted ‘cut’ he wanted to get his dauber out!

We had some unforgettable nights at the bingo hall, but woe betide you if you distracted him while he was playing. I once coughed in the middle of a game and when he missed the next number Bogie punched me in the face, pulled a gun and threatened to shoot me.
 Cornel Wilde pulled him off me, but we had to start the card all over again. 
I’ll never forget the night he won a cool $20! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look happier, not even John Ford when I told him I wasn’t available for Stagecoach
Bogie was always a family man, and on the way home he stopped at the all night toy store and spent his entire winnings on a model farm for the children. Whenever I popped ‘round they’d be playing with it, and his young boy was particularly taken with one of the little sheep. As he showed it to me I immediately quipped “here’s looking at ewe kid”! They moved house not long after that and sadly we lost contact, but they were a lovely family and I still think about them often. 
Not as often as I think about Hedy Lamarr, but that’s another story…

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HIDDEN GEMS: 14. THE SEARCHERS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week, The Searchers. You’re welcome.

If you think about cowboys the chances are you think about Clint Eastwood, or Kevin Costner, or maybe even Clint Eastwood. But before Eastwood donned a poncho there was another cowboy called John Wayne!

Never heard of him? I’m not surprised all his films but one were destroyed in a fire but fortunately the surviving film The Searchers is one of his best. Directed by little known Irish American car maker John Ford, The Searchers is an intense revenge drama which accurately portrays the Old West when the evil dark skinned savages all but exterminated the poor white settlers…. wait, but… never mind.

Ethan Edwards (Wayne) comes home from the wars to his brother’s homestead in Monument Valley, but a party of Indians destroys the house, murders his brother and his wife and kidnap the children  with them. With a posse of locals, Ethan goes after the war party, but the search proves long and he is left with Marty (Jeffrey Hunter – the first Captain of the Enterprise), an eighth part Cherokee and the vague hope of racial inclusive to set against Ethan’s seething hatred.

The magnificent scenery is set against the equally beautiful studio shots. The relentless mission of revenge and the way it consumes if not completely destroys lives is set against an almost Shakespearean world, a rich texture of domestic life going on, struggling but just about making it. A life from which Ethan will always be shut out.

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LAUREL AND FLUFFER AND HARDY

If you ever get the opportunity to shoot a western with John Ford you must seize it with both hands.  That’s what I did when he offered me a part in It’s The Merry Band of Bandits, and apart from a urinary infection that I probably caught from one of the horses I have no regrets.

The picture was to star Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, better known as the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, playing cowboys with yours truly as the chief of the local Indian tribe. I have to say that dear Stan and darling Ollie were absolute masters of their craft and it was entirely my own fault that I mistimed a stunt that resulted in me getting hit in the face with a shovel.

I thought we’d never stop laughing! 
Ford was livid and docked me a week’s salary, but I didn’t care. 
When he wasn’t looking I put shoe polish on his view-finder so that when he peered through it he seemed to have a black eye! Stan and Ollie thought this was even funnier than the bucket in the face and went on to use it in nearly all their films, but Johnny was livid! 
Things got a little out of hand when he pushed me off my horse, but then he fired me and we drew a line under the whole episode. There were no hard feelings, but the picture never got made until many years later when it was released under its new name, The Three Amigos. It’s a shame we never finished it in John’s lifetime, but he was just such a perfectionist.  As a darts player however he was truly awful. But that’s another story…