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 JOHN WAYNE

HOLLYWOOD – Survivor from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sir Edwin Fluffer, reflects on the man Hollywood used to call ‘the transvestite’s favorite cowboy’: John Wayne.

I had just finished the hilarious musical ‘Those Toots Are Not for Tooting’ with Sammy Davis Sr. Sammy Davis Jr.’s criminally underrated father, when I got a call from my agent to report tout suite to bungalow 13 on the Warner Bros back lot and to bring a ladder.

I blinked, but in those days the studios were to be feared and for a jobbing actor such as I, no request seemed too ridiculous, if you didn’t wish to share the fate of poor William Holden. Holden had refused to paint his bottom orange during a pool party run by the famed and feared columnist Louella Penis. As punishment, he was forced to eat three fat rats.

At bungalow 13, I was met by my Teutonic pal Hardy Kreuger. Although we’d had a sticky argument sometime back about which of the two of was responsible for breaking Charles Laughton’s diet, myself and Hardy were wonderful friends, partly due to our shared passion for Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Though he was far more committed than me, having changed his name by deed poll to signal his admiration for the novelist. He greeted me civilly and – as was our habit – we launched into a discussion of the relative merits of Anthony Trollope.

‘What ho, Fluffer!’ said a voice from inside the bungalow affecting a ridiculous British accent. I only realized then that it must be ‘The Duke’. ‘I say did you bring the ladder?’

‘Right here,’ I said. And angled my way into the bungalow, ahead of the Duke.

John Wayne, the star of a hundred horse operas and everyone’s idea of the ideal American Male, was actually the son of Baron Chauncy of Devon, England. The Duke was no mere nickname, but a hereditary title. He was an actual Duke. Off camera, he spoke in the most clipped polished accent I’ve ever heard. I entered the presence where I was gifted with a spectacular sight. A giraffe from the set of the film Hitari was folded in the small confines of the sitting room. I handed over the ladder and up he went.

It later turned out that the whole idea was a dare by Errol Flynn. The Duke and Errol – who by the way was the most charming Nazi I’d ever met – had been playing pinochle when conversation turned to the wildest beast either had had. In those days bestiality was easily the done thing.  Cary Grant lived for several years with a goat called Terry. And Audrey Hepburn had a lama. But that’s another story…

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5 CELEBRITIES YOU DIDN’T KNOW WERE JEWISH

HOLLYWOOD – Film making and show business has had a long tradition of wonderful Jewish performers, but sometimes as a result of anti-Semitism or the short-sightedness of casting directors, some prefer to keep their ethnic identities under wraps.

Here are five celebrities who you might not have realized were actually Jewish.

Mel Gibson: Born in New York, Mel’s father was a man known to all as ‘the biggest Jew in New York’, but after founding a political party based on intense love of vegetables which led the notorious veggie-phobic New Yorkers to hunt him from his lower Manhattan brown stone and board a slow boat to Australia where Mel was brought up as an Aryan.

Gwyneth Paltrow: When she’s not bringing Robert Downey Jr coffee in Iron Man, Gwyneth Paltrow likes nothing more than to curl up with the Kabbala and a kosher vegan fruititarian power smoothie, unless it’s her cheat day in which case it’s fried dolphin sandwich sprinkled with chopped bacon and kittens’ noses.

John Wayne: The Duke was nothing if he wasn’t Jewish. In fact the reason he always made Westerns was that he liked to wear his kippah, (or yarmulke) under his cowboy hat.

Woody Allen: Talk about ‘hiding in plain sight’! Woody Allen has gone to great lengths to hide his Yiddish heritage by appearing in a series of films in which he plays a Jew but he has always publicly identified as a one of the Goyim. Not only did Allen change his name from Allan Stewart Konigsberg to Heywood “Woody” Allen after seeing Toy Story 2.

Jesus Christ: Possibly the most famous person in the world, Jesus began his life as a Jew and kind of ended it Jewish also. His lifework – to reform the Jewish religion – was rather misunderstood by his followers, who disregarded most of his teaching, preferring to invent an entirely new religion. Oops. Mel Gibson famously made a movie trying to fix the confusion, but succeeded only in making it worse.

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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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