It's The Searchers and it's on AMC right now and I can't tear myself away except during the annoying commercials. I already own the dvd, which comes from an amazing print, but this is one of those movies, like Jaws or Casablanca, that when I catch a glimpse of it on TV, it ensnares me for hours.
I know folks have issues with it. They think it's racist. And indeed, John Wayne plays a racist bastard in the film. But the film thinks he's wrong. In fact, one of its major themes is that our entire country is based on racism. What else could've made us think we had the right to take it from the people who were here before us?
The movie's about other things too - vengeance, love, and how an old love can turn vengeance into forgiveness. But ultimately, the racist old blackguard played by Wayne can never be forgiven, can never be part of civilization. He made America possible, but he's too awful to ever be let inside. We wouldn't have to live with our terrible past, now would we?
The ending is justly famous. Wayne brings home the girl (young Natalie Wood) who had been kidnapped by Indians (I'll call them that here, not Native Americans, since that's how the movie refers to them), whom he had sworn to kill himself. He couldn't kill the daughter of the woman he loved, no matter how much he despised the fact that she's now "tainted" by living with Indian chief Scar. He saved her, redeemed himself, in a way. But it's not enough. It'll never be enough. As he said of the dead Indian who's eyes he shot out, he's doomed forever to wander between the winds.
Blogger won't let me post this widescreen (it's shot in 1.85), so it's best viewed here. Or see the slightly cropped version, below.