John Wayne :Two classic Westerns were better–Stagecoach and Red River–[although I thought] The Searchers … deserved more praise than it got
Western movie star John Wayne starred in an assortment of classic films, such as The Searchers. His longtime fans all have a different favorite film and performance from the actor, showing the true breadth of his career. Wayne himself openly discussed The Searchers and where it ranked for him alongside the other classics in his filmography. It turned out that he actually thought two of his Westerns were much better.
Wayne starred as the lead character, Ethan Edwards, in The Searchers. After the end of the Civil War, he returns back to Texas to see his family. However, he’s thrown into another kind of war when Comanches attack his brother’s family. Some end up dead, while some were abducted. Therefore, Ethan sets out along with Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) to rescue his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). The deeper they tread into Comanche territory, the more dangerous their mission becomes.
The Searchers is currently sitting at a 94% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, remaining one of Wayne’s greatest films of his career. However, the film touched more lives than audiences. Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese credited The Searchers with high remarks, pointing to it as a source of inspiration for his own career. It’s frequently tagged as one of the greatest movies ever made. However, Wayne had a bit of a different opinion.
Marc Eliot’s book, American Titan: Searching for John Wayne, wrote about his legacy from The Searchers and beyond. The Western movie star asked if the John Ford movie was the best he had ever made, but the actor quickly retorted that it wasn’t. However, Wayne still loved the movie and thought that it deserved more praise than it got at the time.
“No, I don’t,” Wayne responded. “Two classic Westerns were better–Stagecoach and Red River–[although I thought] The Searchers … deserved more praise than it got.”
Wayne’s response here makes sense. Stagecoach and Red River will always hold a special place in the Western movie star’s career. Ford’s Stagecoach marked the beginning of the success in the actor’s career. It was an ensemble film that allowed him to stand out, cementing him as a movie star for the ages.
Meanwhile, Howard Hawks’ Red River allowed Wayne to give a different kind of performance than he had before. In addition, he once said that it was the first time that he truly considered himself a “real” actor. Therefore, it’s reasonable that he ranked both of these films above The Searchers, which came about later in his career.
The Searchers didn’t earn Wayne the Oscar attention that he was hoping for. Rather, he earned his first nomination for a non-Western movie performance in the war film Sands of Iwo Jima. Wayne’s second Oscar nomination was outside of the acting categories, and in the Best Picture category for a passion project called The Alamo. He finally secured the Academy Award win for his performance in True Grit, which remains one of the most popular Western films of his career.
Wayne always thought his greatest works didn’t receive the attention that they deserved. He placed She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Red River as some of his very best work, yet he didn’t receive awards season attention. Additionally, many Wayne fans thought that he deserved greater recognition for his final performance in The Shootist, but he didn’t get the proper attention there either.