The Searchers (1956)
In The Searchers Ford’s cramped domestic scenes highlight the romantic western tradition of rugged isolated individualism. An isolation that is seen as superior to ‘marriage and settlement [which] are presented as crippling or at least inhibiting’◊ The excessive difference between Wayne’s body and the cramped hemmed-in homestead is used by Ford to foreground the excessive symbolism that the western genre commonly uses.
Ford is criticizing the way in-which the western genre and Hollywood has converted a violent, bloody and shameful heritage into a story of powerful individuals whose heroic struggles ensured the individual freedoms of ‘today’. John Wayne’s body, often a symbol of that rugged manly isolated individualism, is manipulated by Ford’s use of a cramped homestead to criticize the western genre.
◊ Douglas Pye ‘The Western (Genre and Movies)’ in B.K. Grant (ed), Film Genre Reader, (Austin: University of Texas Press) PP. 187-202 P. 200.
The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne’s large body is important when placed against the claustrophobic backdrop of the Edwards’ ranch. Wayne is a large man and his physical presence is used by Ford impressively to produce a sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. Ford does this because he is attempting to communicate that Wayne’s tough rough frontier image is at odds with the close, structured atmosphere the Edwards’ ranch exudes (Wayne’s frontier isolation Vs Edwards’ ranch community).
The claustrophobic atmosphere is produced by the use of browns in conjunction with soft lighting. The ceiling height is also low. The criss-cross lines of the beams create a sense of partitioning and order. Beams in a house work by placing pressure equally amongst the whole structure, in the same way that a community equals out the pressure of life by working together so as not to become crushed under the weight of holding oneself upright. Wayne’s physical presence is the antithesis of this partitioned and equalized pressure. The Director John Ford cleverly uses Wayne’s large body, in conjunction with the beams, to indicate to the viewer the opposing philosophy and the isolated nature of Wayne’s character.