What I Watched (and am Reading), What You Watched #183


The Searchers: The Making of an American LegendI’m going to start by telling you about a book I just started reading, titled “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend” by Glenn Frankel and I’m hooked after only the first 25 pages. The main thing to note is that while Frankel delves into the making of John Ford‘s The Searchers, a film considered by the AFI to be the #1 American Western of all-time, his primary focus is the story that inspired it and how the film stuck to that story and diverted from it.

Now, again, I’m only 25 pages in, which is hardly enough reading to give any kind of review of a 416 page book, so I’ll let the book’s description do the rest of the talking:

In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann’s story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood’s most legendary films, The Searchers, “The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest… and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!” directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by “savages.” What makes John Ford’s film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.

Frankel’s writing is passionate and fun to read, though there has already times I felt like I was reading the book of Matthew as he introduces the Parker family. Nevertheless, you come away with an understanding of what you’re reading and he doesn’t skimp when it comes to the bloody details similarly to Cormac McCarthy in “Blood Meridian”, though I already get the impression he’s setting the reader up for mixed emotions down the line as The Searchers was more than just the hunt to rescue a kidnapped little girl as it dealt with serious race issues, which I actually explored briefly following the release of Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

Otherwise, as I detailed on Friday, I watched Abraham Polonsky‘s 1948 feature Force of Evil, which I enjoyed every bit as much for its story as for its penetrating black-and-white, noir cinematography.

And late Friday night we watched It Happened One Night, which is truly one of the greatest romantic comedies of all-time, if not the greatest. At the very least I can say it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

This coming week I have Oz the Great and Powerful and I’m going to try and squeeze a rewatch of The Wizard of Oz in advance, but I’m seeing the new one on Monday and not sure I’ll be able to find the time in-between.

That does it for me, now it’s your turn. What did you watch this past week and are you reading anything interesting?