On May 26, 1956 Warner Brothers released The Searchers, a western movie directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. It was based on a novel written in 1953 by Alan LeMay about the real-life abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche Indians in Texas.
John Ford chose to film most of the scenes during a blast-furnace summer in Monument Valley, one of his favorite backdrops for westerns. The production was bankrolled by Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, a wealthy fellow with a desire to educate Americans about western history. His suggestions were generally ignored by John Ford.
In writing The Searchers, The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury, 2013), journalist Glenn Frankel takes a critical look at the history behind the movie, production and filming, and the subsequent place the movie has assumed in the film industry.
He spends about one-half of the book examining the sometimes sketchy history of Cynthia Ann Parker and her family, the circumstances surrounding the abduction, and how she may have spent her last years.
The second half of the book is really a story of John Ford and how he encouraged, cajoled, and bullied his way through selection of actors and actresses, story rewrites, filming and editing. A couple of chapters reveal Ford’s dictatorial style and Wayne’s relationship during filming at Monument Valley.
The book was well researched but shy on footnotes, and chronologically organized. It was an ok read, but a bit repetitious and tedious for my enjoyment.
The Searchers is available for purchase at the San Juan Record Bookstore