The Searchers has such disturbing implications concerning racism and sexual panic beneath its familiar Western elements that it was years before anyone felt comfortable enough to discuss what the movie was actually about. The part of Ethan Edwards is one of John Wayne’s most conflicted roles, that of a brave man whose most valiant gestures are performed in the name of ignorance and hatred. Shortly after returning from the Civil War to his brother’s desert ranch, a band of Comanches murder most of Ethan’s family and kidnap his niece (Natalie Wood). Ethan sets out on a rescue mission, which takes a dark turn after years of failure and the realization that by now the girl would have been defiled by a ‘buck.’ That’s a shame so great to Ethan that the only recourse in his mind is to find her and kill her. The Searchers could use more of Ethan’s single-minded determination. With its supporting characters, the picture takes awkward forays into romance and comic relief, all of which may have softened the movie’s true manner for initial audiences. Wayne snaps the movie back onto its bitter track. The Hollywood legend always seems to stand outside of his pictures, never really bothering to act in the traditional sense. He is often content to simply impose his presence on the scene at hand. Director John Ford – a master of composition, whether framing a crowded saloon or the vastness of his beloved Monument Valley – understood that Wayne’s basic appeal was physical. Much of The Searchers features the star at his stolid best: standing rock still as if he were part of the surrounding landscape, as he does in silhouette in the movie’s final, iconic frame. That image has haunted movie history because The Searchers haunts it too. Decades before an apologist Western such as Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves, The Searchers bluntly addressed this country’s racism toward Native Americans by putting one of Hollywood’s most famous faces on it.