I Hate To Admit It, But I Didn’t Love The Searchers (1956)

For whatever reason, I’ve never gotten into westerns. When I was a kid, I’d instantly turn off Gunsmoke reruns on Nick at Night and never found myself watching a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood cowboy movie on Saturdays with my dad. Maybe it’s because Ohio is so far away from the west or the genre had mostly died out by the 80s when I was starting to watch and understand movies, but I just neither cared for nor was exposed to westerns.

But, between reading Preacher–which features the ghost of John Wayne prominently as well as plenty of references to his movies including The Searchers— and enjoying A Fistful Of Dollars which I should have blogged about and the Rat Pack western Sergeants 3, I thought it was about time to sit down and watch one of the most well-regarded westerns of all time: The Searchers. Not only does this one star The Duke, but it’s directed by John Ford, the king of the 50s western. Oh, it’s also considered one of the best films of all time, ranking pretty high on lots of lists. We’re talking all movies, not just westerns. But, unfortunately, I didn’t fall in love with it.

I dug the story about John Wayne and his young friend tracking down the Indians who killed their family/friends and trying to find any of the womenfolk who were abducted in the raid. It’s a long and tiring story, not just for the viewer, but for the characters as their journey spans many years and includes everything from accidental marriage to throw downs with enemies of all kinds. Don’t get me wrong, I love John Wayne, his character and attitude throughout the movie, but after watching it I didn’t think to myself “Damn, that’s one of the greatest movies of all time.” When I watched Citizen Kane for the first time in my college film class I wasn’t all that thrilled, but then the professor explained that it revolutionized film from both a storytelling and filming standpoint. Am I just not getting Searchers? Please, if you’re a fan of The Searchers, tell me why in the comments section. I usually don’t mind not liking a well-regarded flick, but I always like talking about movies and am curious to see if anyone’s got some information or a take on the movie that I might have missed. It seemed like your basic revenge story (a good one, mind you) but it didn’t feel elevated to that upper echelon of films in my head. So, hit me up and let me know why you dig the movie (or feel free to agree with me, I’m cool with that too).

Christmas Stories: Miracle On 34th Street (1947) & Love Actually (2003)

While decorating our tree and cleaning up, Em and I watched a few classic Christmas movies, one an old classic in the form of the original Miracle On 34th Street and a new classic Love Actually.

Did you know that Warner Bros. actually had so little faith in Miracle On 34th Street that they released it in the spring and tried to avoid advertising the fact that the movie takes places at Christmas (hence this poster instead of one of the more Santa-themed ones you might be familiar with). That’s crazy, right? They apparently thought it would be too schmaltzy. And actually so did I. My folks gave me this movie on DVD back when I first moved to NY and I’ll be honest, I never watched it until this weekend, though I had seen it when I was younger. But, considering we’d already watched White Christmas, Holiday Inn and a few other favorites, we landed on Miracle because Em had never seen it. In the end we were both pleasantly surprised. See, the idea is that a man claiming to be Santa replaces a drunk “Santa” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends up working in the main store as Santa. Maureen O’Hara hires him and her daughter (Natalie Wood) comes to form a friendship with the man even though she doesn’t believe he’s Santa (or in anything non-logical, she’s like mini Vulcan thanks to her mom’s programming). Of course, as you might expect, the man claiming to be Santa has his sanity called into question and visits with a crappy jerk who’s not even really a psychiatrist, who, eventually drives Santa crazy enough that he knocks the jerk in the head with his cane. Somehow, this gets him institutionalized, so O’Hara’s neighbor/love interest (played by John Payne) represents him as a lawyer and eventually SPOILER WARNING proves that he’s Santa thanks to some delivered mail.

Like I said, I thought it would be too ooey gooey, but the film is really well done. I think it’s balanced with Christmas spirit and real world doubt, kind of like The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (it’s not as weird of a comparison as you might think). I also really enjoyed Wood’s performance and was shocked to read the she died in 1981 after falling off a boat that her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken were in. It’s really too bad. So, give Miracle a shot, have a good time and enjoy some fantastic performances.

Though if you’re looking for a real rollercoaster of a Christmas movie, I can’t recommend Love Actually more as it is one of my favorites of the last 10 years (along with Elf). Love Actually is one of those movies that has a ton of big time British actors (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, and plenty of others) with several stories interacting with each other in all kinds of ways you don’t necessarily notice on the first viewing. I’m not going to get into all the stories, but Grant plays the Prime Minister who falls in love with one of his assistants and Neeson tries to help his son get the girl of his dreams even after his wife (and the kid’s mom) dies prematurely. What I love about Love Actually, is not only does it cover the gamut of emotions you might feel around the holidays, but it’s intricately put together. I’ve seen this movie probably around 5 or 6 times and I’m always recognizing new things and connections between characters that I didn’t catch the last time around. I also like it because it reminds me of a really good Nick Hornby book (and not just because it’s British), but because there isn’t a single character that feels like a one-trick pony.

I did have a little trouble this time around with Laura Linney’s character. See, she’s American and plays as such. Her character arc involves her finally going out with this guy she’s been crushing on forever, but she’s also taking care of her mentally handicapped brother who continually takes precedence over everything else. And by “taking care of” I mean, he’s in an institution that lets him call her at all hours of the day. Aside from not believing that she’d kick the super-hot dude out of bed, I also don’t get why her mentally handicapped American brother is with her in England? There are plenty of plausible explanations, but I do wish it would have been addressed because it nags at me (or at least it did this time around). But, that’s a pretty minor nitpick and I still really have a good time watching this one every year.

Another thing about this movie that I enjoy is the fact that every year it seems like I recognize someone in it that I didn’t the year before. The last time it was Martin Freeman (a.k.a. Tim from the British Office), this time it was  January Jones playing one of the American girls that a British dude meets in a bar. See, he figured that he’d score like crazy in the States so he just bought a ticket and flew out. He went to the first bar the cab found and lucked out finding not one but four hot chicks who all sleep together and invite him to stay over. Good job, man!

So, as you can probably tell from this brief description, this movie has a lot going on. Everyone I’ve handed it to has loved it and I think you will too. Just give it a shot tough guy!