a perennial top pick when it comes to best westerns or best films lists.
i’ve seen it 4 times and slept 2 or 3 of those times. wayne’s character is tortured by racism and the civil war and probably a host of other things. and this is the strength of the film – the host of other things that we don’t really ever see or know about. there’s a lot in the film that we don’t see – the damaged bodies left by the comanche, the affair (or whatever it is) that occurs between wayne and his brother’s wife, the surrender of the south in the civil war, the scalpings, the kidnappings, and many other things. the most dramatic elements of the film are excised, purposely i’m sure, but i don’t know that it’s something that translates today. and this is what i was getting at in my review in 2002 – the film leaves a lot out and i think that plays well in the 50s. today’s audience, for better or worse, wants to see what they’re missing. on the whole i think the film is overrated. wayne’s performance is good, not legendary. the setting is great (despite being factually inaccurate – monument valley isn’t texas, though texas might wish it was). the cinematography is another of the film’s strengths. so is the music, though it’s sometimes too literal for me.
the plot is slow and contains seemingly excessive elements. i think you’d be hard pressed to justify the existence of every scene in the film. when seen in light of what is purposely left out, it’s puzzling that some of these scenes are included.
ultimately, i predict that that film will fade in its perceived greatness in the coming decades. or maybe i’m wrong. i’m apparently wrong about john ford. i’ve seen many of his films, certainly enough to judge him, yet i don’t think of him as a pantheon director. andrew sarris does, though. so does my dad. kurosawa called him “the master.” and orson welles said he learned everything he needed to know about cinema from “stagecoach.” all these people know more about film than i ever will, yet i can’t get excited about any of his films outside of the grapes of wrath and, to a lesser extent, the man who shot liberty valance. it’s an important film that has had elements borrowed from it in films like star wars, but that’s not the way i judge a work, as you well know. if it were, then the bible would be the best book of all-time, followed by aesop’s fables.