In the landmark Western “The Searchers” (1956) directed by John Ford, John Wayne plays embittered Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards, in obsessive pursuit of Comanche Indians who have kidnapped his niece. Such is Edward’s hatred for Native Americans we spend the movie convinced he will murder, not rescue, his niece for falling into their clutches. Wayne, said one critic, was an American gone mad; in chasing the beast he had become the beast himself.
For Roger Pulvers, Ford’s revisionist take was a rare moment of cinematic reflection. For much of Pulvers’ childhood in 1950s America, Wayne embodied the national self-righteousness that he came to hate. “Even as a child, I was wary of this holier-than-thou attitude,” says Pulvers on the phone from his home in Sydney, Australia. “The books I read, the films I saw; virtually all had the theme of the fight of good against evil. And America was always the good.”
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