Every decade since 1952 critics submit their choices to the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine for the greatest films of all time and over the years this list has come to be regarded as one of the most critically defining.
Since 1962, Citizen Kane topped the list without skipping a beat but was at last dethroned by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo this year. Several John Ford films have often appeared on the list, with The Searchers ranking higher than any other. This year, out of 21 Ford films nominated, it reached its highest ranking yet coming in seventh out of a total of 250. The next Ford films to appear among the top 250 are The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (125), followed by The Grapes of Wrath (184) and finally, My Darling Clementine (247)*.
John Ford created perhaps the greatest of all westerns with this tale of a Civil War veteran doggedly hunting the Comanche who have kidnapped his niece.
“The Searchers manages to be both a rousing adventure movie and a melancholy film poem exploring the American values at the heart of the Western genre.”
Ed Lowry, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1990
Cinema’s poet of the Wild West, John Ford already had countless westerns (among over 100 films) under his belt before re-teaming with regular star John Wayne for this disturbing story of racism, obsession and revenge.
Intending to kill his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood) when he finds her, assuming her long since defiled by her Comanche kidnappers, morally complex Ethan Edwards is the role that convinced many that Wayne could truly act. Ford sets the hulking actor against the awe-inspiringly rugged terrain of Arizona’s Monument Valley and, in the iconic final shot, frames him within the doorway of a homestead, standing outside on the cusp of a civilization where he can never fit in. It is one of the medium’s most unforgettable images of isolation.
A lifelong fan of Ford’s film, Martin Scorsese created in Taxi Driver (1976) a kindred tale of an obsessive avenger attempting to rescue a young girl from malign influence.
For the complete Sight and Sound poll listing, click here.
*I have listed the actual placement of the individual films on the list of 250 (i.e., My Darling Clementine is the 247th film listed out of 250). BFI.org’s list groups films together that have the same number of votes.