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The Searchers - Love and EthicsThe Searchers - Love and Ethics


The Searchers (1956)


Famous for...

John Wayne’s line “That’ll be the day” that Buddy Holly (pictured right below) turned into a classic rock ’n roll song.The Searchers - Love and Ethics


Set in...

Texas, USA, in the 1860’s and 1870’s.


Based on...The Searchers - Love and Ethics

An actual kidnapping in 1836 by Native American Comanches of a nine-year-old Texan white girl, Cynthia Ann Parker (c.1827-70), .

Twenty four years later (having married a chief and had three children), she and her daughter were captured by white soldiers (pictured right together in 1861).

She missed her sons and starved herself to death after her daughter’s death.


DirectorThe Searchers - Love and Ethics

John Ford (pictured right, who won the best director Oscar a record four times).





Key charactersThe Searchers - Love and Ethics

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), ex-soldier (pictured right).

Marty Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), his adopted nephew.


The story

In 1868 in Texas Ethan Edwards (pictured right) visits his farmer brother, Aaron, and his family:

  • wife (Martha).
  • children (Ben, Lucy and ten-year-old Debbie).

Ethan and Martha’s old love for each other is shown by his affectionate kiss on her forehead.The Searchers - Love and Ethics

The next day Ethan meets a group of local people including a preacher, Reverend Clayton. Ethan hates Native Americans because they killed his mother 16 years earlier.

Some Native American Comanches (led by their white German born chief, Scar) then:

  • burn down the farmhouse.
  • kill Aaron (pictured right above), Martha and Ben.
  • kidnap Lucy and Debbie. The Searchers - Love and Ethics

Ethan joins the Texas Rangers (led by Reverend Clayton), and they fight the Comanches. Ethan breaks away to rescue the girls with:

  • Marty Pawley (Aaron’s adopted son, pictured right).
  • Brad Jorgensen (Lucy's fiancé).

Ethan finds Lucy’s murdered body, and  then Brad is killed by the Comanches.

Ethan and Marty;

  • visit the Jorgensens (where Marty is reunited with his old sweetheart, Brad's sister, Laurie). The Searchers - Love and Ethics
  • continue their search for Debbie.

Debbie has married Chief Scar (pictured right)  who hates the whites just as much as Ethan hates Native Americans.

Once Ethan finds out about the marriage, he wants to kill Debbie , because he believes that being a Comanche wife is worse than death. Marty stops him.

Ethan and Marty:

  • eventually find Debbie (now aged 15) who wants to stay with the Native Americans.
  • return to the Comanche camp with the Texas Rangers.The Searchers - Love and Ethics


  • kills Scar.
  • escapes with Debbie (who now wants to return to her original home). 

Ethan lifts her in his arms just as he did when she was a child (pictured right).

They bring her back to the Jorgensens’ home, where Marty is reunited with Laurie (having abandoned her fiancée, Charlie McCorry, for him).The Searchers - Love and Ethics

Ethan leaves them, walking into the desert sunset (pictured right).


Lessons for love and ethics


1. Hatred consumes your soul

Ethan’s hatred of Native Americans drives him to nearly kill Debbie.

Chief Scar is also consumed by hatred of whites.

 The Searchers - Love and Ethics

2. Love conquers evil

Ethan’s love for Debbie (pictured right) finally overcomes his racist hatred.


3. Revenge is easy, forgiveness is difficult

Mrs. Jorgensen warns Ethan how harmful vengeance is. Initially it makes him more interested in killing the Comanches than finding Lucy and Debbie alive.

 The Searchers - Love and Ethics

4. Be determined

Ethan never gives up in his pursuit of Debbie and her kidnappers.

In response to Reverend Clayton’s suggestion to quit, he says:

“That’ll be the day”.

 The Searchers - Love and Ethics

5. Racism is wrong


  • loathes Native Americans.
  • shows how whites exploited them by stealing their land.

Ironically his most evil enemy, Scar, isn’t Native American but a white German!


6. Respect other people’s views

Ethan’s hatred of Native Americans makes him ignore Debbie’s initial desire to stay with them.

 The Searchers - Love and Ethics

7. Look on the bright side

Despite the problems early white settlers like herself faced, Mrs. Jorgensen is optimistic about the future. She says:

“Some day, this country’s gonna be a fine place to be”.


8. We all need love and friendshipThe Searchers - Love and Ethics

Ethan tragically finishes the film as he begins it - a lonely outsider who has no one to love.

Martha doesn’t marry him, because Aaron is a more dependable, family man.


Key quote on success

That’ll be the day, Ethan (to Reverend Clayton’s suggestion to quit).


Key quote on America

Some day, this country’s gonna be a fine place to be, Mrs. Jorgensen


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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