John Wayne's Greatest Roles: Ethan Edwards in The Searchers

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For half a century, John Wayne forged a legacy as one of the most beloved stars of American cinema. Whether he was playing a rugged and rowdy rancher, a justice-seeking lawman or a fearless soldier on the frontlines of battle, Duke always gave his all in every role he stepped into. Now, after considering the opinions of John Wayne's incredible film career. Despite the ways in which they vary, this collection of iconic characters all share one common thread: the incomparable charisma of John Wayne. Get our entire list of Duke's 50 Greatest Roles in Volume 33 of the Official John Wayne Collector's Edition HERE and in the meantime, take a sneak peek at the new issue below.


John Wayne Greatest Roles Ethan Edwards The Searchers Spread


#3: Ethan Edwards from The Searchers

"I don't believe in surrenders."


Somewhat ironically, John Wayne's portrayal of a man struggling to adapt with the changing times would go down as one of his most timeless performances. Midway through his iconic career, Duke would star in Tom Ford's The Searchers as Ethan Edwards, a character that lives on as one of the most complex the actor ever brought to life on the big screen.

A weathered Confederate who continues to hold on to hate from both his past and present, Ethan Edwards soon finds himself in an extremely personal battle when members of his family are slaughtered at their home by the Comanche. In the midst of the horror of finding the bodies back at the ranch, Edwards determines his nieces Lucy (Pippa Scott) and Debbie (Natalie Wood) have been taken alive. With his team of trackers assembled, he sets out into Comanche territory. Early in the mission, Edward's mettle is tested when he finds Lucy's body and, upon being asked by a member of his search party about the details of the traumatic discovery, yells, "What do you want me to do, draw you a picture?!" Even with the confirmed loss of one of the girls and the possibility that Debbie has become complicit in her capture, Edward refuses to quit—though his motives become opaque. If she has indeed "gone Comanche," it appears likely that Edwards might kill her himself. But when he finally reaches the site where Debbie is being held, Edwards fights off the captors as well as the deep-rooted hatred brewing inside him. Scooping up his niece, he quietly tells her, "Let's go home, Debbie."

Duke's complex characterization of Ethan Edwards completely wowed audiences and critics. Boxoffice Magazine declared in its review that "A goodly proportion of observers will opine that the top-lining performance by John Wayne is the unquestioned best of his long and impressive career." The Searchers would later be selected as one of the first 25 films to be preserved in the National Film Registry, and Ethan Edwards now stands tall among the best-crafted characters of John Wayne's legendary career.


Get more stories like this one in the Official John Wayne Collector's Edition, Volume 33—now available HERE.


John Wayne Magazine Volume 33 Greatest Roles Cover