Would we miss a thrill-packed screening of an American film treasure accompanied by the expertise of a Pulitzer-Prize wining journalist? As the Duke would say, “That’ll be the day.”
This past Friday, the LEAP Ambassadors saddled up in their western garb and rode down to the Katy and E. Don Walker Education Center to volunteer at the showing of The Searchers. The 1956 western masterpiece, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, follows the story of a Confederate soldier’s return to his Texas home three years after the Civil War. However, the joy of reuniting with his brother and sister-in-law is short-lived, when a Comanche tribe attacks his family. After the raid, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) discovers that his brother’s family has been killed and her two daughters kidnapped by the tribe leader. It is then up to him and his brother’s adoptive son Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) to journey through Comanche territory in search of little Debbie Edwards (Natalie Woods) and her older sister Lucy Edwards (Pippa Scott).
Before the screening, the guests enjoyed a reception in the Center’s lobby area with popcorn, chips, and a punch of our own concoction. It was during this time that the attendants had the chance to talk with former The Washington Post journalist and author of “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend”: Glenn Frankel. In his book, Frankel discusses the film’s historical background and significance in American film culture. Apart from providing signatures to his book, Frankel had the opportunity to interact with guests who shared his admiration towards the film.
As a bonus, guests also had the chance to venture into the Walker Education Center’s art gallery, where they could see the wonderful work of Mark Burns. As another treat, SHSU History Professor Dr. Jim Olson stopped by to watch the film. In fact, he brought an autographed copy of his book on John Wayne to give to Mr. Frankel, and Mr. Frankel gave Olson an autographed copy of “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend.” It was a nice moment.
Moreover, in the center of the foyer was Burns’ 25 foot panorama of the Grand Canyon. Although the film was shot in Monument Valley not the Grand Canyon, the landscape evoked the rugged western landscape of the film very well, and set the stage for a wonderful evening.
The film was introduced by Glenn Frankel whereupon he briefly discussed the topics of his book.
From this presentation, what was really captivating was Frankel’s devotion to learn more about the film, one which ultimately led to his extensive research. By sharing his experiences we were able learn about the film’s capacity to revive Ford’s dejected spirit, the homage offered to western movie legend Harry Carry by John Wayne, the dynamic relationship between all of the actors, and much more. Furthermore, we gained a greater understating of Ford’s artistic ability in directing the film, one which inspired renowned directors such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Whether it was our first time or our hundredth to view The Searchers, Frankel was able to instill in us a greater appreciation towards the film. Through the screening of the film, my second time to watch it, it was hard not to wonder how much this movie meant to the rest of our guests.
As a young eighteen year old I lacked the intimate bond of other viewers who had first watched the film closer to its release. The Searchers had the power to foster in Frankel’s youth a love for charismatic characters, intriguing plots, groundbreaking directing techniques, which would later in his life compel him to devote part of his life to the film. Because of this I feel all the more fortunate to have been part of this experience.
After the screening, the ambassadors, Political Science Professor Mike Yawn, English Professor Ralph Pease, Wynne Home operator Linda Pease, and Glenn Frankel enjoyed dinner at Carbonero. It was here that we continued to indulge on the film and had the opportunity to learn more about Frankel’s career in journalism. As the night drew to a close we marked the end of a very restless week, one which will reside within me for a very long time after meeting some of the most fascinating and inspiring people.