Ebert’s Greats – The Searchers and Triumph of the Will

Okay, so whilst I save up to go on travels and plan future things like a wedding this bucket list blog is beginning to become a review blog. Thing is that whilst I am waiting to get enough money to make a trip to Japan things like living in another country or trying foie gras reading books, watching movies and listening to albums are a nice way to nibble away at some of these really long culture items.

As such this is the first time since opening the Roger Ebert item that I can update the numbers with two new watches.

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 170/409

the-searchers-2 Title: The Searchers
Director: John Ford
Year: 1956
Country: United States

A recent metapoll of the greatest films ever released placed The Searchers as the ninth greatest film ever made. It was very well received at the time of its release with some calling it the best collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne. What stopped me from watching this film? It’s a western.

I have not seen many westerns but I either find them fascinating or I yearn to reach for the off switch. The Ox-Bow Incident? One of my favourite films. Shane? I fell asleep. Rio Bravo? Amazing performance by Dean Martin. Cimarron? Never again. Probably doesn’t help that the first western-style film I ever saw was Blazing Saddles and I am not exactly a large fan of Mel Brooks humour.

Still, the fact that I have another western to add to the list that I enjoyed means that for the first time ever the balance has shifted towards the positive opinion. Whilst I always find John Wayne interesting to watch the thing that kept me watching was the dynamic between him and Jeffrey Hunter. Also the use of Vera Myles’s lovelorn character as a device to bridge time over the five year search worked exceptionally well.

I’m going to cut this short as I think the other film is more interesting to talk about but I want to leave with this thought. Natalie Wood does not appear in this film much at all and she features on the poster credits. Yes she is a name and her character is the driving force (much like a Godot figure) but… wait I just answered my own annoyance.


Title: Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Year: 1935
Country: Germany

It was really hard to find a screenshot for this film online without either Hitler or a swastika. I managed to find one with a decent cropping though.

Here is the thing about Triumph of the Will. It is a propaganda piece. As someone who has watched a large number of films I have seen many films that are controversial upon release due to subject matter. Birth of a Nation because of the blackface and its heroic depiction of the KKK, Irreversible because of the extensive rape scene, Salo because… well it has no morally redeeming features. This film is unusual to me since it has gained controversy since its release. The fact that it actually won prizes in countries other than Germany (most notably at the World Exhibition in Paris) shows how well Riefenstahl made this film.

There is no question of the intent. The many smiling faces of handsome German men, the enthralled crowds, the bountiful supplies of food for the workers and the hyperbolic praise of Hitler all act as ways to cement the appeal of the party within the German borders. Some of the shots that Riefenstahl uses to depict the parade scenes are breathtaking and somewhat ahead of the time; goes to show what a blank cheque to produce a propaganda film can lead to. Does make me want to see what she did with her documentary of the Olympics though.

It is rich, however, for the West to simply sideline this film as a piece of pro-Nazi propaganda since I actually recognise a number of these scenes in this film from Allied propaganda films that I have seen. A nice stroke to use German footage in the battle against them but we made Donald Duck cartoons (Der Fuehrer’s Face) as propaganda for children. Come on now.


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