“The Searchers” had blatantly racist scenes and dialogue. Wayne’s character seems to be blood thirsty, driven to find his captured niece from a band of rogue Comanche.
He views the Indians as ruthless and will kill them without a second thought. Although he is the most vocal of the group, his co-stars all seem to understand his view and attitudes, even if they don’t share all of them. He is driven to find his captured niece Debbie, who was kidnapped by marauding Comanches. Only thing is, he plans on killing Debbie once he finds her. She has been used by the “Comanche buck” as he says, so she doesn’t deserve to live.
He also has a mysterious past, he is a ex- Confederate soldiers who never reveals how he rescued Martin Pawley or how he knows so much about Comanche and speaks their language.
The amazing thing about this particular Wayne vehicle is how much it alone influenced cinema and pop culture. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert explains the reach of “The Seachers” influence. He says “Ethan's quest inspired a plot line in George Lucas' ''Star Wars.'' It's at the center of Martin Scorsese's ''Taxi Driver,'' written by Paul Schrader, who used it again in his own ''Hard Core.'' The hero in each of the Schrader screenplays is a loner driven to violence and madness by his mission to rescue a young white woman who has become the sexual prey of those seen as subhuman. Harry Dean Stanton's search for Nastassja Kinski in Wim Wenders' ''Paris, Texas'' is a reworking of the Ford story. Even Ethan's famous line ''That'll be the day'' inspired a song by Buddy Holly.” (Ebert, Roger Chicago Sun Times 11/2001)