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Alan Le May's best-selling novel, on which the film was based, was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post under the title The Avenging Texans from 6 November to December 3, 1954. The Hollywood Reporter review gives the film's running time as 110 min. According to a April 1, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, some scenes were shot on location in Canada and Colorado. Hollywood Reporter production charts noted that the majority of location shooting was done in Monument Valley, UT, while studio sequences were shot at RKO-Path. Several modern sources add Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles' Griffith Park as a shooting site.
The Searchers was the first film produced by C. V. Whitney Pictures. Whitney, a well-known sportsman and millionaire, had previously been a partner with David O. Selznick in Pioneer Pictures and other ventures, including the production of Gone With the Wind and the formation of the Technicolor company. Whitney also had a long association with producer Merian C. Cooper, one of director John Ford's partners in Argosy Pictures.
Ford's son Patrick acted as the associate producer and his son-in-law, Ken Curtis, played "Charlie McCorry"; John Wayne's son Pat played "Lt. Greenhill"; and Lana Wood, who played "Debbie" as a young girl, was actress Natalie Wood's sister. Olive Carey and Harry Carey, Jr. were the widow and son of the late western actor Harry Carey, who was a longtime friend of and major influence on both Ford and Wayne. Many modern film critics have pointed out that in the final shots of The Searchers, when Wayne is seen in the doorway, he paid tribute to Carey by grasping his right elbow with his left hand, a gesture that Carey often made in his pictures.
Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Mae Marsh, Gertrude Astor, Peter Ortiz and Maj. Philip Kieffer. In his autobiography, Iron Eyes Cody states that he also was in the film, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed.
The film received mostly positive reviews, although some reviewers commented negatively on the complexity of the "Ethan Edwards" character and the lack of explanation of his actions. According to an early plot synopsis contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Ethan's rescue of "Debbie" at the film's end was to be explained by his statement that she resembled her late mother, with whom Ethan was in love. Although many modern critics have noted an implied romantic relationship between Ethan and "Martha," it is only vaguely hinted at in the film.
The Searchers was a financial success, but it did not receive any Academy Award nominations. However, in 1971 Peter Bogdanovich produced and directed a documentary on Ford, Directed by John Ford, that utilized the opening and closing of The Searchers, and in 1972, a Sight and Sound poll of international film critics included it on a list of the twenty best films of all time, and a number of modern directors have cited the picture as an influence on their work. In 1991, Warner Bros. released a thirty-fifth anniversary video edition of the film, which included documentary footage of the making of The Searchers. The footage was broadcast on several segments of the 1956 Warner Brothers Presents television program. In 1998, The Searchers was rated number 96 in the AFI's list of the 100 greatest movies of the century.