Martin Scorsese Once Said John Wayne in ‘The Searchers’ was the ‘Greatest Performance’

by Keeli Parkey

Whether you are a fan of his films or not, it’s obvious that acclaimed director Martin Scorsese knows a good movie when he sees one. He also knows when an actor gives a terrific performance in a film.

According to comments the director once made, he saw what he called the “greatest performance” by an actor when he was just a youngster.

The actor in question was none other than John Wayne – “The Duke” himself. And, the film in which he so impressed a young Scorsese was the 1956 movie “The Searchers.”

According to, Wayne played Ethan Edwards in this film directed by the legendary filmmaker John Ford.

In fact, Scorsese loved Wayne’s performance in the film so much that he once called it “the greatest performance of a great American actor.”

This was shared by the official Instagram account dedicated to John Wayne on Wednesday (May 19).

Martin Scorsese Saw John Wayne in ‘The Searchers’ as a Youngster

During an interview with the American Film Institute, Martin Scorsese shared his memories of seeing “The Searchers”

“Myself and my friends went to see ‘The Searchers’ at the Criterion Theatre uptown. We had just graduated that day from parochial school – the eighth grade – and I guess we were 12 or 13 years old. And, we treated ourselves to go see ‘The Searchers,'” the famous director recalled. “We came in in the middle, which was the usual at the time. You come in the middle, then you watch the beginning again.”

What he saw on the big screen that day impressed the young Martin Scorsese. In fact, he told the AFI that the film was “extraordinary.”

“And, there it was in VistaVision. You know, this extraordinary movie,” he recalled. “… what happens you go see a Western directed by John Ford, whom by that time I kind of figured out was this terrific director, and (had) John Wayne in it. By that time I had put the two names together. When they were both on a film, it was usually very interesting for boys, particularly.”

The performance John Wayne gave in “The Searchers” was scary, according to Martin Scorsese.

“And, you sit there and suddenly this character – this lonely character – comes out of the, out of the desert or something and he’s absolutely terrifying. I mean he’s with all – well he’s filled with – he just literally acts out the racism, the worst aspects of racism of our country, you know, and it’s right there. It’s right there,” Scorsese said. “And you could see the hate. You could see it building. You could also understand how he could go that way. …”

Director Martin Scorsese talks about John Wayne and “The Searchers” with the American Film Institute in the video below.