This pack contains a photocopiable Student's Guide and a Teacher's Commentary

In the Student's Guide the film is segmented into units of 10-15 minutes duration. This facilitates work in the normal class period. There is a series of questions for each sequence that guides the viewing of the students and encourage them to keep a personal Response Journal.

The Teacher's Commentary is a well researched separate booklet which covers issues raised in the guide.

Each pack is priced @ € 35.00, postage free. Titles are shipped on receipt of payment. Delivery is by Standard Post: next-day delivery in Ireland, and 2-10 days for international orders.

Extract from Teacher's Commentary​
 

SEQUENCE 1
"IT’S YOUR UNCLE ETHAN!"
Let the film roll until Clayton walks out of the house

What makes a man to wander?
What makes a man to roam?
What makes a man leave bed and board,
And turn his back on home?
Ride away. Ride away. Ride away.

From the start of this film a tension is set up between inside and outside. This will be highlighted in the composition of several shots, with the camera inside, in the home or in the shelter of a cave. The characters are divided into those who fit in with domestic life and those who are more 'at home' in the desert, the wilderness. The home offers shelter, comfort, warmth, civilised living and peace. All that is disturbing is kept outside. The desert is the site of violence and the dusty, arid landscape is populated by people who would live outside the law. To exist in that environment one must eschew the values of home life. We will see two households in the course of the film - that of the Edwards and the Jorgensens. The dominant personality in both is the mother. When the Edwards' homestead is destroyed all its functions are subsumed by that of the Jorgensens. A man like Ethan would leave this environment behind to go roaming in the desert. The song asks 'Why would a man do this?' and the film tries to answer that question.

"Welcome home, Ethan," starts the film's dialogue, and "Let's go home, Debbie" ends it. Martin, who is part Indian, is given a home by the Edwards after his parents die. Debbie is given a home by the Indians in similar circumstances. After five years she will tell Martin "These are my people." White supremacist notions will not accept that the Indians can provide any kind of an acceptable life for a white girl. This racist theme lies below the surface of the film.

The family are all amazed to see Ethan emerge from the desert. The American Civil War lasted from 1862-65. It is now three years after that, so Ethan has been away a long time. Martha notices Ethan first. Her theme plays as she opens the door, shading her eyes from the light. The contrast could not be greater between the two worlds - light and shade. She doesn't look comfortable outside the house. (The start of Martha's leitmotif - the tune associated with her - sounds like the opening bars of the "Rose of Tralee".) This tune will play at moments of tenderness and becomes a signifier of love itself.

Ethan moves slowly, calm and unhurried. He is dressed in a wide-brimmed hat and a long, grey overcoat. It is the coat of the army of the Confederate States. He dismounts and carries his saddlebags - which will be seen later to hold a military decoration and "fresh-minted gold" - and a sabre. The war may be over for three years, but Ethan has minded these memorabilia. The war and the stand taken by the Southern states still mean a lot to him.

Ben is fascinated with the idea of war. After supper he will ask Ethan to tell them about it. The next morning he will ask to ride with the Rangers. For him the sabre represents the world of manhood, the world of searching for cattle raiders, the world of war.

As Martha puts his coat away, Ethan is again welcomed home by his brother with a hearty handshake. He is back in the bosom of his family. The setting is warm, the wooden tones of the composition combining with the shining crockery to indicate a world at total variance with the harsh life of the desert. Warm feminine values of love and nurturing are in the ascendancy here. Martha embodies these principles and we will see her make several moves to smooth things out when awkward questions are asked, or strife threatens the household.

Martin's introduction is filmed in the same way as Ethan's earlier, insofar as the camera is inside, and he appears from the desert. He will be linked with Ethan again by the framing, when the camera catches them both, in turn, on the porch, outside the house. The music is lively and he is full of life and movement. He leaps off his horse like an Indian brave, throwing his leg over the horse's head. His costume resembles that of an Indian brave too: he wears no hat and his shirt is belted at the waist, hanging over his pants.

There is a look of hatred on Ethan's face as he glares at Martin. The life goes out of the music and the tension in the air is emphasised by the sound, as it were, of a clock ticking. Martin has been saved by Ethan and adopted by the Edwards family. Ethan now seems to be appalled that the child he rescued all those years ago was, in fact, an Indian. "A fella could mistake you for a half-breed!" he growls.

After the meal, we see Martin sitting alone on the verandah, outside the house. The music is sad and contrasts with his opening theme. This is how Ethan has made him feel. He has reminded him that he is an outsider and not part of the family. Considering Ethan has not been around for, maybe, six years, his treatment of Martin seems cruel. He is obviously a man of strong likes and dislikes, bigoted and lacking in humanity. Notwithstanding Ethan's cruel treatment of him, Martin comes in and re-asserts his right to a place in the family by bidding all "Good night", even ‘Uncle’ Ethan.

Ben is fascinated by what he considers to be the things of manhood - the sabre and war-making. Ethan has given him the sabre. It obviously means a lot to Ethan, because he has kept it since the war. But he lets it go. He also hands over his war decoration, when asked for a gold locket, by Debbie. He is a hard man of strong principles but family means a lot to him. He will part with the things of war for family.

When Ben asks awkward questions, Martha intervenes. She will not have strife in her home. She is determined to make a success of her home-making, and Aaron says she won't give up the struggle they have undertaken to make a go of it in Texas. Ethan's short temper flares up again, as his brother asks him about his restlessness before the war. Martha comes between them, literally, in the composition and Ethan reaches the lamp down to her in a gesture of consideration that belies his angry humour. He takes "fresh-minted" gold from his saddlebags to pay his way, now that he is returned. The music reflects the curiosity of Aaron as to how he came by the gold and we think of Ethan's denial of his visit to California, as mentioned by old Mose Harper. There is an air of mystery about what Ethan has been up to over the last three years. This will be accentuated by Clayton next morning, when he says that Ethan fits a lot of descriptions for crimes committed since the war. Was he one of those Confederate soldiers who refused to accept the victory of the Union forces and continued on their own private wars as outlaws?

The references to the Civil War may suggest race relations between Whites and Negroes. If this is the case, then Ethan's attitude to the Indians and their role in the film may be read as an allegory of the racial relations in the U.S. of the 1950s and the question of inter-racial adoption and marriage is being examined on a mythic level by Ford.

The camera frames Ethan on the verandah, just as it did with Martin earlier. In their introduction, and on the verandah, the camera links them. They are both outsiders. Martin has no kinship ties with the Edwards family, but he has been accepted by them as one of their own, and he blends into the family. Ethan has ties of kin but has absented himself from the family for his own private reasons for up to six years. He has missed seeing the children growing up.

A rousing military air accompanies the Rangers, as they gallop towards the household from the desert. Inside the house all are busily preparing breakfast. As on the previous evening, Martha is taking great care to lay out places at the table and provide good food for the family. Martha and the children clearly belong to the inside world of home life. The men are associated with the wilderness. Aaron came out of the shade of the house to greet Ethan. He would be part of the world of homeliness. Martin, like Ethan, came from the outside but can fit in. In one way the film is an exploration of his potential to move in either environment. He learns in the course of the film about the world of Ethan, and the world of Laurie. He chooses the latter at the film's end. The role of the women in this terrain is to bring civilised values to it, by nurturing and family life. Men like Ethan and Clayton enforce their values by fighting fire with fire.

Clayton ironically embodies the twin role of the enforcer of the laws of God and of man. He glides between these roles with ease. It is not always easy for his men to distinguish which mode he is in, and this leads to much of the film's comedy e.g. in the wedding scene he has to remind one of his Rangers to remove his spurs, as he himself dons his preachers clothes. Out on the trail, as leader of the Rangers, he asks Mose how far it is to the river, only to be told that Mose has already been baptised!

This confusion of roles is symptomatic of the overall confusion that continually surrounds Clayton. Where all was order in the house at breakfast time, all is chaos when he enters, boisterously making enquiries about Debbie's baptism, and swearing in Martin and Aaron. Ethan emerges from the rear of the composition in a touch of dramatic irony - Clayton is the only one unaware of his presence and barks at Jorgensen, who tries to let him know of Ethan's approach. The camera moves towards Ethan giving emphasis to the tête-à-tête between himself and Clayton. He sneers at Clayton. The composition has Ethan literally 'looking down on him'. Clayton rises to even things up between them. He will not be put under pressure.

Clayton gets many of his phrases from the Bible. The confusion between his two roles is emphasised by this. By the river, he will shout "Hallelujah" as he shoots an Indian, and follow it up with "Damn! Blast!" when his gun empties. He will lead the charge on the village at the end of the movie with "Brethren, we must go amongst them!"

The air of mystery surrounding Ethan's three year absence since the war is brought up again. Ethan is a die- hard and faces Clayton head-on. He doesn't mind anyone knowing about his aversion to the Northern Yankee forces. Later he will insult the young Lieutenant Greenhill by asking him to turn around - the point being that Confederate forces only recognise the soldiers of the Union when they see their backs, because, all they are used to in battle is putting the run on them. Ethan is a man of strong principles, once he sets his mind on a certain course he will follow it up no matter what. His sabre represents his stand against the Union and, in handing it over to Ben, he is passing on his spirit of resistance to the next generation. His strong-willed opposition to the government forces is matched by his pathological hatred of the Indians. He sees them as sub-human and unworthy of consideration.

Mose is one of those classic 'fool-who-speaks-wisdom' characters. His only motivation is to get his own rocking chair and have a roof over his head. He is as much a searcher as Ethan or Martin, though. He will be the one to lead Ethan and Martin to Debbie in Mexico. He will then go through captivity, acting as a lunatic to keep the Indians from killing him, and escape to inform Lieutenant Greenhill of the presence of the Indians at "Seven Fingers". At the end of the five years, Martin has grown in stature. He has always shown signs of being a good tracker, and is more suitable for the life of the desert than Brad. Mose, the wise fool, recognises this when he refuses to speak to Ethan, and instead tells Martin where Debbie is, after the wedding. Of all those in the room, it is Martin who deciphers the message, saying "Isn't that the Catto word for . . . ?" He has learnt a lot from his mentor, Ethan.

Martha is horrified to think that Ethan might be in danger of arrest by Clayton. She tries to change the subject by offering him coffee. Earlier she had tried to shield Ethan from the awkward questions of Ben and Aaron. She orders the children to leave as the talk turns to Indians. They represent her worst dread and she will do all she can to protect her children from them. The camera cuts to close-ups in this scene, increasing the tension. Ethan countermands Clayton's order, and tells Aaron to stay at home in case the raid has been carried out by Indians, as the "dodderin' old fool", Mose, warned. He will be at loggerheads with Clayton many times in the course of the film. Ethan's die-hard nature shows when he refuses to take the oath.

The Brad-and-Lucy scene is not just included for comic affect. It ties in with the theme of marriage, setting up home, and the passing on of the traditions that will civilise this rough terrain. It shows us that Brad and Lucy are on the road to setting up their own family, and gives Brad a strong claim to be included in the search when the other Rangers head home. However, it is placed just before the scene in which Ethan takes his leave of Martha. There are no words, but the gestures, actions and music suggest a feeling between Ethan and Martha that runs deeper than simple familial affection. One asks were they once young lovers like Brad and Lucy. Did Ethan's yearning to wander and roam mean that Martha settled on his brother as second best? Does the affair of Laurie and Charlie, later, resemble her choosing of Aaron? Will the marriage of Laurie and Martin be all the more successful because he has 'wandered' and 'roamed' and 'searched' 'out there' only to find his 'peace of mind' at home?
The music playing as she strokes Ethan's coat, is Martha's theme. It continues through the film after her death, and comes to signify love, deep family love. For Ethan the coat signifies the stand taken by the Southern States. It is this following of principles at all costs that has taken him away from his family, and ruined the chances of him having his own children. Martha clearly regrets this. Clayton is amused by the Brad and Lucy incident, and puzzled by the leave-taking of Ethan and Martha, if we are to judge by the facial expression.

Extract from Student's Guide: 

SEQUENCE 1
"IT’S YOUR UNCLE ETHAN!"
Let the film roll until Clayton leaves the house

What questions are posed by the opening song? Watch out for references to 'home' throughout the film. Who is the first person to appear in the film? What is the reaction of the family to the figure approaching from the desert? Describe the desert. What kind of people could live in that environment? Describe Uncle Ethan, his costume and the props associated with him.

The tune playing as Martha walks up the steps to the house is the same as that which opened the film. Try to remember it and notice when it comes on to the soundtrack. Where did Ethan get the sabre? What else about him fits with the sword? What is the significance of the late 1868? How does Ben feel about the sabre? How does Ethan feel about it?

Freeze the frame as Aaron says "Welcome home, Ethan." Describe the composition. How does the setting fit in with the opening song?

What do you think of Martin's entry into the film? Describe his actions and costume when he first appears. How would you describe the music that plays? Describe how the camera frames Martin as he enters. Have you seen this technique used before? How would you describe the look on Ethan's face when Martha tells him who the young man is? What happens to the music at this point? What do we learn about Martin in this scene? What do we learn about Ethan? Would you agree that the atmosphere is tense when Martin sits down to his meal? How is this tension built up?

How is Martin feeling as he sits on the verandah? Describe the music now? How does it compare with the music that played as he was introduced? What has Martin been reminded of by Ethan? Examine Martin's behaviour as he says goodnight. How does he fit in to the family?

Before he goes to bed, Ben enquires about the war. Find out what you can about the American Civil War. Who fought? What were the issues? Who lost? Comment on Martha's reaction when Ben asks, "Why didn't you come home before know?" Why does she act like this?

Ethan gives Debbie a medal. Where did he get it from? Why does he part with it? Does it mean anything to him? How long has he got it? Does it fit in with any other props associated with him?
Why has Aaron stayed on after the Todds left? How would you describe Ethan's mood as he stands up and throws the pouches of gold coins to Aaron? Can you explain this? Martha comes between them to get the lamp. Can you suggest what might be going on in her mind? Describe the music as Aaron says "Why it's fresh minted!" Have you any idea where Ethan might have got the gold?

How do you think Ethan feels as he sits on the porch? Why is he framed like this? How does it fit in with the framing of Martin earlier? In what ways are Martin and Ethan (i) similar (ii) different?
What kind of music plays as the Rangers approach the homestead? What is going on in the house as they make their approach? Make a list of all the characters we have met so far and say where they appear first. Can you see any pattern emerging? What kind of a house does Martha keep? How does it fit with the overall environment? What kind of a person is Reverend/Captain Clayton? How does he affect the goings on in the house? What question does he ask Debbie? Why does he want Martin and Aaron? Why does Ben want to go along?

Describe how Uncle Ethan enters. What gives emphasis to his presence? What do you think of him as he leans over Clayton? How does Clayton respond? Why does he respond like this? How is this 'head to head' emphasised? Where did Clayton get the phrase, "The Prodigal Brother"? If you don't know what surrender he is speaking about then you haven't done enough research on the American Civil War! What do we learn of Ethan? Can you connect what Clayton says to the conversation after supper the previous evening? What does the sabre represent for Ethan? Why did he give it to Ben?

What do you make of the Mose character? Can you explain the look on Martha's face as she reacts to the talk between Clayton and Ethan? Do you notice anything about the use of the camera from the time Clayton says "I already swore him in", until Martha tells the children to leave? Explain this move by the director. Why does Ethan want Aaron to "stay close"? Why does Martha order the children out? Notice the same camera technique as Clayton and Ethan talk about taking the oath. What do we learn about Ethan in this scene? Can you suggest what Martha is thinking as she says "Coffee, Ethan"? How does it fit in with her behaviour so far in the film? Do you know what Ethan means when he says he took his oath to the Confederate States of America?

Why is the scene with Brad and Lucy included in the film? Has it any connection with the scene that follows it? Reverend Captain Clayton witnesses both. What does he think of each? Do you recognise the music as Martha handles Ethan's coat? Do you know where Ethan got that coat? What does it mean to him?

Make a list of all the contrasts you have noted so far in the film under the headings 'setting' and 'character'.