I find it hard to believe this movie gets so many five star reviews in this day and age. I believe many people love this movie because critics and filmmakers have told you to love it, not because of its merits. For what it's worth, I don't even mind the racial depictions in the movie that bother many. I can imagine that's how it was in the old west. Fine, whatever. They can depict that if they want.
The problem is that the story and character development--pretty much the two keys to, oh, I don't know, FILMMAKING--are both extremely thin. The Comanche enemies are one dimensional and so is Ethan (John Wayne's character). Ethan fought in the civil war, now he's got a chip on his shoulder about indians. How boring. I want one dimensional characters in over the top action movies like Die Hard, not a long (LONG!!!!) slow-moving western that's supposed to take place over the course of five years.
Overall the acting is just terrible in the whole movie. There's the whiny bitch Martin that follows Ethan around during the search. Then there are the people they keep flashing back to on the home front during the search, reading Martin's letters. All of these characters were so horrendous I was wishing they'd all die in a fire. John Wayne is the only acceptable actor in the film other than Natalie Wood and Scar (the Comanche leader), who basically have no lines at all.
Furthermore, does anyone laugh at the comic relief in this movie? I was just wishing for it to be over. I have seen funny movies from the 1950s and this is not one of them.
Giving credit where credit is due: it has some impressive landscapes and better than usual (for the era) day for night work. Except... wait for it... most of the movie was supposed to take place in Texas, but they shot it all quite obviously in New Mexico and Arizona at Monument Valley. Next time try to be less obvious when you shoot somewhere else, IMO.
It may be the case that this movie was amazing when it came out, but it certainly does not play as such in the 21st Century. Skip it.
JSS RATING: This is Bad/Good movie. It might have been good at the time, but it just isn't good now.