Hondo (1953)

Directed by John Farrow
Written by James Edward Grant

It feels like it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a movie with John Wayne in it in this marathon, so I’m certainly glad to have his presence back all things considered. One of the many things I wanted to achieve from this marathon was a more well formed opinion on such legendary contributors like John Wayne and other actors/directors famous within the genre. We’ve had a decent sample size to this point, but I’ll still hold off a final opinion with many more entries yet to come, but overall I think Wayne lives up to his larger than life billing. He has a way with his performances which makes him feel more at home in these settings than any other actor I’ve come across. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I think he’s the best actor either. That’s something altogether different.

Hondo Lane (John Wayne), an Army dispatch rider who has lived his life in the west, comes upon the ranch of Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page), who is skeptical of this stranger while her husband, she claims, is away for the time. Hondo soon becomes welcome on the ranch, which is in Apache country, after he ingratiates himself with Angie and her son, and it becomes more and more apparent that Angie’s husband is dead and never coming back. Hondo warns that the US treaty with the Apache has been broken, and she and her son are in danger, creating a tenuous relationship between the Lowe’s, Hondo and Vittorio (Michael Pate), the Apache chief who has been friendly with both in the past.

I was struck by the similarities (and differences) between this and Shane. This film is in fact quite different, but both Hondo and Shane was west-wise characters who come to support and in some ways protect friendly ranchers during a difficult time. Shane is a far superior film however, mostly owing to its ambition and story being much more well-rounded and fulfilled. The problem I found with Hondo was its slightness, which would be an issue easily overcome if the character of Hondo had a little more mystique or flare to him. Instead, he’s just another John Wayne character, a role which Wayne himself brings very little too. How often can he simply play himself and get away with it? Shane has plenty of twists and turns in its story, while Hondo speeds through and is over before you know it.

Geraldine Page is great here, however, and hers is a story I’m very much interested in, but by focusing so much on Hondo and what he brings to the table, her fortitude and denial and largely overlooked, which is a shame since it ought to be the feature of the story, along with her relationship with her son. To be honest, I was very worried reading the synopsis of this film prior to watching, fearing Wayne would merely be the “protector” for a weak woman incapable of survival without a man in her life. While that scenario is partially true, Page adds much more depth and strength to Angie than I was expecting.

It should be noted, I guess, that like The Moonlighter before it, Hondo was also a gimmicky 3-Dimension film during its time. While I of course didn’t view it in 3-D, there is an obvious use of the technology during a knife fight where the knife is repeatedly thrust directly at the camera. It’s a shame that even way back then, filmmakers would stoop to gimmicks to get people in the theater seats, but it’s such a small part of the film it’s really just a footnote in a film that otherwise is quite slight and disappointing. The crisp bluray copy I watched was beautiful. I wish more older color films would get the treatment, but it also didn’t have the sweeping landscape shots something like Shane featured in its use of color. A rather forgettable entry, both for Wayne and the marathon in general.

★★ – Didn’t Like It

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