Reviews

'Hondo': A Man, A Woman, and The West

Hondo has everything a classic Western needs, and nothing to threaten the conventions of the genre.


Hondo

Director: John Farrow
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, James Arness, Ward Bond
Distributor: Paramount
Studio: Warner Bros.
Release date: 2012-06-05

There's nothing particularly surprising or unique about Hondo, except perhaps its reputation as the best John Ford movie John Ford never made (in fact, an uncredited Ford did direct a few sequences). Instead, it's worth watching because it represents the quintessence of a genre—in this case, the Hollywood western—and provides all the necessary ingredients, at a high level of quality, to fulfill genre expectations without attempting to do anything new or different with them. If you like classic Westerns, it's a good Saturday night watch, but not the sort of thing likely to impress your film-snob friends.

Hondo is based on the Louis L'Amour short story "The Gift of Cochise", as adapted by James Edward Grant, John Wayne's favorite screenwriter. The lead role is tailor-made for Wayne—Hondo Lane is a crack gunfighter who mysteriously arrives in an isolated settlement (a homestead in the Arizona desert, surrounded by Apaches), sets a few things to rights, and is precisely as tough as he needs to be while also observing the social niceties that would cause any schoolmarm to smile. He travels with a dog that's as independent as he is, and which displays the same level of reserve unless you crowd him too much, because that's what the mythical West was all about—space enough to be your own man (or dog) if you were self-sufficient enough to survive out there.

The homestead in question is run by Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page, a stage actress who brings real character to the role, and is handsome rather than conventionally beautiful in the Hollywood sense) in the absence of her no-good husband, who she unconvincingly tells Wayne will be returning any minute. She lives with her son Johnny (Lee Aaker), whose adorable blondness and general fixation on the big mysterious stranger had me expecting him to cry "Shane! Come back!" at some point. Their little homestead is threatened by the Apache—while Angie insists she is on good terms with them, Wayne advises her that they're angry about broken promises from other white people, and besides, a lady can't really run a homestead by herself, can she?

If she could survive without a man, then Hondo would be quite an innovative Western, but she can't and it's not. Instead, we get treated to displays of Angie's incompetence with the manly arts, as well as her inability to carry out necessary manual tasks to keep the homestead running smoothly, so conventional gender roles are not threatened, no doubt pleasing the original 1953 audience for this film. She can raise a son, and nurse a man back to health, however, and keep a civilized household as well, so she's a success in her own sphere of influence. Can you guess what's likely to happen between her and the mysterious stranger?

On the plus side, the Apache are more humanized in Hondo than they are in many Westerns of the period. Their Chief, Vittorio (Michael Pate, in a performance you have to accept in the context of '50s Hollywood conventions about ethnicity) makes Johnny his blood brother and advises Angie to take an Apache husband—not out of spite or lust, but because he rightly observes that her man is gone, and she can't work the homestead by herself. Some other Apache are less admirable, including a sneaky, cowardly fellow named Silva (played by the Mexican actor Rodolfo Acosta).

The cavalry also makes an appearance, and there's a real bang-up fight and an even better Indian attack sequence near the end, the latter of a variety that only occurred on film and in Wild West shows. Like I said, this film has everyone a standard Western should have, and nothing genre-bending enough to upset the conventional viewer.

Hondo was shot in 3-D, but hardly anyone saw it that way, and it looks perfectly fine in 2-D. Only a few sequences were obviously staged for 3-D (is that a knife I see plunging towards me?), and they're not long enough to disturb your enjoyment of the film. The cinematography by Robert Burks and Archie Stout is one of the best things about this film (of course—it's a classic Western!), and the widescreen (1:85 : 1) ratio shows off the locations to great effect.

The extras package on Hondo is well above average. First of all, there's a commentary track by Leonard Maltin, Lee Aaker, and Western historian Frank Thompson. There's also a series of short features rather clumsily strung together with Maltin intros, but the features themselves are insightful, covering the making of the film, the careers of writer James Edward Grant and actor Ward Bond, Wayne's production company Batjac, and a historical and cultural overview of the Apache. Finally, you get the theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image