Hondo: Special Collector’s Edition / McLintock!: Authentic Collector’s Edition (1953)

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Yvonne De Carlo, Patrick Wayne, Stefanie Powers, Jerry Van Dyke, Edgar Buchanan
(Batjac Productions, 1963) Rated: Not rated
DVD release date: 11 October 2005 (Paramount)

by Zack Adcock

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John Wayne was bigger than an action hero. The Duke appeared in roughly 170 films over the span of 50 years. That averages out to more than three films per year. Some would argue that Wayne’s prolific output as an actor, producer, and director supersedes the quality of much of his work, but Paramount’s recent round of DVD releases suggest otherwise, guiding naysayers in the direction of Wayne’s classics.

Historian Frank Thompson says as much when he describes Wayne in Hondo (1953), now released as a Special Edition DVD. For “The Making of Hondo,” he asserts, “Hondo is a very classic Wayne role… There’s nothing really surprising about the part, but I think it does stress something that is a real Wayne attribute, in his honesty and straightforwardness.” In other words, Hondo Lane is another of Wayne’s loners, steadfast and headstrong. Forced to watch over both the matrimonially abandoned Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her fatherless son Johnny (Lee Aaker), Hondo must learn to appreciate “domestic” life.

But his story is not so straightforward as this plot premise suggests. Hondo is half Apache. And this complicates the film’s representations of the white-Apache conflict. Though the script includes terms such as “squaw” and “red,” the lead Apache characters are often reasonable and communicative. That Vittorio (Michael Pate), the Apache chief, stakes claim to Angie as a wife because her husband has gone AWOL is unfortunate, but this is almost exactly what Hondo does later (successfully, I might add). Vittorio is deemed a “savage,” whereas Hondo appears gallant.

If Hondo displays the traits of a quintessential Wayne Western, then McLintock! is a classic farce. Loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew, the film pins G.W. McLintock (Wayne) as a cattle magnate whose relationships with wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara) and daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers) have spun out of control. With a tagline like “He tamed the West… But could he tame her?”, we expect the coming clash between bullheaded Katherine and McLintock. As pointed out in the making-of featurette, Wayne and O’Hara had such “chemistry” in their films together (including Rio Grande [1950], The Quiet Man [1952], and Big Jake [1971]), that moviegoers took them to be a real-life couple. Here again they are remarkable, as Katherine reduces McLintock to drunken shambles and he puts her “in her place.” They challenge conventional romantic pairings in Westerns. McLintock and Katherine have no way of communication except through banter and physical comedy, and they make the most of it.

These Special Editions compile old and new bonus material, including making-of docs for each film that incorporate extensive current interviews with principal actors, commentary tracks involving the actors as well as Thompson and Leonard Maltin. Observations by Maltin and Thompson remain pertinent to what’s happening on-screen, offering solid background on production and historical contexts. They discuss everything from the use of color to Wayne’s reputation as an actor who gave his directors hell, almost taking over the picture himself. Thompson at one point recalls Norma Desmond’s famous line, “We used to have faces,” applicable to Wayne and O’Hara, as well as supporting actors like Ward Bond and Yvonne DeCarlo.

Both DVDs offer histories of Wayne’s production company, Batjac, as well as biographical information on the films’ directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers. And McLintock! includes short documentaries on everything from the anatomy of the fight scene to the history of the corset. Such bounty is offset briefly by Hondo‘s 15-minute crash course in “Apache culture” in the form a lecture by an unnamed specialist from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe is noble in intent but is disturbingly cursory.

We don’t have real-life characters like John Wayne anymore. It’s not that he was the world’s greatest actor or anything. Wayne not only came to “define” a certain sort of Western, he helped to perfect it, to solidify it as a genre, and to complicate it. They just don’t make ’em like they used to.