Paramount // 1953 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 29th, 2012
Out of the gunsmoke into her heart!
"Everybody gets dead. It was his turn."
Hondo Lane (John Wayne, The Searchers) is an army dispatch rider who wanders onto the property of Mrs. Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful) and her young son Johnny (Lee Aaker, Bye Bye Birdie). Unfortunately, Mrs. Lowe's property is located in the middle of a vast battleground which will soon by occupied by warring members of the U.S. Cavalry and a local Apache tribe. Hondo offers to protect Mrs. Lowe, and begins to develop feelings for her despite the fact that she's still married. Are Hondo's feelings doomed to remain unrequited? Additionally, can Hondo broker some sort of peace treaty between the military men he works for and the Apaches he admires?
Here are five amusing things you need to know about Hondo:
1. John Wayne plays a character who claims to be part Indian, and he explains the mystical smelling powers of Native Americans in a passionate exchange of dialogue with Geraldine Page:
Hondo: "Indians can smell white people."
Angie: "I don't believe it."
Hondo: "Well, it's true. I'm part Indian and I can smell you when I'm downwind of you."
Angie: "That's impossible."
Hondo: "No, it isn't impossible, Mrs. Lowe. You baked today. I can smell fresh bread on you. Sometime today, you cooked with salt pork. Smell that on you, too. You smell all over like soap; you took a bath. And on top of that, you smell all over like a woman. I could find you in the dark, Mrs. Lowe, and I'm only part Indian."
Truly, Hondo Lane was both the Sherlock Holmes and the W.B. Yeats of New Mexico.
2. There's a scene in which Hondo teaches a six-year-old boy to swim by picking him up, throwing him into a pond and laughing as the poor kid desperately attempts to stay afloat. Remarkably, this scene does not end in tears but rather with the jubilant exclamation, "I can swim! I can swim!"
3. There's a scene in which Hondo tells Mrs. Lowe that she reminds him of his late squaw. She reacts with astonishment:
Angie: "Of an Indian girl? Was she fair?"
Hondo: "Her hair was as black as ten feet down. Did you ever see a crow's wing, how black and gleaming it is?"
Angie: "Yes. But if she was dark and I'm fair..."
Hondo: "Why you reminded me of her?"
Hondo: "I don't know. I've thought about that. You don't look anything like her."
How strange! Obviously, the only defining feature a woman has which is worth remembering is her looks, so what on earth could possibly connect two women who don't look much like each other?
4. The film was shot in 3-D (no, really) but is presented in plain old 2-D on this Blu-ray release, meaning you get a ton of hilarious shots in which John Wayne pokes things toward the screen. Also, the film contains an intermission despite the fact that it has a running time of 84 minutes (less than half the running time of an intermission-worthy epic like The Ten Commandments).
5. The film has a schizophrenic relationship with the Apache, at times extolling their nobility but still encouraging us to cheer when they are being slaughtered by the Cavalry. This fractured point-of-view is highlighted by an entirely-too-glib dialogue exchange late in the movie.
Lieutenant McKay: "General Crook will be here within a month with a
Buffalo Baker: "That'll be the end of the Apache."
Hondo: "Yeah, the end of a way of life. It was a good way of life."
Then happy music swells on the soundtrack, and everyone cheerfully saunters off.
So no, Hondo isn't exactly a great piece of cinema, but it's a reasonably entertaining one, if you're willing to overlook its particularly dated social perspective ("A woman should know how to cook!" Hondo insists). Its quick pace, short running time and smart use of Wayne's charismatic screen presence make it an easy watch, and there's some genuine moral complexity in the subplot involving Page's estranged husband (even if the filmmakers make it a little too easy to root for Hondo by presenting the husband as both foolish and villainous). It's based on a novel by the prolific Louis L'Amour and is a comparably traditional, familiar, engaging experience.
Hondo (Blu-ray) has received a very attractive 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which does a nice job of highlighted the film's vivid color cinematography. The brighter colors have a lot of pop, depth is impressive and detail is sturdy throughout. There are moments in which the grain looks strangely frozen, but this doesn't prove to be a significant issue. A handful of shots are soft and blurry, but for the most part this is a stellar transfer. I'm much less enthusiastic about the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, which suffers from some significant distortion early on during a number of dialogue scenes. Things get better in that department as the film proceeds, but the large-scale battle scenes sound disappointingly flat and tinny. The sweeping score generally sounds stellar, though. Supplements are both generous and Leonard Maltin-centric: A commentary with Maltin, historian Frank Thompson and actor Lee Aaker, a quintet of featurettes ("The Making of Hondo," "Profile: James Edward Grant," "The John Wayne Stock Company: Ward Bond," "From the Batjac Vaults" and "The Apache"), an introduction from Maltin, a photo gallery and a trailer.
Hondo isn't among John Wayne's finest westerns, but it's a solid representation of what the western genre was like circa 1953 and should prove satisfying to fans of both The Duke and L'Amour.
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery