Army despatch rider Hondo Lane discovers a woman and her son living in the midst of warring Apaches, and he becomes their protector.
A man oughta do what he thinks is right.
Leonard Maltin proudly does the intro for the DVD special edition of Hondo, his regard for the film is obvious. Maltin, who also provides a commentary track for the film, muses on the importance of Hondo in light of the 50s tonal shift in the Western genre. A time when the Western cast off its one dimensional approach of cowboy/cavalry heroes slaughtering the enemy (Indians) purely as an entertainment medium. But is Hondo any good? And is it also worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Delmer Daves'-Broken Arrow (Maltin again) which ushered in the 50s with a bold and poignant crack of the whip? The answer to both questions possibly depends on how much you enjoy John Wayne movies in the first place. Here The Duke, playing a half bred Indian it should be noted, is wonderfully framed amongst the Camargo, Chihuahua (Mexico) location. The plot (starting off like Shane, released the same year) follows an interesting course, requiring Hondo to ultimately protect those he has fell in for, while simultaneously understanding his enemy since his blood contains the very same. Also of interest is that Hondo has very much become a solitary man of the wilderness, so when his emotions lean towards love and fatherly instincts, it makes for a nice bit of in character confliction. Something that Wayne delivers with much conviction.
Geraldine Page was Oscar nominated for her role as Angie, and rightly so as well. Strong-willed and waiting out of loyalty for her thuggish husband Ed (Leo Gordon) to return to the family home. Angie herself is conflicted by her regard for the Apache and the stirrings brought about by Hondo's considerable masculine presence. Especially when a revelation later in the piece calls for her to decide her life course. All of which gives Page the license to feed off Wayne's presence, to which it provides great interplay that makes the film a potent and intriguing character piece. Stock players such as Ward Bond and James Arness aren't given much to do, and due to the film having originally being shot in 3D, the thrusts at the screen by various weapons are more quirky than impacting. But still, backed up by a fine score from Hugo Friedhofer and containing a rousing battle laden finale (apparently filmed by John Ford as director John Farrow had been called elsewhere), Hondo is a cinematic treat for like minded individuals. It's not as important as Maltin and many others would have us believe, but that doesn't stop it being an essential watch for fans of Wayne, Page and particularly those into Westerns in general. 7/10
Batjac Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures by John Farrow, James Edward Grant, Louis L'Amour.
Stars: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate.
Genres: Drama, Romance, War, Western
Keywords: apache native american military officer cavalry 19th century
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