Directed by John Farrow
Hondo Lane finds and falls for a woman taking care of her son and her ranch in the middle of warring Apaches.
This is another great western from the greatest cowboy actor of all time. John Wayne to the public embodied the rugged individualism that the American west personified to the nation. Those traits are on full display here in the character of Hondo Lane. Hondo insists on individualism. Not only is he not beholden to anyone but neither is his dog Sam. But the character of Hondo is also paternal. He takes a fatherly liking to the widow’s son Johnny (Lee Aaker) and slowly but surely takes him under his wing.
One thing I find interesting about this film is that the character of Hondo Lane is presented as mixed race which was not the norm then. I was pretty young when I first saw this movie and I was worldly enough to know that such a thing was unusual for a film from then. Studios were weary of having such a character because they assumed it might turn off some viewers and maybe even a local sensor or two.
Wayne shows some ability here by how he communicates Hondo’s feelings. A good example is in the revelation that Hondo had a Native American wife at one point, and she has since passed. There is something about Mrs. Lowe (Geraldine Page) that reminds him of her and that’s the source of his initial attraction. While Wayne did have an amazing screen presence, he wasn’t the greatest actor but there were times when he went above his normal level and this film was one of those times. You can feel the sadness of the character over his lost love.
Geraldine Page was nuanced as Mrs. Lowe. She gave the character more depth than you’d find in the women of other westerns of the time. She was a great actress and it is a great performance on her part here.
While her part is that of the girlfriend, she is not a weak woman who exists just to be seduced by the manly charms of Hondo Lane. She is an independent woman who has grown more independent in the absence of her deadbeat husband. She has managed to keep her ranch going all by herself as well as raise her child.
Everything that happens in the movie occurs against a backdrop of growing tension among the Apache. But the Apache are not depicted necessarily as mindless savages. They are depicted a little more complex than that even though they are a threat always lingering in the background. They have rules of behavior that help keep Mrs. Lowe and her son safe during the course of the story.
After the battle at the end, the film finishes on a somber note. A young lieutenant notes that a large force will be brought in soon by General Crook. The character of Buffalo Baker (Ward Bond) comments that it will be the end of the way of life for the Apache. Hondo acknowledges that and says that it was a good way of life. Another unusual element for westerns of the time but then again times were changing in the film industry. The characters showed respect and were even a little mournful when it came to the fate of their enemy.
It is not the most action driven of John Wayne’s films, but it is still quite good and deservedly is considered a classic. John Wayne could always deliver, and this is no different. It is a movie I watch regularly and continue to enjoy.