- Directed by John Farrow
- November 27, 1953
An Army dispatch rider finds a woman and her son living in the midst of warring Apaches and comes to protect them.
Hondo is an adaption of the Louis L’Amour short story “The Gift of Cochise” for the the big screen. This was a troubled production that tried to be successful using the gimmick of 3-D but managed to become a success on all its own. This was such a well-executed film from start to finish that the gimmick was unnecessary.
John Wayne is in fine form as the hard but fair Hondo Lane. Like many of Wayne’s characters before and after, Hondo has a strong personal code which he follows as well as expecting others to live up to it. He is a character of mixed ancestry who is a bit wounded having lost his love years prior. You could perhaps draw conclusion that this leads to Hondo’s strong stance on independence and apparent aversion to relationships.
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 his deceased love and that’s the source of his initial attraction. While Wayne did have an amazing screen presence, he was an actor that needed a bit of a push to show the goods and director John Farrow was able to do that. You can feel the sadness of Hondo over his lost love coming from Wayne’s portrayal.
Geraldine Page stars as Mrs. Lowe, a woman living alone in the West with her son Johnny (Lee Aaker) on a small farm that Hondo stumbles across after he loses his horse. She’s an independent spirit who has been abandoned by her husband yet refuses to initially believe that.
Geraldine Page was nuanced as Mrs. Lowe. On a side note, I do not think the character of Hondo ever referred to her by a first name. Page gave the character more depth than you might find in the women of other Westerns made at the time. She was a great method actress, and it is a great performance on her part here. Interestingly her preferred technique almost cost her the part.
While the character of Mrs. Lowe is that of the girlfriend, she is not a weak woman who exists just to be seduced by the manly charms of John Wayne as Hondo Lane. She is an independent woman who has grown more independent in the absence of her turd of a husband. She has managed to keep her ranch going all by herself as well as raise her child.
Hondo is as much about the titular character realizing that their stance on complete independence is not a good one as it is about the romance between Lowe and Lane. Hondo quite by accident comes across this woman and her child and over the course of the film realizes that what he has been avoiding is something that he should not have been. Whether or not Hondo and Mrs. Lowe remain together beyond the closing credits is not quite clear, but they are certainly set on that path by the end of the film. If nothing else, they have moved on from their respective pasts.
Lingering in the background through the whole narrative is the growing threat from the Apache. Tensions between settlers and the Native Americans are increasing with neither side being able to really back down. This tension is significant in the story as Hondo must navigate a path of protecting the Lowes and not angering the Apache that have taken an interest in the Lowes.
The Apache here are not some mindless savages intent on killing all but rather a group with their back against the wall. Events have spiraled out of their control, and they have no choice but to go down a violent path. They are depicted as complex 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.
There is a climactic battle at the end of the film (helmed by John Ford because Farrow was contractually obligated to another production when this was filmed) but in truth the story finishes on a somber note. A young lieutenant notes that a large force will be brought in soon by General Crook to fight the Apache. 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. An 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.
The cinematography here is beautiful. Much of it was done with the then novel 3-D approach which by the time this movie came out was clearly fading in popularity. There are a few moments where it is clearly done to highlight the effect but that doesn’t make the film any less beautiful to look at.
Hondo is a well-acted film with great cinematography and a good story. This is most certainly a Western classic starring the greatest cowboy actor of them all. I highly recommend this to any movie fan!