"Hondo" (John Farrow/John Ford, 1953) Out on the prairie, it's a tough life for Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page in her film debut), but evidently not a lonely one...or a quiet one. First Hondo Lane (John Wayne) lopes in, horseless and all too full of advice. Then Apache Chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) stops by, befriends her son (he likes the way he draws down his next-in-command), and makes him part of the tribe...and gives her a lot of advice.
Already you start thinking that Hondo and his player on the other side have a lot in common. They test each other, and when the other doesn't give the answer they want to hear, well, that just means you can trust 'em to speak the truth. Hondo's part Native, speaks the patois,* and in a past life lived among them. He also knows that the U.S. Government made a treaty with the Apache that Ulysses S. Grant has already broken. "The Apache don't have a word for 'lie,'" he says, with a curled lip, so he knows they're going to attack the settlements. That doesn't mean he has to like it, and it doesn't mean he's going to betray either side doing it.
There's a lot of "Yojimbo" in "Hondo" for the adults and a bunch of "Shane" for the kids—that is, if Alan Ladd had killed Van Heflin. Truth to tell Hondo Lane is a cross between Ladd's Angel and Jack Palance's Devil. Hondo's only attachment is to his dog Sam and he won't feed Sam, knowing the animal will fend for itself. "He's independent. It's a good way to be." That doesn't mean he won't shoot a man for threatening Sam, and then kick the dog for getting in the guy's way in the first place. He's described as a "mean ornery son-of-anything-you-wanna-call-him." They were oblique back in the days of the West, they didn't use the word "conflicted."
"Hondo" was financed by Wayne's Batjac Productions,** made on the cheap in Mexico by director John Farrow (father of Mia, and director of "The Big Clock" and "Ride, Vaquero!") and, for the climactic action sequences, by John Ford (which is readily apparent—they look like sequences from "Stagecoach"). It was also shot in 3-D, with a minimum of arrow-in-your-face shots (except by Farrow in a not-too-convincing knife fight, but Ford goes to town making sure his stunt riders fall right in front of the camera, kicking dust into the lenses). It would be interesting to see it in that format, but "Hondo" has been monocular since its first road-house presentations.*** But never say "never:" a restored 3-D version of "Hondo" had its American premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Hollywood. Give it a look-see.
"...man oughta do what he thinks is best"
* The language in "Hondo" is a bit more colorful than in most westerns—it's not afraid to lose its audience with a colloquialism. For instance, you don't holster a pistol, you "leather" it.
** The original cast was supposed to be Glenn Ford and Katherine Hepburn, but Ford had a bad experience working with Farrow that he didn't want to repeat, and Hepburn didn't like Wayne's right-wing activities at the time. By the time of "Rooster Cogburn" she had changed her mind.
*** And I've been reminded that "Hondo" was shown nationwide in 3-D..on television...in 1991.