Film Review: Hondo, John Farrow, 1953
'General Crook will be here within a month with a large force'.
Lieutenant Mackay (Tom Irish)
'That'll be the end of the Apache'. Buffalo Baker (Ward Bond)
'Yeh, the end of a way of life. (pause)
too bad, it's a good way'. Hondo (John Wayne)
'Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.'Hondo (John Wayne)
Hondo, John Farrow, 1953
This is vintage John Wayne, and if you like his films you'll definitely like this. They don't make 'em like this any more. Said to be Wayne's favourite of his own westerns, it was film from a script modelled on a Louis L'Amour novel, which in turn had a very strong feel of Shane. The set alternates from a harsh, forbidding landscape to a soft arborial canopy which backdrops Wayne's 'romantic' courtship of Mrs Lowe (Geraldine Page). The usual symbols of Indians are there: war paint, tomtoms, the demonic leader with honour, a respect for courage, and pseudo ritualistic mumbo jumbo which precedes a knife fight. The climax is certainly classic in the ironic sense, the hilltop hordes, the stereotypical circle of wagons around which the Indians ride pell - unaccountably at one stage both clockwise and anticlockwise - and the final wagon chase. (unladen: why should they bother?) All this dates directly back to the mythic west created by Buffalo Bill's Wild West before the turn of the twentieth century, and similarly stunts are performed by riders and highly trained horses, the latter which fall and rear to order. When Sitting Bull was shot at Standing Rock at the report of the gun his horse enacted a grotesque performance which replicated what he had done in the arena, it moved to Sitting Bull's side and pawed the ground.
By the time this film finished I was lolling, I found it tedious, drawn out and one of the worst types of racist tosh which attempted to make itself seem fair to the native Americans. The way Victorio kept arriving at the ranch and then disappeared clearly influenced the director of Out of Africa. The quote at the top of the page seems sympathetic enough on the face of it, but the delivery is made in a desultory fashion, and Wayne turns away immediately to roll the wagons west to signal the film's end, presumably hoping to add weight to the film by tagging on an implied reference to building a new life out west. This seemed to work in the case of Armando Josť Prats, for in his very interesting book 'Invisible Natives' he manages to write an unbelievable six whole pages on the film, or more particularly on the film as an example of the 'Othered Same'. (Please don't ask: if you like a challenge read it for yourself and see if you can fathom it out).
In the film, Geraldine Page's acting offers some respite from the tedium and the kid's not bad either. If you think that Wayne could act don't let me put you off, doubtless you will rate this film. Me, I think that mostly he 'acted' the same role except when John Ford intervened. Historically the film is quite a good portrayal of the mythic west, but my attention wandered so much by the end I was sorely tempted by the fast forward control and wondered whether my reviews should include a 'tosh rating'. If I did this film would gain a very high rating indeed.
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© Chris Smallbone February 2009