Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hondo (1953)

The 1950s were a period of profound change for Westerns.  The characters and situations became more complex, with the previously black and white moral compass being replaced by shades of grey.  In particular, the depiction of Native Americans changed.  It remained rather patronising and othering, but the films of this era did at least try to portray them as more than the "howling savages" of the 1940s.

Hondo is notable for a number of things.  First, because it was the first film adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel.  Second, because it represented the return of John Wayne to his signature genre, after a three year break.  And third, because it was part of the first big "3D craze", a fact made abundantly clear by the opening shot of a man riding right out of the screen and over the top of the camera.

Thankfully the DVD copy of the film is in regular 2D.  I am not a fan of the third dimension in my motion pictures.

Hondo Lane is a dispatch rider for the US Army.  He arrives, travel-worn and without a horse, at an isolated ranch.  Only a woman (Angie) and her young son are at the house: Angie says her husband is "out searching for lost calves", in a painfully obvious lie.  Hondo warns her that she should take her son and leave, as the Apache are readying for war.

"We have a treaty!" she protests.
"We did." is his answer. "And we broke it.  Apache can't stand liars."

Obviously Hondo and Angie are in for an exciting/stressful time of things, given the setup.  Not all of the danger will come from the Apache, though.  There is good and bad on both sides of the ethnic divide (a fact rather obviously symbolised by the fact that Hondo himself is half Native American).

This movie features The Duke before the ravages of cancer had sapped his physicality, some gorgeous locations, and a sound if not exactly deep or complex adventure story.  If you have a hankering for an old-fashioned Western in the mold of Stagecoach, but with less (though certainly not none) of the cultural cringe factor, you could certainly do a lot worse.

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