Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros.
After the Civil War, ex-Confederate soldiers heading for a new life in Mexico run into ex-Union cavalrymen selling horses to the Mexican government but they must join forces to fight off Mexican bandits and revolutionaries.
Army scout Hondo Lane (played by John Wayne) stumbles across an isolated homestead in the middle of Apache territory. The inhabitants - a woman and her son - believe they are safe, as there is a treaty with the Apaches. Lane knows better though, as the Army has just broken the treaty, causing the Apache to seek revenge on settlers. Despite being a scout for the US Army, Lane has sympathies for the Apaches, having been married to a native American woman and living with her people for five years. With divided loyalties he now has to tread a fine line.Written by
At first glance, John Wayne's 1953 western, "Hondo", bears a remarkable similarity to another 1953 release, George Stevens' classic, "Shane". Both films open with an iconic stranger appearing out of the wilderness, spotted first by a young, impressionable boy. Both title characters arrive at homesteads in need of an 'extra pair of hands', and form unspoken bonds with the women of the households. Both Hondo and Shane have survival skills the families desperately need, even as the families fill a void in their own lives. But while Stevens' film moves at a slow, deliberate pace, meticulously creating a near mythic vision, "Hondo" director John Farrow, working from a script by longtime Wayne scribe James Edward Grant (from Louis L'Amour story), cuts the exposition down to basics, giving the film a much leaner 'look', with a climax (actually directed by John Ford, as Farrow had scheduling problems with another film) that is so fast-paced that it can leave a viewer in 'midair', expecting more. As a result, "Hondo" isn't held in as high esteem as "Shane", but is certainly a rewarding, entertaining experience, with one of Wayne's best pre-"Searchers" performances, and Geraldine Page earning an Oscar nomination in her film debut.
Filmed in the broiling summer heat of Mexico, utilizing massive, cumbersome dual cameras to create 3-D (which both Wayne and Warner studio head Jack Warner felt was the wave of the future, but would be passé by the film's release), the production was grueling, yet formed lasting friendships. Australian Michael Pate, playing the key role of historic Chiricahua Apache Chief, Vittorio, was stunned to find Wayne, during a dangerous riding sequence, running along, off-camera, to protect him if he fell (Wayne, impressed by the actor, would cast him, ten years later, as another Indian chief in "McLintock!"). Many of Wayne's 'Stock Company' (Ward Bond, Paul Fix, James Arness, Leo Gordon, and Chuck Roberson) have roles (Bond's bearded, crusty 'Buffalo Baker' is a standout). John Ford, between films, vacationed in Mexico to visit Wayne and Bond, and was recruited (unbilled), to help direct.
The only discordant note was stage actress Page. Wayne had hoped to get Katharine Hepburn for the role of Angie Lowe, but the liberal actress wasn't comfortable working with the politically conservative Wayne at that time (during the "Witch Hunt" for suspected Communists in the film industry), and passed on the project (as would her long-time love, Spencer Tracy, in "The High and the Mighty", Wayne's next production). It would be 22 years before Hepburn and Wayne would finally team up (in "Rooster Cogburn"). Geraldine Page, picked by Farrow for her fresh, 'natural' look, carried her stage training and 'attitude' into the filming, which did little to endear her to the cast, and Wayne felt little chemistry between them (although her performance would be a standout debut).
With colorful characterizations, a chaste romance, plenty of action, and little of the obvious '3-D' gimmicks (only noticeable in the titles sequence, and two Indian fight scenes), "Hondo" was a HUGE hit when released, and has endured as one of John Wayne's most popular westerns!
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