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Based on the Louis L'Amour story "The Gift of Cochise," this sparkling western has Wayne as a half-Indian Cavalry scout who, with his feral dog companion, finds a young woman and her son living on a isolated ranch in unfriendly Apache country. A poetic and exciting script, outstanding performances, and breathtaking scenery make this an indisputable classic.
For more about Hondo and the Hondo Blu-ray release, see Hondo Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 22, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Paul Fix
Director: John Farrow
» See full cast & crew
Hondo Blu-ray Review
One of The Duke's best finally makes its Blu-ray debut.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 22, 2012
Note that much of the historical background for this review -- namely the discussion of the film's limited 3D screenings upon its release -- is derived from the supplementary features found on this disc, namely the Leonard Maltin/Frank Thompson commentary track. These gentleman state early in the commentary that the film received a limited, weeklong 3D run in New York and Los Angeles (and possibly in the premiere city of Houston) and was shown otherwise in 2D thereafter. This information is disputed by Bob Furmanek and Jack Theakston, authors of the contrary yet highly informative article 'The 3-D Release of HONDO,' published on the 3-D Film Archive website. Either way, the release of 'Hondo' remains one of the more fascinating stories from the 1950s, a story made all the more interesting by the contrasting information coming from two reputable sources.
Everyone needs someone.
Hondo, for all its general Western ways and prototypical John Wayne performance, is something of an oddball picture in terms of its history, construction, and place in the Western and Wayne canons. On the surface, to be sure, there's nothing super-remarkable about the movie. Certainly it's a high quality picture, telling a competent, engaging story. It's dotted with fine performances, good action, quality Western cinematography, and shaped by another wonderful script from the hand of James Edward Grant (McLintock!) and based on a story by acclaimed Western writer Louis L'Amour. But the story of Hondo goes far beyond the final product seen on the screen, a final product in two parts (literally), one seen by few, the other by many but squirreled away for decades after in the Wayne vault. Hondo was photographed in three dimensions at the height of the 1950's 3D cinema craze, but the laborious process was rewarded with precious few 3D viewings, only a handful to be exact on the East and West coasts. The film was widely released in a standard flat format, but its disappearance from theaters meant, in a general sense, a disappearance from the public eye until the film was finally released to a special 3D television airing in the early 1990s and to home video nearly a decade-and-a-half later in 2005. Now, Hondo is receiving its first widescreen home video release in glorious high definition. A 3D transfer isn't included (hopefully somewhere down the road it will again see the light of day) but this somewhat forgotten -- certainly not widely-seen by contemporary audiences -- classic is now available and looks better than it ever has for general home viewing.
A dusty, gun-toting man (Wayne) and his scraggly, self-sufficient dog wander into a quiet ranch worked and maintained by lady Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her son Johnny (Lee Aaker). He's lost his horse, her husband's out gathering livestock. He knows she's lying -- her husband's either dead or long gone -- and she knows not what to make of him. But he graciously teaches her and her son to work the land, to break horses, to sharpen the ax. He takes over the man's duties around the ranch and provides a much-needed father figure for the boy and a muscular deterrent for warring Indians whom he claims are on the warpath, outraged that a treaty with the white man has been broken. She believes the ranch to be safe but feels secure with his presence, until, at least, she happens to learn that he's Hondo Lane, a name she recognizes as that of a known killer. Hondo then heads out, but as soon as he leaves the Apache arrive on the ranch. Their leader, Chief Vittorio (Michael Pate), finds himself impressed with young Johnny and his bravery following an effort to singlehandedly fend off his men. Johnny and the Chief are made blood-brothers, and the Chief and his men leave with a warning to Mrs. Lowe: find a husband, a man who can raise Johnny right, or she will be forced to marry one of his own men so the boy may be taught the ways of the Apache. Can fate bring Hondo back into Lowe's life, even if that fate means further upsetting her already delicate situation?
Hondo operates through a classic Western structure, with the Cowboys and Cavalry versus Indians angle, the lonely but life-hardened female love interest, the young boy in need of a father figure, and the lone hero wandering in, standing tall, and bringing order to chaos. Add typical but exceptional genre cinematography, smart and quick writing, and even guest direction by John Ford -- the legendary filmmaker and longtime Wayne collaborator helms the film's final minutes for a forced-to-depart John Farrow -- and all the pieces appear in-place for a classically-assembled Western in the familiar John Wayne style. And Hondo largely delivers on its promise and potential. The film is consistently rhythmic and well-paced, playing with a steady heartbeat and cadence even as it maneuvers through a fairly complex plot with difficult character arcs and backgrounds and challenges that continuously shape and re-shape the film's dusty Southwestern landscape as all are revealed in due time. The resultant character interaction and evolving plot lines keep the film fresh, while energized action keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. The movie is a straight shooter and something of an evolved Western, foregoing largely black-and-white characters for something of a more realistic roster that complicates matters but makes for a better final product. But at its heart Hondo operates on the same plane as most every other Wayne Western, capturing a rough-and-tumble, goodhearted, honest, and trustworthy stance that, alongside the superior characters and plot, makes the movie a high mark even in the vast and densely-populated Wayne and Western landscape.
The Duke's performance doesn't betray for one second that larger-than-life hero stature that defines the actor's work. His deliberate cadence, broad shoulders, even keel, father figure, man's-man, machismo appeal which he underscores with an evident tenderness shapes this character is it does most all of his characters. Wayne again simply looks the part with chaps, hat, and gun, but he goes beyond the physical and inhabits the character, somehow, as he always does, playing the same person -- himself -- but managing to make the character unique beyond the fašade. That's a testament to the quality of scripts, direction, and the actor's own ability to play a part and his unflinching understanding of both the specifics of the character in question and the larger Western film landscape. Wayne's performance is matched -- if not bettered -- by that of rookie screen actress Geraldine Page, who maneuvers through her character's challenging arc with a smoothness and grace that benefits the film greatly. Her character grows more confident as the film continues, beginning as a lonely and somewhat frightened now-single mother, inwardly fearful but outwardly confident in her husband's imminent return, or at least confident in her ability to use his absence to her advantage. Yet she harbors her own secrets, and as she opens up to Hondo and Hondo to her, the character settles in and proves capable of handling various actions and revelations with certainty and strength, no matter how difficult they may be. Wayne and Page ignite the screen with wonderful chemistry, with both performances accentuating a nice little effort from then-youngster Lee Aaker as Mrs. Lowe's son.
Hondo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Hondo's 1080p Blu-ray transfer does the film's beautiful photography justice. Grain does look a bit off in places, almost frozen in spots to where it moves in noticeably large clumps as characters tilt their heads and whatnot. Yet noise reduction isn't a major factor in the image. To the contrary, grainy backgrounds are the norm, often blending into the experience and only readily noticeable to any degree across the brightest backdrops, generally blue Southwestern skies. Details are positively gorgeous, accentuated by that grain retention. Dirt terrain appears sharp and very well defined to the point that individual pebbles and sandy textures take on a clear, almost tactile appearance. Clothing and skin textures are nearly pristine, while wooden beams and dusty and creased leathery hides and saddles appear wonderfully authentic, the transfer capturing the worn-in and well-used look of such elements with uncanny precision. Colors are steady and vibrant, handsome and balanced. Wayne's brightly-colored scarf and the Apache apparel and warpaint offer a nice contrast to the otherwise earthy, dusty tans and mostly monochromatic skies that make up most of the backgrounds and landscapes. There are some softer elements and optical effects shots that stand out as noticeably less crisp and colorful, but on the whole this is a wonderful transfer sourced from a 4K scan. Western enthusiasts will be more than pleased with how well this one looks.
Hondo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Hondo rides onto Blu-ray with a pair of English-language tracks, one a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 offering and the other a monaural presentation. The 5.1 track remains fairly constrained to the front, with only light spacing off to the sides. But that stretch off to the front right and left never gets very far, and certainly the track never goes into a full-blown and unnecessary surround sound extravaganza. On the contrary, the 5.1 track adds minor ambience and space, tastefully done but not even with a hint of "realistic" immersion. Rushing winds sound rather stagnant and sonically unconvincing, largely remaining up the middle and only replicating the sound, not the sensation. Music and dialogue both play with a shallow, somewhat undefined feel. The spoken word in particular often carries a hollowness that leaves the listeners struggling to sort out dialogue between Mrs. Lowe and Hondo. Switching to the monaural track yields a more positive listening experience. Dialogue is more prominent, more clear, and more easily understood. Music enjoys a boost in clarity, but sound effects -- characters traversing the Southwestern terrain, a barrage of gunfire near the end of the film -- play with a crunchy, indistinct tone. Still, the improved dialogue is reason enough to make the mono track the preferred option. It goes great with the 1080p transfer, making for Hondo's best home viewing experience to date.
Hondo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Hondo contains a high quality commentary track, a behind-the-scenes feature, several more focused featurettes, an old "Entertainment Tonight" piece, a photo gallery, and a trailer.
Hondo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Hondo is a rich, classic, evolved Western with an off-screen history as interesting as the on-screen action and drama are entertaining. The film's structure and cadence are typical of a Wayne Western, but the superior characters yield a film that's a cut-above the sometimes genre-typical cardboard heroes and villains. Wayne and Page make a wonderful on-screen duo, their chemistry shaped by both good acting and excellent writing that molds the characters beyond Western stereotypes. Add fine action and a quick pace, and Hondo's a winner. Paramount's Blu-ray release of Hondo features great video and a strong array of extra content. The lossless soundtrack is acceptable. Hopefully, audiences might someday be treated to a Blu-ray 3D presentation, but until then, this is the best Hondo money can buy. Highly recommended.
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Hondo Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Hondo - June 5, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Paramount Home Entertainment are offering three members an opportunity to win a copy of John Ford and John Farrow's Hondo, starring John Wayne and Geraldine Page. The 1953 Western classic is making its Blu-ray debut this week.
• Hondo Blu-ray - March 5, 2012
As part of the plans to commemorate Paramount Pictures' centennial, the studio will bring Hondo to Blu-ray in June. This classic western stars John Wayne (Stagecoach) as the title character, a cavalry despatch rider who becomes the unwitting protector to a family ...
• Paramount Teases Five Upcoming Blu-ray Releases (Updated) - January 18, 2012
Along with a new, monthly sweepstakes designed to commemorate the studio's centennial, Paramount Home Media Distribution has announced further plans for the studio's 2012 Blu-ray slate. Today's press release also hinted at Clueless, Hondo, Barbarella, and Clue ...
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