Directed by Mia Farrow’s father, John, Hondo was the first time audiences saw star John Wayne in stereoscopic 3-D. Fortunately the film’s qualities go far beyond its original distribution gimmick, the Daily Telegraph enthusing that, “Hondo is a Western fit to rank with Shane.”
Like Shane, Hondo’s plot introduces a stoic gallant into the lives of a plainswoman and her son. Wayne is the eponymous hero, a dispatch rider for the US Cavalry in the 1870s who comes across an isolated ranch now run by Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her young boy Johnny (Lee Aaker) after good-for-nothing husband Ed (Leo Gordon) has run out on them. Hondo has just had a run-in with an Indian posse and requires a horse to get news back to the frontier post. Angie, who’s all a flutter over the stranger’s forthright masculinity, is only too happy to oblige. Hondo is eager to accompany her and Johnny to safety from the marauding Indians but Angie is determined to stay to protect her homestead, so the brave rider heads forth alone.
Soon after his departure, the inevitable happens. The Lowe ranch is targeted by an Apache raiding party led by Vittoro (Michael Pate) and his second in command, Silva (Rudolfo Acosta). Things are looking grim until Silva confronts Johnny and the young boy pulls a gun, earning the respect of the Indians who adopt him as a blood brother.
When, Hondo reaches the frontier post he learns from his buddy Buffalo (Ward Bond) that the Apaches have upped their rebellion. Fearing for Angie and Johnny he heads back to the ranch and is accosted en route by the dishonourable Ed whom he kills in self-defence. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s then captured and tortured by Vittoro’s posse. But once again, the Indian chief is swayed by the courage shown by the unyielding cavalryman. He releases him but agrees to let bloodthirsty Silva challenge him to a knife fight. Hondo overcomes Silva and sets off to save Angie and Johnny.
What elevates Farrow’s film from much of that rocky outcrop of ’50s westerns is its script, adapted by James Edward Grant from Louis L’Amour’s magazine story and it rightly occupies a place in the pantheon of great Westerns.
USA / 1953
Director: John Farrow
Writer: James Edward Grant (from a story by Louis L’Amour)
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Rudolfo Acosta, Leo Gordon, Tim Irish, Lee Aaker, Paul Fix, Rayford Barnes