John Wayne goes 3D
Having been left horseless in Indian territory, dispatch rider Hondo Lane (John Wayne) comes across Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her young boy Johnny (Lee Aaker) living alone on their ranch. Despite Hondo's warnings that they maybe in danger Angie insists that the Apaches have only ever been good to them and so she is not worried. Having borrowed a horse to complete his journey Hondo has a run in with Ed Lowe (Leo Gordon); Angie's absent husband and in self defence is forced to kill him. When Apache's lead by Vittorio (Michael Pate) capture Hondo, Angie comes to his defence and tells Vittorio that he is her husband unaware that Hondo has killed Ed. Despite feeling guilt for what he has done Hondo plays along with their fake marriage but knows that he will never rest unless Angie and her son know the truth.
As westerns go the storyline to "Hondo" is actually quite good with its two interweaving sides. The first side of it is about Hondo Lane and how he feels about Angie Lowe and her son Johnny, having discovered them living alone in the middle of Indian Territory. There is something "Shane" like to this side of the movie as Hondo and Angie battle their feelings due to her marriage as well as how Hondo takes young Johnny under his wing, with the boy understandably inevitably looking up to him. And so when later on in the movie Hondo is forced to kill Angie's absent husband in self defence it adds this layer of depth leaving him uncomfortable lying to both Angie and Johnny about what happened.
The other side of "Hondo" is how it portrays the Apache tribe lead by Vittorio as it doesn't just portray them as savages. Yes we have the fact that we have Chiricahua Apaches speaking English which is wrong but the fact we see them as an honourable people and not just savages feels different especially when you consider that "Hondo" was released back in 1953.
And then we have way these stories interweave as Vittorio decides that Angie Lowe's husband is not returning so she must take an Indian Brave as a husband adds a touch of drama to things especially when Hondo shows up and is initially mistaken for her husband by the Indians and plays along with it. It spins off some great moments of action and drama as things come to a head as we then get the introduction of a Cavalry unit and trouble as Vittorio leads his tribe on the attack. "Hondo" may not be a movie drenched in action but it is a movie which has some spectacular action, although having said that originally "Hondo" was a 3D movie which for the era meant we have knives come jabbing towards the screen and arrows flying by making it a little bit cheesy in places.
Now "Hondo" is by no means a perfect western and I am not just on about the curious 3D effects. The attention to detail is loose and from the opening scene where we watch Hondo come across Angie Lowe's ranch having lost his horse a couple of days earlier he is amazingly cleanly shaven and not looking like someone who has been walking in the dust for miles. There are more little moments which you find yourself questioning but thankfully they don't spoil the movie.
As for the acting well John Wayne, who it has to be said was only going to produce "Hondo" but ended up starring due to Glenn Ford's dislike of director John Farrow, does a solid job. On one hand you have that almost cliche element as John Wayne plays a character not too dissimilar to many others he played yet you then have this character that has depth and feelings especially when talking about his life and the loss of his wife. It gives Hondo colour and so one minute he can be quiet and sombre yet then his face lights up as he finds enjoyment again. And John Wayne works brilliantly with Geraldine Page as they struggle with their conflicting feelings, in fact Page steals many a scene from Wayne and the rest of the cast because she creates a female character with personality and strength.
What this all boils down to is that "Hondo" is a curious movie because on one hand it almost feels like a cliche Cowboy and Indian movie with John Wayne starring as another cliche Cowboy. But then there is a lot more depth to it than what is normal, John Wayne's character has various colours of emotion whilst the Indians are not portrayed as just savages but a people of honour tired of the way they have been mistreated.