John Wayne plays the character of Hondo Lane in the novel turned 1953 film “Hondo. ” Hondo is about a rough tough cowboy who makes his way through the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with only his ornery mangy dog, Sam, for a companion. All along the way, doing his best to avoid the Apache Indians who despise the white people. In need of a horse, Hondo stumbles upon a ranch. Angie Lowe, the owner of the ranch, played by Geraldine Page, lives there with her 6 year old son Johnny. Angie explains away the absence of her husband that “he’s up in the hills working with some cattle”.
Hondo deduces that Angie’s husband has been gone much longer than she says as the work around the ranch has been neglected for quite some time. When confronted, Angie is forced to admit it. After a short time at the ranch, as Hondo prepares to return to his cavalry post, he urges Angie and Johnny to come along, for they are living alone in dangerous Apache country. She chooses to remain insisting that the Indians are friendly and will not attack her. When he returns to his post, Hondo hears of Apache attacks on settlers in the area and investigates to see if there were any made upon a fair women and a young boy.
He is relieved to hear that there were none. Meanwhile, there is a confrontation at the Lowe ranch where Angie and Johnny win the admiration and protection of the Apache chief, Vittoro. He is so impressed with their bravery that he makes Johnny an Indian brother. Believing Angie’s husband is dead; he further orders that if Angie’s husband does not return she must marry an Apache brave. At the cavalry post, Hondo gets into an altercation with a man that he later learns is Ed Lowe, Angie’s missing husband. As he makes his way back to the Lowe ranch to return Angie’s horse, he discovers that Ed is following him intending to ambush him.
Hondo saves his life when they come under attack by Indians but is forced into killing Ed when he tries to shoot him in the back. Hondo continues on his way but not before taking a photograph of Johnny with him. The gunshots of the firefight has now drawn the attention of Vittoro’s Apaches, they capture and torture him. Vittoro finds the photograph and halts the torture believing that he is Johnny’s father. He returns him to the ranch where Angie lies and says that he is indeed her husband. As Hondo heals they discover that they love each other. He tells her of his former life among the Apache and his Indian wife, Desarte.
As the story concludes, there are additional battles between the Indians and cavalry where Vittoro is killed and a final fight between Hondo and his nemesis, Silva. Hondo, no longer the stoic, solitary cowboy, returns to his ranch in California with Angie and Johnny as his family. The novel “Hondo” had a slightly unusual path to the publishing house. The genesis behind both the film and the novel was a short story named “The Gift of Cochise”. This was originally printed in Colliers magazine in 1952. This short story became the basis for the screenplay that later became the novel and the film named Hondo.
I believe that this is the primary reason that the dialog and the scenes of the film follow the book very closely. It is unusual for a literary-based film to nearly follow word for word to the book. The dialog in the book is short and to the point, the protagonist responds with short answers, sometimes just one word. Although, when he speaks of his previous life among the Apache or of his love for Angie his vocabulary becomes deep and descriptive. One major difference between the novel and the film that stands out is the way the book starts and the opening scene of the movie.
The film commences with Hondo and his dog Sam walking in the canyons like a normal day, surviving off the land and avoiding Indians who may try to kill them. He hears something in the bush and sees a moccasin sticking out, without hesitation he fires two shots and kills two Indians. One Indian happens to be Vittoro’s second in command’s brother. The book eliminates the initial Indian confrontation and begins with him approaching Angie’s ranch looking for a mount. The opening scene in the movie sets up the later critical deadly confrontations with Silva and the Apaches.
While the novel and the film remain very much in sync there are more differences in short story, “The Gift from Cochise”. Some of the differences were as insignificant as the hero’s name change from Hondo Lane to Ches Lane to a change in how Angie’s husband, Ed Lowe is killed. In the film and novel, Ed is killed by Hondo when he attempts to shoot him the back. In the short story, he is killed in a bar room gun fight while coming to the aid of an outnumbered stranger: Ches Lane. This change certainly effects the perception of the Ed Lowe. In the novel and film, Angie’s husband is represented as a womanizer and gambler.
In the short story, although he has deserted his wife and two children, he is a man who will come to the aid of a stranger who is greatly out-numbered. He is a selfish man of poor judgment perhaps but certainly not the moral degenerate that was portrayed in the film. His last words in the short story are “…what will Angie do”. This change from the short story in how Ed Lowe’s death transpired allows for the potential clash between Hondo and Angie about the discovery of the true facts of her husband death; at the hands of the man she now loves.
It also clearly makes Hondo the better man for Angie. Louis L’Amour is one the America’s best known and best loved authors of the western genre. This novel was his first to be made into a film. His story telling is not fussy but his simple polished descriptions make the Arizona desert another character in the story drawing the reader into the landscape. As shown by his description of the Arizona desert as a land of “beige-gray silences” where “cotton-ball bunches of clouds” drift in the skies “brassy face” and the juniper trees that “dot the landscape like exclamation points (L’Amour)”.
These techniques and imagery allow the reader to visualize the desert in a visceral way, as if you are actually there. L’Amour’s storytelling ramps up the tension by writing in brief direct sentences that builds to a suspenseful, violent event which resolves the tension only to begin anew every few pages. The casting call for this movie was very interesting; the famous western actor John Wayne was not the director’s first choice for Hondo. John Farrow had wanted Glenn Ford, but Ford backed out when he realized Farrow was directing.
Ford and Farrow had had a falling out during the filming of an earlier movie. John Wayne stepped into the title role and it is said to be Wayne’s personal favorite (Stafford). Truth be told, I cannot imagine another actor that would have added more dimension to this role. Wayne had wanted an actress who had not yet made a name for herself in the role of Angie Lowe. His requirements were a pioneer type, fair skinned woman just as Louis L’Amour described her. Geraldine Page was their choice.
Apparently she was a perfect fit for the role. According to Randy Roberts and James S. Olson in their biography, John Wayne: American, ‘her teeth looked as if she had already spent a lifetime on some frontier where toothpaste and dentists were unknown (Stafford). ’ After the film, Page was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. If this movie were to be recreated with a cast of today, there could be a good debate about who could play the major roles of Hondo and Angie. Considering that Leonardo Dicaprio is arguably one of the best actors of today, many people would choose him.
However, I would select either Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman, because of their rough and tough appearance and attitudes and both of these actors have appeared in a modern western. Hugh Jackman, in Australia, although not set in west it certainly was “western-like”. Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma and The Quick and the Dead also a Louis L’Amour novel made into a movie. The only thing that separates them from Dicaprio is the muscle factor. For the role of Angie I would choose Reese Witherspoon, because she is a very attractive women, but not drop dead gorgeous, and more of a real person.
This film was the first independent film that was produced by John Wayne. It was filmed in 3-D intended to be viewed using the blue and red lens glasses. It was released to possibly 5,000 screens in this format (Furmanek/Theakston Para 4). You can see the remnants of the 3-D special effects in the 2-D movie, especially evident during the title scroll. There were a couple of scenes where there were obvious attempts to take advantage of 3-D such as: a spear thrust at the screen and the firing of a rifle straight into audience.
These types of scenes were in the minority, however, as the director seems to utilize 3-D to add depth to the film not for cheesy effect. The film industry hoped that use of 3-D during the 1950’s would entice people away from their television sets with a new and realistic experience that the movie-goer could enjoy (Furmanek/Theakston Para 6). However, Hollywood underestimated the intelligence of the viewing audiences, focusing on special effects like creatures leaping into the audience instead of concentrating on content and plot.
Additionally, theatres found it difficult to effectively synchronize the dual film reels causing a poor viewing experience. Within a couple of years, the public interest in 3-D films began to dwindle. Although 3-D Hondo was released during this time, the film was met with unanimous acclaim and great success at the box office. There was a successful simultaneous release of the 2-D version as well. The novel and film clearly reflect the family values of the 1950’s. Where the woman kept the house and hearth and waited for her man to bring the bread home. This was no different on the frontier.
When Angie was deserted by her husband she was forced to play both roles; for a time she was “incomplete” without her male partner. She keeps up her ranch and raises her child well but, while she was depicted as capable with a gun, there were things that she needed a man to do for her such as chopping wood, shoeing the horses and sharpening blades. The female character clearly would not thrive long in the wilderness without the male. In true L’Amour fashion, the hero, Hondo Lane, a self-sufficient, courageous loner trades in his solitary lonely life to make a family with a good woman and builds a new more valuable life.
He exhibits traditional American values of courage, independence, honesty and love of family. There is a theme in the story that a man should be judged by actions and not by race. This thought is clearly ahead of the social curve of the time where Indians were often thought of as drunks or social misfits. There is a clear contrasting representation of good and evil men in both races; the white and the Indian. Vittoro is shown to be the wise warrior who is concerned for the women left to fend for herself and her son in this harsh country.
While his second-in-command, Silva, is cruel, vengeful and vicious. Hondo is honorable and reliable while Ed Lowe is disreputable and untrustworthy. The story does contain a dark side in the acceptance of violence as a solution to conflict. This is apparent in the confrontations between Hondo and Ed; Hondo and Silva. The hero can be kind and gentle but when necessary he must unleash his darker side to protect what is his; his life, his home and his woman. It is simply expected as a way of life on the frontier as illustrated when Hondo says “Everybody gets dead. It was his turn. (L’Amour)”.
The copy of Hondo that I read, published in 1983, included a foreword written by the author, Louis L’Amour. He writes “I sing of arms and men, not of presidents, kings, generals, or passing explorers, but of those who survived their personal, lonely Alamos, men who drove the cattle, plowed the furrows, built their shelters against the wind, the men who built a nation (L’Amour foreword ). ” In this simple but majestic line you can feel the sentiment that compelled L’Amour to write this story and the many that came before and after…Stories of proud men and women and a wild and untamed country.