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Paramount Home Video presents
Hondo: Special Collector's Edition (1953)

Angie: Well, everyone needs someone.
Hondo: Yes, ma'am. Most everyone. Too bad, isn't it?

- Geraldine Page, John Wayne

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: October 10, 2005

Stars: John Wayne
Other Stars: Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Rodolfo Acosta, Leo Gordon, Tom Irish, Lee Aaker, Paul Fix, Rayford Barnes, Frank McGrath, Chuck Roberson
Director: John Farrow

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:23m:52s
Release Date: October 11, 2005
UPC: 097368876149
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+B- B+

DVD Review

Perhaps the gift of Hondo is that over 50 years after its initial release, it still plays like a well-oiled machine. Based on Louis L'Amour's story, The Gift of Cochise, the film was made during the height of Hollywood's 3-D craze and yet the filmmaking is so assured that it never falls victim to the gimmick. Director John Farrow weaves a good ol' fashion western, filled with exciting raids and powerful characters.

As Hondo Lane, John Wayne arrives on the screen in a manner every bit as good as his entrance in Stagecoach. His presence is more than enough to tell us everything we need to know about Hondo: rugged, noble, and skilled. Appearing along the horizon and walking into a close-up, the Indian scout Hondo and his dog Sam are deep in Apache territory and without a horse. Coming upon a ranch, he startles the stranded Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and excites her little boy, Johnny (Lee Aaker). Desperate for a horse, Hondo makes an arrangement to help Angie with some work in exchange for one of her husband's horses.

Things are not well in the barren desert, however, for the Apache are mounting a war against the United States Army. Hondo warns Angie that the Apache general, Vittorio (Michael Pate), is angry after the most recent betrayal by the white man and that she is not safe. Angie refuses to leave, choosing to wait for her husband. Hondo returns to his base and soon after, Angie finds that his warnings should not have been taken lightly. By the grace of Vittorio, she and Johnny are spared and become honorary members of the tribe, but unless Angie's husband returns soon, Vittorio will force her to marry an Apache. Things are only compounded when, back on the Army base, Hondo meets her vicious husband (Leo Gordon) and the two quarrel. Hondo is determined to return the Lowe's horse now that he has his own, but tragedy ensues on his journey back and soon Hondo and Angie find themselves thrust together as the army and the Apache go to war.

Told in a brisk 84 minutes, Hondo is the quintessential western of the early 1950s. Made in an era when filmmakers began to depict our indigenous people as multi-dimensional, the story does not have a clear villain. Vittorio's war with the army, including Hondo's friend Buffalo (Ward Bond), is justifiable and his conduct with Angie is admirable. Even when Vittorio and the part-Apache Hondo face off, the two have an uneasy respect for one another. I dare not reveal anything more that happens in the story, for James Edward Grant's script is full of twists and turns that would be a shame to spoil. And speaking of Grant, never has a screenwriter better understood how to write for John Wayne. Grant's pithy dialogue is perfect for the actor, as it is in their many other collaborations, and crackles with intelligence.

Filled with plenty of adventure, the movie is at its best when focusing on the characters. John Wayne is the embodiment of heroism as Hondo, being sensitive to Angie's marriage and valuing truth above all else, even to his own detriment. Geraldine Page's Angie marks her first leading role on film, and although not your typical leading lady in a John Wayne western, she is terrific. Stubborn and caring, her turn as Angie is a perfect counterpoint to the men of the story and offers a soft-spoken elegance. Ward Bond and Michael Pate are also engaging in their roles, offering strong support to the leads.

Director John Farrow molds his film in a fashion similar to the great films of John Ford, with breathtaking vistas and grandiose music by Hugo Friedhofer. How effective the 3-D cinematography by Robert Burks and Archie Stout was upon release in 1953 cannot be experienced now, for it only ran a week until Warner Bros. pulled it and played it in the traditional format. However, their images are fantastic and, apart from a few shots in a knife fight, the 3-D process does not prevent them from using color and composition to tell the story well. Ralph Dawson's editing wastes no time in moving the plot along, which is somewhat disappointing since an additional 15 minutes of character drama could transform this from a good western to a great one.

As one of the many films that profited from the western genre's revival in the 1950s, Hondo stands as a fine piece of entertainment and a great tribute to Wayne's indominable screen presence. Maybe the film isn't as thoughtful as Shane or The Naked Spur, but it is well worth hitching a ride alongside Hondo Lane.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio is preserved for this release, though it is not the film's original 3-D format. Some might be dissatisfied with this fact, but personally I am content with the transfer. Some print defects and grain can be noticed, but the picture is largely clean and crisp. The WarnerColor comes off quite well, with accurate skin tones and vivid color. Detail is strong, as is depth, creating a fitting filmlike look.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is not as enthralling as one might hope, though it is true to the original material. Largely regulated to the front sound stage, the dialogue is occasionally muffled, but still discernable. The music comes across fantastic, getting a bit of action in the rear channels. Directionality and sound separation are infrequent, so the dynamic range is lacking. As a nice nod to film preservation, the original mono mix is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The John Wayne DVD Collection, Batjac Montage
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Lee Aaker, Leonard Maltin, Frank Thompson
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:31m:45s

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Leonard Maltina video introduction by film critic Leonard Maltin explaining the context in which the film was made.
  2. Photo Gallerya collection of still pictures.
Extras Review: An Introduction by Leonard Maltin (02m:31s) kicks of the special features by giving the historical context of the film. Maltin explains the change in the western genre and the fleeting 3-D craze when the movie was made, giving the unfamiliar viewer a solid sense of the filmmakers' intentions. Continuing in that vein, the feature commentary by Maltin, western movie historian Frank Thompson, and actor Lee Aaker also provides plenty of information and anecdotes. Maltin and Thompson recorded their part together, feeding off of one another in a cordial manner and delving into the particulars of the production. Some of their comments come across as speculation, but otherwise this is a great track. Aaker's input is mostly anecdotal, with some amusing stories about John Wayne and Ward Bond.

Next is the multi-part documentary The Making of Hondo. The first part (19m:49s) features comments by genre historians/actors Aaker and Michael Pate. Pate is especially engaging, recalling the audition process and difficulties of the shoot. All of the interviewees give some interesting insights into the film as well as John Wayne's personality, making this a nice introduction to the documentary. The second part, Profile: James Edward Grant (12m:33s), covers the career and life of Wayne's favorite screenwriter. Grant's son provides keen insight into his father's work ethic and personality, with Maltin narrating the piece. Grant's story is intriguing in its own right and his list of credits is impressive, making this a fine introduction to a relatively unknown fixture of Hollywood's golden age. The final part of the documentary, The John Wayne Stock Company: Ward Bond (09m:35s), gives the veteran character actor the same treatment, relating his life and work through still photographs and Maltin's narration. His exploits and unlikely introduction to the cinema are the highlights of the featurette. All three parts of the larger documentary can be played together or separately.

Following that is a brief featurette, From the Batjac Vault (02m:27s), which aired on Entertainment Tonight back in 1994. Maltin interviews Michael Wayne, The Duke's son and then president of the company, about the release of Hondo to home video and together they tour the vault. The highlight of the extras is The Apache (14m:50s), a highly informative look at the Native American tribe of that name that compares their real-life predicaments to the dramatization of the story. It weaves a lot of history into the short running time quite well and is a genuinely compelling look at the culture of the Apache.

There's also a photo gallery with images from the set and of the movie's posters. Rounding out the special features are the movie's theatrical trailer and trailers for The John Wayne DVD Collection, and a piece called Batjac Montage. All are shown in 1.33:1 full screen and in Dolby Stereo 2.0. Taken together, the extras are an impressive collection.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

One of John Wayne's most enjoyable movies, Hondo: Special Collector's Edition restores the film with respectable transfers and a wealth of extras. Paramount and Batjac continue to do well with The John Wayne DVD Collection, creating a fine set worthy of purchase.


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