Hondo (film)

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Hondo 1953.jpg
1953 Italian film poster
Directed byJohn Farrow
John Ford (uncredited, final scenes only)
Screenplay byJames Edward Grant
Based onThe Gift of Cochise
1952 story in Collier's
by Louis L'Amour
Produced byRobert M. Fellows
John Wayne
StarringJohn Wayne
Geraldine Page
Ward Bond
Michael Pate
James Arness
CinematographyRobert Burks
Louis Clyde Stoumen
Archie J. Stout
Edited byRalph Dawson
Music byHugo W. Friedhofer
Emil Newman
Batjac Productions
Wayne-Fellows Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 27, 1953 (1953-11-27)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,100,000[1][2]

Hondo is a 1953 Warnercolor 3D Western film directed by John Farrow and starring John Wayne and Geraldine Page. The screenplay is based on the 1952 Collier's short story "The Gift of Cochise" by Louis L'Amour. The book Hondo was a novelization of the film also written by L'Amour, and published by Gold Medal Books in 1953.[3] The supporting cast features Ward Bond, James Arness and Leo Gordon.

The shoot went over schedule, and Farrow had to leave the production as he was contractually obligated to direct another movie. The final scenes featuring the Apache attack on the circled wagons of the Army and settlers were shot by John Ford, whom Wayne had asked to finish the film; Ford was uncredited for this work.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

In 1870, on a remote ranch in Arizona, homesteader Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her six-year-old son Johnny (Lee Aaker) are doing chores when a stranger (John Wayne) arrives on foot carrying only his saddle bags and a rifle, accompanied by an independent, crusty dog named Sam. This man tells them that his name is Lane and that he was riding dispatch for the US Army Cavalry, had an encounter with Indians and lost his horse.

Angie agrees to let Lane have a horse and tells him that her ranch hand had quit before he had a chance to break two of her animals for riding. Lane says he will break one himself and, from the neglected state of the ranch, deduces that her husband has been away for some time. After insisting that he will be back soon, Angie does confess that her husband is long overdue.

Lane tells Angie that he thinks she and Johnny ought to accompany him back to the army post. The treaty between the Apache and the white man has been broken by the white man, and the Indians are preparing to attack. Angie insists she and the boy will be safe, that they have long been friendly and the Apaches have often watered their horses on her spread.

When night comes, Angie offers to let Lane sleep in her home. She sees that his rifle is inscribed "Hondo" Lane and realizes he is the man whom she knows killed three men the year before. She attempts to shoot him but the chamber is empty. He loads the chamber and tells her to keep it that way.

Having revealed that he is part Indian and was married five years to a Mescalero woman,[5] Angie questions Hondo about it the next morning as he readies to leave. He tells her that she reminds him of his wife and kisses her before he goes.

Shortly, Angie and Johnny are beset by Apaches, led by Chief Vittoro (Michael Pate) and his main under-chief Silva (Rodolfo Acosta). Angie is not nervous in their presence, drawing on the fact that they have never before been aggressive on her property. This time, though, Silva begins manhandling her. Johnny emerges from the house with the pistol and fires at Silva; he misses but causes the under-chief to fall down (much to the amusement of the Indians). Silva approaches Johnny, who then throws the pistol at him before he is dragged to Vittoro. The chief is impressed by Johnny's bravery and makes him an Apache blood brother. Vittoro wonders where Angie's husband is and states that the boy needs a father.

Hondo returns to his Cavalry post, where he meets up with his friend Buffalo Baker (Ward Bond). He reports to his commanding officer that C Troop, which was sent to gather and bring in settlers from the north, was wiped out by Apaches. It is clear to the Major (Paul Fix) that the Apaches are raiding and killing settlers. In a saloon, Hondo gets into a fight with an obnoxious stranger, and beats him severely. Baker tells Hondo the man called himself "Ed Lowe" (Leo Gordon); it is clear this is Angie's husband. Meanwhile, Vittoro, sure that Angie's husband is dead, shows her some prospective mates from among his men. She insists she is still married so he gives her a deadline: if her husband does not return by the time of the planting rain, she must take an Apache partner.

Feeling guilty now that he knows Angie's husband is alive, Hondo sets out to return the horse. Lowe and a guide (Frank McGrath) follow. Hondo camps near a river and, upon detecting Indians stalking him, he dashes from the scene to escape ambush. Unaware, Lowe and the guide enter the camp and are attacked by two braves. The guide is killed but Hondo shoots the Indian about to kill Lowe. Angie's husband is briefly grateful but soon sees an opportunity to retaliate for the beating, by shooting Hondo in the back. The wary Hondo, helped out by a growling warning from Sam, senses this and spins around to kill Lowe. He then finds a tin type of Johnny on Lowe's body, confirming his identity.

Hondo runs into an Apache party, and is captured. As they torture him to get information about the Cavalry, Vittoro appears. The chief is shown the picture of Johnny and assumes Hondo is Angie's husband. Silva declares the blood rite - Hondo had killed his brother back at the river camp. In a one on one knife fight to settle the feud, Silva stabs Hondo in the shoulder, but Hondo pins Silva to the ground, and gives him the option to take back the blood rite or die. Silva gives in. Vittoro takes Hondo to Angie's ranch; when asked if this man is her husband, she lies to save his life. The chief warns Hondo that he must raise Johnny in the Apache way and leaves. Before the Apache party departs, Silva ultimately gets his revenge against Hondo by killing his dog, Sam, and leaving the body in front of the porch.

Hondo and Angie grow close as he recuperates. Hondo attempts to reveal the truth of her husband's death, but is interrupted by Vittoro's return. The chief tells them that the pony soldiers will soon come. He asks Hondo to not join them and to keep the Indians' location a secret by telling a lie. Hondo promises to do the former but not the latter, and Vittoro shows respect for Hondo's truthfulness. Angie tells Hondo she loves him.

The Army arrives at the ranch, commanded by ambitious but inexperienced Lt. McKay (Tom Irish) and accompanied by scouts Baker and Lennie (James Arness). McKay is determined to protect the settlers in the area by relocating them to the Army post and defend the area against Apache attacks. In a private conversation with Hondo, Lennie reveals he discovered Lowe's body and matched the horse tracks to Hondo's horse. He wants Hondo's Winchester rifle in exchange for keeping quiet about how Hondo apparently bushwhacked Lowe. Angie overhears Lennie's demands.

The Army leaves to move further on into Apache territory. As promised, Hondo refuses to go with them, but tells Buffalo that McKay is leading them into a massacre. Buffalo knows, but he also knows that scouts such as he have been helping to train young West Point officers like this one for many years.

Hondo prepares to go, but first tells Angie the truth about her husband's death. He also wants to tell Johnny, but she persuades him not to, admitting that she did not love her husband any longer. She says it would be unkind to tell the boy the truth of his father's death and that the secret will not follow them to Hondo's ranch in California. Hondo responds to her emotional plea with an Indian word that seals a squaw-seeking ceremony, "Varlabania", which he tells her means "forever".

The troops return, having "caught the wildcat" as Buffalo puts it. Lt. McKay is seriously, though not mortally, wounded, as are many of his men. They have managed to kill Vittoro, which caused the Apaches to retreat - when their leader is killed in battle, it is considered "bad medicine". Realizing the danger they are in Hondo, Angie and Johnny join the Cavalry and head to the fort. The column is attacked by the reconstituted Apaches, now led by Silva, and form a wagon circle that barely holds together. Hondo and Buffalo put into play a strategy that works to throw the Indians off-guard but, amidst a chaotic counterattack to save some stragglers, Hondo loses his mount and is attacked by Silva. Hondo kills him, resulting in another Apache retreat.

All concerned will now be safe long enough to complete their exodus. Lt. McKay comments that General Crook will be arriving in the territory with a large force. Buffalo observes that this will mean the end of the Apache. Hondo proclaims, "Yeah. End of a way of life. Too bad, it's a good way." The movie ends with the understanding that, once back at the fort, Hondo, Angie and Johnny will continue on to Hondo's ranch in California as a family.


Filming locations[edit]

Development and production[edit]

Wayne's newly formed production company Batjac purchased the rights to Louis L'Amour's short story "The Gift of Cochise" in 1952, and set Wayne's friend and frequent collaborator James Edward Grant to write the adaptation, which expanded the original story, introduced new characters, and added the cavalry subplot. L'Amour was given the rights to write the novelization of the film, which became a bestseller after the film's release. The film shoot was scheduled for the summer of 1953 in the Mexican desert state of Chihuahua in the San Francisco de Conchos region. Today, this region is known for its tourist attractions like Lago Colina and spring pools like Los Filtros. It is a green area region with plenty of fishing and agriculture growth.

Wayne and his producing partner Robert Fellows wanted to shoot the film in the trend-setting 3D format. Warner Brothers supplied the production with the newly developed "All Media Camera," which could shoot in any format, including 3-D, using twin lenses placed slightly apart to produce the stereoscopic effect necessary for it. Despite the fact that they were smaller than the twin camera process used previously for 3D, the All-Media Cameras were still bulky and made the film shoot difficult, causing delays when transporting the cameras to remote desert locations. Further, the director John Farrow and director of photography Robert Burks were unfamiliar with the new technology and had trouble adjusting to using it, while the cameras were frequently broken due to wind blowing sand into the mechanism or from other inclement weather conditions. Farrow used the technology to produce fewer gimmicks than other 3D films did at the time, with only a few scenes showing people or objects coming at the camera, such as gunfire or knives. Instead he preferred to use it to increase the depth of the expansive wide shots of the Mexican desert, or when showing figures against a landscape.

The casting of Geraldine Page as the female lead was considered quite puzzling to many in Hollywood at the time. Though Hondo was not her first film, she had been known primarily as a Broadway stage actress and employed the Method acting style deemed too introspective for film, and especially for Westerns. However, she delivered what many consider a nuanced performance completely appropriate to her character which later garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, the first of only two acting nominations ever for a film shot or presented in 3D. (The award went to Donna Reed for From Here to Eternity.)

John Ford shot the final scenes of the wagon train attack as a favor for Wayne when Farrow had to leave the film before its completion due to a conflicting contractual obligation to begin another film. Ford accepted no credit for directing the last sequence of the film.

John Wayne later said John Farrow "didn't really have a great deal to do with" the film. "Everything was set up before he came on it...It was written and I went out and looked for locations and picked the locations where each scene would be shot. I went back and brought the cameraman, and they said there's no color here. I said wait until I show you, and within seventeen miles of town I had white molten rock, blue pools of water, black buttes, big chalk-white buttes. We were using 3-D. We made it in 3-D but then it was never released in that, because Warner Brothers decided to give up and use the Fox system."[7]

Theatrical release[edit]

Even with the production troubles that came with the location shooting in 3D, the studio thought it was a worthwhile venture since 3D pictures were at the height of popularity at the time of the film's development.[8][9] However, by the time the film was completed, public interest in 3D had started to wane.[10] The distributing studio Warner Brothers did everything it could to promote its new 3D camera process and how it went beyond the typical gimmicks used by other popular 3D films at the time such as House of Wax, producing a richer sense of perspective.[citation needed]

Hondo was released on November 27, 1953, and was presented in the 3D format in most first-run theaters. However, by 1954, there were a greater number of smaller theaters that were unable to show the film in the stereoscopic format because the Polaroid 3D projection system required a brighter and more light-reflective screen, referred to as a "silver screen," which was an added cost these theater owners were reluctant to pay.[10][11]

The film has an intermission, which comes right after Hondo is captured by the Apaches. This is included on the DVD version.

The film ended up becoming quite popular with audiences, eventually grossing $4.1 million at the box office and placing it in the top 20 money-makers for that year.[12]

Restoration and DVD release[edit]

An initial restoration of Hondo was overseen by Wayne's son Michael, head of Batjac Productions, in the late 1980s culminating in a syndicated broadcast of the film in June 1991 on American over-the-air stations in anaglyph 3D. 3D glasses were sold to viewers, with proceeds going to charity.

A frame-by-frame digital restoration by Prasad Corporation of the film was later completed, and the DVD of it was released on October 11, 2005.[13]

The 3D version of Hondo has yet to be released on either DVD or Blu-Ray.

A restored 3D theatrical version was exhibited for a week in 2015 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and projected the following year at New York's Film Forum, introduced at both venues by Michael Wayne's wife Gretchen Wayne.


The script focuses on psychological descriptions and the drama of the Native Americans from New Mexico. The original book depicted the events taking place in Southeast of what is now Arizona. The action scenes and the 3D photography are also high points of the film.

John Farrow, the director, and Michael Pate, who played Vittoro, were both Australian. The second unit director was Andrew McLaglen, who later directed the Wayne vehicles McLintock! and The Undefeated.

Film footage from Hondo was incorporated into the opening sequence of Wayne's last film The Shootist to illustrate the backstory of Wayne's character.

The film was disqualified from the Best Story category of the Academy Awards after letters from the producer and nominee questioned its inclusion in the category.[why?]

This film marked one of the first appearances of Geraldine Page, who had been a popular stage actress.

Part of a 1988 episode of Married... with Children, titled "All in the Family", has Al Bundy readying himself to watch Hondo in peace during a three-day weekend, but Peggy's family comes to visit, and their ensuing problems prevent him from seeing the film, just as their antics prevented him from seeing Shane the previous year. A 1994 episode of Married... with Children, titled "Assault and Batteries", has a subplot in which Al is desperate not to miss a television airing of Hondo because, as he explains, it is the best John Wayne movie and it only airs "once every 17 years". Al does miss this airing at the end of the episode and will have to wait until February 18, 2011 to see it again.[14] Al holds the film in very high esteem, once telling Peggy's family members "Your lives are meaningless compared to Hondo!"

One of the more prevalent images of John Wayne remains a full-length publicity photo from the film in which Wayne wears the buckskin suit and military hat.

Two later John Wayne Westerns contain subtle references to "Hondo." In Rio Lobo (1970), a wanted poster for Hondo Lane can be seen on a wall in the sheriff's office. In the 1973 film The Train Robbers, the chief male and female characters (played by Wayne and Ann-Margret) are Lane and Mrs. Lowe, the same names as in "Hondo".

Actor James Arness played the character of Lennie in the film. Arness was a good friend of John Wayne and later starred as Matt Dillon in the popular television western Gunsmoke. John Wayne introduced the first episode of Gunsmoke

NBA player John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics got his nickname, "Hondo", from the film.


  1. ^ "Birth of a Myth: the restoration of HONDO". 3dfilmpf.org. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007.
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  3. ^ "Hondo". louislamour.com.
  4. ^ http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/158612%7C21316/Hondo.html
  5. ^ Many viewers[who?] have missed the fact that Wayne plays a Native American in this movie. Hondo mentions his Indian heritage about 15 minutes into the story. In Louis L'Amour's short story "The Gift of Cochise", Ches Lane (the Hondo character) was also Indian.[citation needed]
  6. ^ "Filming & Production". imdb.com. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  7. ^ McInerney, Joe (September–October 1972). "John Wayne Talks Tough an interview by Joe McInerney". Film Comment. pp. 52–55.
  8. ^ McGee, Mark Thomas (January 1, 2001). Beyond Ballyhoo: Motion Picture Promotion and Gimmicks. McFarland. ISBN 9780786411146. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  9. ^ Fossati, Giovanna (2009). From Grain to Pixel: The Archival Life of Film in Transition. Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 9789089641397. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Hondo - 3dfilmarchive". www.3dfilmarchive.com.
  11. ^ Zone, Ray (July 19, 2012). 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813140704. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  12. ^ "Movie Box Office Figures". www.ldsfilm.com. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  13. ^ "John Wayne's Hondo Comes Out on Blu-ray". smithsonianmag.com.
  14. ^ "Assault and Batteries", Married... with Children. Fox Broadcasting Company, New York City. 8 May 1994. Television.

External links[edit]