Tag Archives: 3-D Westerns

Southwest Passage

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 26, 2015

Southwest Passage—John Ireland, Joanne Dru, Rod Cameron, John Dehner, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Darryl Hickman (1954; Dir: Ray Nazarro) SWPassagePosterSWPassageTall

Joanne Dru (the former Joanne Letitia LaCock) was unusually effective in westerns in a time when the casting of most female roles was usually a secondary consideration at best.  Even now, her performances shine in such classics as Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Wagon Master.  Like Claire Trevor in Stagecoach, she was excellent at portraying a bad girl who showed signs of turning out well if given half a chance (Red River, Wagon Master).  This particular expertise resulted in her being somewhat typecast in westerns, which was fine when they were at their peak but stalled out her career as they lost popularity by 1960.  She married John Ireland in 1947, and one result was their collaboration in this cavalry and camels vs. Apaches story.

Gunman Clint McDonald (John Ireland), Jeb (Darryl Hickman, a child star of the 1940s) and Jeb’s sister Lilly (Joanne Dru) are escaping with $20,000 taken in a bank robbery, pursued by a posse.  Jeb is shot, and Lilly returns to town looking for a doctor.  The one she finds turns out to be a veterinarian on his way to join a cavalry patrol heading into the desert with camels to survey a new route to California.  McDonald pays the vet for his kit and takes his place, claiming to be the doctor.

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Fake doctor Clint McDonald (John Ireland) patches up suspicious muleskinner Matt Carroll (John Dehner).

The head of the patrol is Edward Fitzpatrick Beale (Rod Cameron), experimenting with the camels and mapping the Arizona desert.  He is accompanied by three Arab camel drivers led by High Jolly (Hadji Ali, played by Mark Hanna), nasty-tempered head mule teamster Matt Carroll (John Dehner), colorful scout Tall Tale (Guinn Williams) and several cavalrymen, led by Lt. Owens.  Lilly joins them, claiming to have gotten lost from a wagon train; Jeb didn’t survive his wound. Clint is unusually good with a gun for a doctor, and Matt Carroll distrusts Clint, dislikes the Arabs and lusts after Lilly.  Lilly is coming to admire the ambitious but seemingly selfless Beale.

The party is followed by Apaches, who believe the camels are gods, until one of the beasts breaks a leg and has to be shot.  Lilly tries to persuade Clint to go straight, but the lure of $20,000 is too great.  When Tall Tale is bitten by a gila monster, Clint treats the wound but it gets infected.  Although he’s not qualified to do so, he prepares to amputate Tall Tale’s arm, until Lilly speaks up and Clint’s real identity becomes known.  After a fight with Beale, he is exiled from the group, looking for a town 80 miles south, and is joined by Carroll, who wants half the loot.  They find a water hole in the rocks, and Carroll gets the jump on Clint, intending to take both canteens, both horses and all the loot.  But Clint’s non-medical skill with a gun comes in handy, and Carroll ends up face down in the pool.

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Lilly (Joanne Dru), Beale (Rod Cameron) and Tall Tale (Guinn Williams) fight off Apaches.

Clint rides back to the patrol with news of water only 30 miles distant, but the Apaches now know that the camels are mortal and attack the party from the rocks around the water.  Clint redeems himself by drawing off the Indians with the remaining camel so the rest of the patrol can make a dash for the water and the protection of the rocks.  When it’s over, he’s wounded but asks Beale to give back the loot to the bank, and he and Lilly are together again.

Although Rod Cameron seems to get top billing, Joanne Dru is the best thing in the movie.  Ultimately Lilly finds Cameron’s character Beale more interesting than we do.  John Ireland was an intriguing mix of hard-edged tough guy with an ability to learn, but he’s never very convincing as the doctor.  John Dehner makes an excellent villain as dastardly muleskinner Matt Carroll..

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Lilly (Joanne Dru) can defend herself if she needs to.

This was made in the 3-D fad of the early 1950s (like Hondo, Gun Fury, The Stranger Wore a Gun and The Moonlighter), which faded out almost as soon as it began.  There are a couple of things that show a lack of careful direction.  As the patrol drives its wagons along the side of some dunes, Clint and Lilly are riding downhill from them, where they’ll be crushed if the wagons tip over, as it seems they might.  And as Clint rides back to the patrol from the water hole, he leaves Carroll’s body in the water.  With the desert heat and decomposition of the corpse, that will leave the water hole fouled and unusable by the time the patrol gets there. Filmed on location in southern Utah, near Kanab.  The direction is by journeyman Ray Nazarro.  The unexceptional screenplay by Harry Essex has some clunky dialogue, especially Lilly’s lines to Clint about going straight.  In color, at only 75 minutes.

SWPassageBelgKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Dru was good in westerns, but she didn’t always enjoy them.  “I simply hated horses,” she said in a 1957 interview with Hedda Hopper.  “And those long gingham dresses with boned bodices are miserable things to wear.”  By the end of the 1950s she had drifted almost entirely into television work, and she and Ireland were divorced in 1957.

Edward Fitzpatrick Beale and his involvement with camels in the American southwest are based on actual history.  In 1857, Lt. Beale, with the support of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, used 25 camels to survey a route for a wagon road from Fort Defiance in Arizona to the Colorado River, then took the camels on to California.  The Santa Fe Railroad and U. S. Highway 66 subsequently followed this route.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Camel Corps was largely forgotten, although there were reports of feral camels in the southwest well into the 1900s—even as late as 1975 in Baja California.  Hadji Ali, an Ottoman citizen, was the lead camel driver of the Camel Corps beginning around 1856 and lived in this country until his death in 1902 in Arizona.  There was even a folk song about him, recorded by the New Christy Minstrels in the 1960s.

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The Stranger Wore A Gun

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 5, 2015

The Stranger Wore a Gun—Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor; George Macready, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Joan Weldon, Alfonso Bedoya, Clem Bevans (1953; Dir: Andre de Toth)

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One-eyed Hungarian director André de Toth had gotten off to a good start in westerns, with the sultry Ramrod (1947), followed by writing on The Gunfighter (1950) directed by Henry King.  He then followed with six westerns with Randolph Scott, of which this is one.  With a cast also including Claire Trevor and early bad guy roles for Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, this could have been great, and it isn’t.  The story and writing (by Kenneth Gamet) just aren’t strong enough.  But if you like De Toth’s work, Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor and Lee Marvin, you nevertheless have to see it.

The title could be attached to almost any western, a genre where all the strangers wear guns.  During the Civil War, Lt. Jeff Travis (Randolph Scott) spies for Quantrill in Lawrence, Kansas, in preparation for the notorious guerilla raid on that abolitionist-sympathizing town.  Disgusted by the indiscriminate slaughter and Quantrill’s callous indifference to the infliction of death and devastation, he drops out, but his reputation follows him.  After the war, Travis is a gambler on a riverboat when he is recognized and attacked.  A mysterious figure saves him with a thrown knife to the back of an attacker.  Sympathetic fellow gambler Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) sends him to Prescott, Arizona Territory, to Jules Mourret.

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Jules Mourret (George Macready) meets Jeff Travis (Randolph Scott).

Prescott is a lawless mining town, where two rival gangs raid the Conroy stage line and commit other depredations.  As Travis arrives (he’s the titular stranger with a gun), the territorial capital is being moved to Phoenix in reaction to Prescott’s lawlessness.  Mourret (George Macready), another former Quantrill man, turns out to be the leader of one of the two gangs and Travis’s knife-wielding rescuer from the riverboat.  Using the name of “Matt Stone,” Travis tells the Conroys that he’s a Pinkerton agent sent to help them.  The attractive Shelby Conroy (Joan Weldon), daughter of the line’s owner, is obviously drawn to him.  And Travis finds himself once again working for the bad guys and deceiving decent people, just as he did for Quantrill.

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Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor) and Travis (Randolph Scott) renew their acquaintance.  And Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) displays his skills and determination.

Josie Sullivan shows up in Prescott to ply her trade as a gambler and to see how Travis is doing.  She tells him he’s wanted in Louisiana for the riverboat killing.  Conroy is fairly successful at hiding the gold on his stages, but when Mourret’s men Dan Kurth and Bull Slager (played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) kill a friend while trying to beat out of him information he doesn’t have, Travis’s allegiances shift again.  He tries to set the two gangs against each other, with some success.  Nevertheless, he has to shoot it out with Kurth; Lee Marvin traditionally doesn’t have much luck against Randolph Scott (see Hangman’s Knot and especially Seven Men From Now).  Mourret and Travis ultimately fight it out in a burning building (see Scott in burning buildings in Hangman’s Knot, Riding Shotgun, and Ten Wanted Men), and Travis wins.  Shelby Conroy is crushed at Travis’ deceit and betrayal, but it turns out Travis really wants Josie anyway.  And she lied about him being wanted in Louisiana.

There’s a lot of plot stuffed into only 83 minutes; it doesn’t develop organically, it feels at the end as if there are a number of loose ends, and there are a number of elements we’ve seen before. Neither the Travis nor the Sullivan characters is entirely admirable, with their shifty allegiances and casual deceit of friends and innocent people.  But it is a good cast and the film is ultimately worth watching.  Produced by Harry Joe Brown, with Randolph Scott as associate producer, in color; shot at Lone Pine.  It was also shot in 3-D, like Hondo and Gun Fury, during the brief period in the early 1950s when studios were experimenting with that new presentation.  That accounts for the occasional lunge toward the camera with a burning torch, gun or spear.

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A gleefully evil Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine) enjoys the movie’s 3-D effects.

Claire Trevor (Stagecoach, Allegheny Uprising, The Desperadoes, Best of the Badmen) was coming to the end of an excellent Hollywood career.  Her performances in Stagecoach, Dead End, and Key Largo (an Oscar winner for her) are great ones.  Here she seems to be better than her material.  Joan Weldon never really balances her as a competing romantic interest in this film, although Trevor plays the sort of character who normally shouldn’t win in the end.  Weldon will show up to better effect in 1957’s Gunsight Ridge, with Joel McCrea.  Lee Marvin was starting his memorable career as a heavy (Hangman’s Knot, Seven Men From Now, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and Ernest Borgnine regularly showed up as a bad guy as well (Johnny Guitar, The Bounty Hunter, Vera Cruz).  Two years later they both turn up as bad guys working for Robert Ryan in John Sturges’ excellent Bad Day at Black Rock.   Alfonso Bedoya’s performance as the Mexican head of the gang rivaling Mourret’s bad guys seems fairly broad and stereotypical now.  If you’re a Scott fan, you’ll be delighted by the appearance of his beautiful dark palomino Stardust and his worn leather jacket, both of which show up here.  Although the directing in this film is nothing dazzling, De Toth went on from this to make the quintessential early 3-D horror movie:  House of Wax.

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Gun Fury

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 30, 2014

Gun Fury—Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Leo Gordon, Pat Hogan, Roberta Haynes, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand (1953; Dir: Raoul Walsh)

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Three of the principal characters in this western from the early 1950s are still wallowing in the aftermath of the Civil War. Ben Warren (Rock Hudson in an early starring role) fought for the Union, has had more than enough killing and now wants only to marry his fiancée Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) and live on his large California ranch.  He doesn’t even wear a gun any more.  Jennifer is from Atlanta and is anxious to start a new life where the the desolation of Sherman’s March is not remembered.  And Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) is an embittered former Confederate, now an outlaw in the southwest.

As the film starts, Jennifer is on a stage carrying a large amount of gold and two former Southern gentlemen, along with a cavalry escort.  They stop in Haynesville, Arizona Territory, where Jennifer is meeting her future husband Ben.  He joins the stage passengers, and after it takes off Ben and Jennifer discover that the two Southerners are the noted outlaws Frank Slayton and Jess Morgan (Leo Gordon), and their new cavalry escort are Slayton’s men.  They rob the stage and think they’ve killed Warren, and Slayton abducts Jennifer, for whom he has developed a fascination.

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Strangers on a stagecoach:  Slayton (Phil Carey), Morgan (Leo Gordon), Warren (Rock Hudson), Ballard (Donna Reed), and a real stranger.

Slayton and Morgan have a falling out over the abduction, and Slayton leaves Morgan tied to a corral post for the buzzards.  Meanwhile, Warren discovers he isn’t really dead and takes one of the stagecoach horses in pursuit.  He releases Morgan, and they join forces to pursue Slayton for vengeance and to rescue Jennifer.  They are joined by an Indian Johash (Pat Hogan), whose sister was also taken by Slayton’s men in an earlier raid on Taos.

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Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) leaves Jess Morgan (Leo Gordon) to die.

As Slayton and his men get closer to the Mexican border, Morgan and Warren find a couple of his men buying supplies in a town and kill one of them.  Now Slayton knows they are following.  He stops by a village notable for its cantina and Mexican ladies of easy virtue, where Slayton has a girl Estella Morales (Roberta Haynes).  He has Jennifer cleaned up and has his way with her, although the camera doesn’t show that very explicitly.  Estella is enraged at being abandoned so casually.  Slayton makes a deal with Warren and Burgess: he’ll trade Jennifer back to Warren in exchange for Burgess.  Although Warren isn’t minded to make that trade, not trusting Slayton in the slightest, Burgess insists he can take Slayton.  It doesn’t work, and Burgess is killed.

Now it’s Warren and Johash against Slayton and the remainder of his band of outlaws.  Estella tries to get Slayton and is killed for her pains.  It comes finally, as we knew it would, to former pacifist Warren and the ruthless outlaw Slayton.  Just when it looks like Slayton has the advantage, it turns out he has forgotten Johash, and Slayton ends with a knife in his back.  Warren and Jennifer ride off to their California ranch.

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Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) is fit to be tied; Ben Warren (Rock Hudson) seeks vengeance.

This is one of three movies from 1953 in which director Raoul Walsh used his new discovery Rock Hudson. (The Lawless Breed and Sea Devils are the other two.)  None of them are particularly memorable.  Like Hondo, this film was made in the 3-D process that was all the rage that year, and the camerawork, especially in the second half, shows the usual evidence of that in the angles of thrown objects, striking rattlesnakes and such.  Carey as the sociopathic outlaw Slayton and Leo Gordon as the vengeful Jess Burgess give the best performances in the cast.  Leo Gordon was just breaking into movies, the same year that he played Ed Lowe (Geraldine Page’s despicable husband, shot by John Wayne) in Hondo.

Donna Reed is beautiful but nothing special as Jennifer (she’s more notable in Hangman’s Knot and Backlash later in the decade, for example), and Rock Hudson was never a dazzling actor, but he was more wooden here than he would be later in his career.  Lee Marvin and Neville Brand have early roles as members of Slayton’s gang, but they have neither enough lines nor enough camera time to distinguish themselves here.  Roberta Haynes is modestly interesting in a limited role as Mexican spitfire Estella, but one does feel that actual Mexican Katy Jurado could have done it better, and that the smoldering Linda Darnell did do it better in My Darling Clementine.

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The script by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins is fine, based on Kathleen George’s novel Ten Against Caesar.  Warren has interesting exchanges with lawmen and townsfolk of the small towns he and Burgess go through in their pursuit, as he tries without success to get some help.  The title of the movie doesn’t mean anything in particular, which was common enough with westerns of that era.  One does expect better camera work from the experienced director Walsh; camera placement and angles here often telegraph what’s coming.  The one-eyed Walsh could not himself see the 3-D results of his work, but he had done better westerns—Colorado Territory, for example.  Shot on location in Sedona, Arizona.  83 minutes.

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The Moonlighter

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 3, 2014

The Moonlighter—Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Ward Bond, William Ching, Jack Elam (1953; Dir:  Roy Rowland)

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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck had been making movies together since 1940’s Remember the Night, and of course their best-known collaboration was in one of the screen’s all-time greatest films noir:  Double Indemnity (1944).  This time they’re in a western, and, while pleasant enough to watch, it’s not in the same category as Double Indemnity.  It’s probably the weakest of their four films together.

The film starts with Wes Anderson (MacMurray) in jail, having been arrested as a moonlighter—one who rustles cattle by moonlight.  He is in fact guilty, but an irate rancher wants to lynch him.  Circumstances conspire so that they hang the wrong man (as in The Ox-Bow Incident), and a black man in the jail sings spirituals so we’ll get the connection with more modern lynching in the American south—also like The Ox-Bow Incident. 

Anderson escapes and arranges for a funeral for the supposedly deceased Wes Anderson, robbing those who attend to pay for the festivities.  He takes some revenge on the spread that did the lynching and heads home for Rio Hondo after a five-year absence with a wound in his shoulder.

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His brother Tom (William Ching) works respectably in the local bank and has finally convinced Wes’ former girlfriend Rela to marry him.  However, Tom gets fired, and Cole Gardner (Ward Bond), an old outlaw acquaintance of Wes’, shows up with a plan to rob the bank.  Wes tries to keep Tom out of the plan, but Tom now insists on being included.  As they escape, his former employer pulls a hidden gun and shoots Tom in the back.  Wes and Cole make their escape in the bank president’s horseless carriage, placing the time of this movie around 1900.

As Wes and Cole hole up in a remote cabin, a posse searches for them ineffectively.  But Rela knows where they probably are, and she convinces the sheriff to deputize her.  Meanwhile, Cole decides he doesn’t want to share the loot.  He and Wes fight, and, hampered by his wounded shoulder, Wes is knocked out and tied up.  As Cole descends the mountain, Rela spots him and a gun battle breaks out between them.  Rela eventually wins, finds Wes and unties him.  She insists they go down the dangerous way. 

As Rela and Wes cross under a waterfall, Rela slips and falls in a pool.  Wes could escape but chooses to rescue her and he takes her back to the remote hideout.  They have a discussion with lots of “suddenly I realized …” on both sides.  Rela always loved Wes and he loves her.  Now he’s decided to turn in himself and the money so that he and Rela can be together when he gets out of jail.  (He’s ignoring the fact that under the felony murder rules, he is likely to be accused of Tom’s murder, since it happened in the commission of a felony in which he was participating.)  Anyway, the second ride down the mountain goes smoothly, and they fade out.

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The action sequences (the jailbreak and lynching, and the fight between Cole and Wes, for example) are good.  But all of the sudden realizations are not convincing.  At the least, they needed more time to develop.  It brings to mind the ending of Remember the Night, which was not quite as unsatisfying.  MacMurray and Stanwyck rekindle their relationship in 1956 in Douglas Sirk’s melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow.  And MacMurray is better in 1957’s Quantez.  In black and white.  Short, at 77 minutes.  Like John Wayne’s Hondo and Raoul Walsh’s Gun Fury, The Moonlighter was originally shot in 3-D during Hollywood’s brief flirtation with that technology in the early 1950s.

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Hondo

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 21, 2013

Hondo—John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, James Arness, Lee Aaker, Leo Gordon (1953; Dir:  John Farrow)

John Wayne plays Hondo Lane, an ill-tempered part-Indian army scout in Arizona territory in 1870.  This movie doesn’t have as high a profile as some of the Wayne westerns of the late 1940s and early 1950s (Red River, The Searchers), but Hondo Lane is a quintessential Wayne character.

So why doesn’t it have a higher profile?  There are at least three major reasons:  (1)  The story isn’t as epic in nature as some others.  (2)  The rights are owned by Wayne’s production company, Batjac, and Batjac kept it largely out of circulation for a few decades.  (3)  It was made during the brief 3D fad of the early 1950s and bears some of the hallmarks of that specialized kind of moviemaking.  Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, it might be the best 3D movie made during that period.  It is certainly the best movie made from a story by the best-selling western author Louis L’Amour, although it doesn’t have much good competition for that title.

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A stranger from the desert, accompanied by a feral dog.

As the movie opens, army scout and dispatch rider Hondo Lane walks up to an isolated Arizona ranch, looking somewhat the worse for wear, carrying saddlebags and a rifle and followed by a scruffy-looking feral dog, Sam.  Lane’s horse was killed when he was attacked by Apaches a few days earlier, and he’s been on foot ever since.  At the ranch he finds Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her son Johnny (Lee Aaker).  She says her husband Ed is up in the hills rounding up strays, but the place doesn’t show much sign of a man’s upkeep for the past several months.  Lane buys a wild horse from her, tames it and does some other tasks to earn his keep.  He develops the beginnings of a relationship with Angie and Johnny, and reveals that he once lived among the Mescalero Apaches and was married to one of them.  Lane tries to talk Angie into coming back to the military post and safety, but her family has lived for a long time at the ranch originally built by her father.  They have always had decent relations with the Chiricauhua Apaches in the area, now led by Vittorio (Michael Pate), and Angie insists on staying.

Lane returns to the army post with the tattered pennant of C Troop that he has recovered from an Apache.  He has a couple of run-ins with an unpleasant loudmouth who turns out to be named Lowe (Leo Gordon, who was just getting started in a career as a bad guy and thug).  Yes, he’s Angie’s husband, who has abandoned his family on the isolated ranch in Apache country.  As Lane leads a pack horse back toward the Lowe ranch, Lowe and a confederate follow at a distance, planning to attack and rob Lane when they find him in a convenient spot.  When they do attack, a band of Apache warriors attacks the three white men.  They get Lowe’s friend; Lane is forced to shoot Lowe and then tries to outrun the Apaches.  He’s not successful and is captured by Silva (Rodolfo Acosta), one of Vittorio’s nastier subchiefs. 

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Hondo (John Wayne) and Mrs. Lowe (Geraldine Page) survey the situation.

After Lane’s departure from the Lowe ranch, Vittorio shows up with his warriors in a less than friendly mood.  However, Vittorio is taken with Johnny’s spirit in his youthful attempts to defend his mother, and he adopts the boy as a blood brother.  Now that Lane is a captive of the Apaches, they begin to torture him until they discover in his possession a tintype of Johnny that Lane had taken from Lowe’s body.  He is given the right to single combat against Silva.  He wins after being wounded, but declines to kill Silva.  Vittorio deposits him at the Lowe ranch, where Angie lies and confirms to the chief that Lane is her husband.  This saves her from having to take an Apache husband.  And she’s starting to wish that the lie were true.

Lane gives Angie the tintype and tells her that he got it from Lowe’s body.  There follows an interlude in which Lane bonds with the boy and his mother.  Vittorio shows up unexpectedly to extract from Lane a promise that he won’t help the soldiers and will mislead them about Vittorio’s whereabouts.  Lane refuses to lie to the soldiers, knowing that the Indians hate lies.

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When they do show up, the soldiers are led by Lt. McKay, a recent West Point graduate who won’t listen to the voice of experience, as represented by Lane and his fellow scout Buffalo Baker (Ward Bond).  In a subsequent altercation with the Apaches, McKay is badly wounded and Vittorio is killed.  With Vittorio dead, Lane knows he and his new family are now in greater danger from the Apaches, and from white men who know that Lane killed Lowe.  There is a stirring resolution with a cavalry-Apache battle on the run.  Observing the departing Indians at the end, Lane notes, “End of a way of life.  Too bad.  It was a good way.”

Hondo may not be all that different from other John Wayne western characters, but he’s not identical, either.  For one thing, there’s Hondo’s irascibility:  “No wonder the Apaches call him Enverrado.  It means bad-tempered.”  He’s given to saying “A man oughta do what he thinks is best” just when somebody’s about to do something blatantly wrong or stupid.  Note the battered hat worn by Hondo throughout the movie; it’s the same one worn by the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, Capt. Nathan Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Sheriff John T. Chance in Rio Bravo.  It was honorably retired after Rio Bravo in 1959 after 20 years of hard use.

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The cast is excellent, and aside from the central role of Hondo Lane, the young Geraldine Page really makes the movie as slightly prissy pioneer woman Angie Lowe.  Previously known only for her work on the New York stage, she got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work here.  (A political liberal, she was reportedly horrified at the right-wing views of Wayne, Bond, Arness and director Farrow.)  Ward Bond, one of the usual John Wayne-John Ford suspects, is also superb as a slightly rougher than usual variation of the rough-hewn frontier character he normally played.  Australian actor Michael Pate is credible as Vittorio, more than you’d expect, and he shows up in other movies (McLintock!, for example) as an Indian.  The young and blond James Arness plays yet another scout, this one of a morally dubious nature.  The overconfident recent West Point graduate, Lt. McKay (Tom Irish), might have stepped out of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy.  And Paul Fix as the post commander is good in a small part.  Sam, Hondo’s dog, is a good character, very similar to “Dog” in Big Jake.

There are some remaining traces of the movie’s 3D origins, but they’re not too distracting.  They include the garish titles, a few lunges at the camera during the knife fight and the battle sequences and a couple of strange camera angles.  There is an Intermission card, needed for this relatively short movie so that film could be changed in both projection cameras at the same time. 

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The movie is directed in a thoroughly professional manner by John Farrow, although there are stories that Farrow was restrained some by Wayne.  The movie’s final sequences (including the cavalry-Apache battle) were directed by John Ford when Farrow had to leave before the film was quite finished.  The screenplay is by James Edward Grant, whose brand of terse dialogue was particularly congenial to Wayne.  It was filmed on location in the Mexican desert, in Camargo, Chihuahua, during the summer months, which no doubt accounts for the authentic-looking dust and sweat.  At less than 90 minutes, it’s pretty tight story-telling.

By the time the film was released in late 1953, the 3D fad had already passed, and Hondo was mostly seen in a more normal format.  But it was a hit.  Based the short story “A Gift of Cochise,” author L’Amour reworked it into a novel that sold 3,000,000 copies, the first with his real name attached.  It started him on the road to best-sellerdom, although that mostly arrived in the 1970s and 1980s.

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