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Hondo (film)

1953 film poster
Directed by John Farrow
Produced by Robert M. Fellows
John Wayne
Written by screenplay by
James Edward Grant
from a short story by
Louis L'Amour
Starring John Wayne
Geraldine Page
Ward Bond
Michael Pate
James Arness
Leo Gordon
Music by Hugo W. Friedhofer
Emil Newman
Cinematography Robert Burks
Louis Clyde Stoumen
Archie J. Stout
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Batjac Productions
Wayne-Fellows Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. (original)
Paramount Pictures (current)
Release dates
  • November 27, 1953 (1953-11-27)
Running time 84 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,000,000
Box office $4,100,000[1][2]

Hondo is a Warnercolor 3D Western film made in 1953, starring John Wayne, directed by John Farrow. The screenplay is based on the July 5, 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 Bantam Books in 1953.[3]


  • Plot summary 1
  • Details 2
  • Cast 3
  • Filming locations 4
  • Development and production 5
  • Theatrical release 6
  • Restoration and DVD release 7
  • Notes 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Plot summary

Hondo Lane (John Wayne) arrives on foot at a ranch where Mrs. Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her son Johnny (Lee Aaker) have been deserted by her husband for months. Part Apache, Hondo tries to avoid confrontation with war chief Vittorio (Michael Pate), but finally bails out inexperienced West Point graduate Cavalry Lieutenant (Tom Irish) and old friend scout Buffalo (Ward Bond). When Hondo finally admits he had to kill Mr Lowe (Leo Gordon) in self-defense, Angie reveals her husband was a gambler, unfaithful, unkind, and only married her for her inheritance. She disagrees with Hondo's devotion to "truth", calls his desire to confess to Johnny selfish, and asks to leave with him and the remains of a wagon train heading towards his farm that looks just like hers.


At a remote ranch in the desert of New Mexico Territory, homesteader Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her six year-old son Johnny (Lee Aaker) come upon a stranger (John Wayne) on foot coming towards their ranch, carrying only his saddle bags and a rifle. The man tells them only his last name, Lane, and that he was riding dispatch for the US Army Cavalry. He had lost his horse in an encounter with some Indians a few days before, and offers US Army scrip or work for one of her horses. Angie tells Lane that her ranch hand had quit recently and hadn't had a chance to break her two horses for riding, so Lane offers to break a horse himself. He also asks where her husband is, and she says he is rounding up calves and cattle in the mountains and should return soon.

Johnny watches with fascination as Lane saddles one of the horses and rides the bucking and untamed animal with ease. Lane also offers to do a few chores around the ranch, including sharpening an axe and chopping firewood. Lane deduces by the neglected work around the ranch that her husband has not been at the ranch for some time, a fact she confesses is true. When night falls and it starts to rain, Angie offers to let Lane sleep in her home on a floor bed in the corner. Angie sees that the butt of his rifle is inscribed "Hondo" Lane, whom she knows had killed three men the year before, but doesn't know the circumstances. She attempts to shoot him, but due to the first chamber being empty for safety, Hondo is not hurt. He loads the chamber and tells her to keep it that way and keep it high, out of Johnny's reach.

Hondo leaves Angie and Johnny at the ranch and 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 to the north, is not coming back. He found their company guidon on two Indians, whom he subsequently killed. It is now clear to the Major (Paul Fix) that all of the Apache nation is raiding and killing settlers. At the ranch, Angie and Johnny are beset by Apaches, led by Chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) and his main under-chief, Silva (Rodolfo Acosta). Angie is not made nervous by their presence as she has always let them use their water, and they had never attacked her family before. Soon, however, they are manhandling Angie, and Johnny emerges from the house with the loaded pistol and shoots at Silva, nicking Silva in the head and then, as Silva recovers and approaches him, he throws the pistol at Silva. Vittorio is impressed by Johnny's bravery and makes him an Apache blood brother by cutting Johnny's thumb with a knife and giving him an Apache name. Vittorio also wonders where Angie's husband is and she tells him that he'll return soon. Vittorio tells her that unless her husband does so, she must take an Apache husband because the boy needs a father to teach him to become a man.

A night or two later in a saloon, Hondo calls a friend from his poker game, but one of the poker players objects. He and Hondo get into a fight, and Hondo beats up the man badly, driving him out the door. Buffalo Baker tells Hondo the man called himself "Ed Lowe" (Leo Gordon), and Hondo suspects he might be Angie's missing husband. Feeling guilty, he leaves the fort to return Angie's horse to her. Seeking revenge for the bar beating, Lowe and an accomplice (Frank McGrath) follow Hondo through the desert as he makes his way to Angie's ranch. Hondo camps near a river but leaves it when he detects two Indians stalking him nearby. Lowe enters the camp and he and his guide are attacked by the two Indians. The guide is killed, but Hondo shoots and kills an Apache about to kill Lowe. Lowe is briefly grateful but turns his gun on Hondo in retaliation for the bar beating. Hondo defends himself, killing Lowe. Hondo finds a tintype of Johnny alongside Lowe's body, confirming that Lowe is Johnny's father and Angie's husband.

Continuing towards Lowe's ranch, Hondo runs into an Apache party, who pursue Hondo through the desert. He kills several but they eventually capture him. They take Hondo to the top of a nearby mesa when Vittorio appears. They stake him out and begin to torture and prepare to kill him because he is wearing his old Army hat and they wish to find out the location and number of the Cavalry soldiers. An Indian shows Vittorio the picture of Johnny from Hondo's saddlebag, and Vittorio thinks Hondo is Angie's husband. He orders the Indians to untie him; and Silva declares the blood rite as Hondo had killed his brother. Knives are used in the fight of the blood rite. Silva wounds Hondo in the shoulder, but Hondo pins Silva to the ground. Hondo puts his knife to Silva's throat, and gives him the option to take back the blood rite or die as did his brother. Silva gives in. Vittorio takes Hondo to Angie's ranch, and when Vittorio asks if Hondo is her husband, she lies, saving Hondo. The Chief warns Hondo to raise Johnny in the Apache way and leaves them.

While Hondo recuperates from his wounds, he shows her the picture of Johnny that he tells her he took from Lowe's body. She asks if he died well, and Hondo pauses before saying that he had. Over the next few weeks, Hondo and Angie grow closer. Hondo and Angie express their growing love for each other. Hondo attempts to reveal the truth of her husband's death, but is interrupted by Vittorio's sudden appearance. Vittorio tells them that the pony soldiers will soon return. He asks Hondo not to join them and to keep the Indian's location a secret. Hondo promises to do the first but not the latter, and Vittorio shows respect for Hondo's truthfulness. Angie tells him she loves him, and they cement their relationship with a kiss.

The Army arrives at the ranch, commanded by an ambitious, inexperienced young 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. Lennie reveals that 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 bushwhacked Lowe. Angie overhears Lennie's demands.

Hondo prepares to leave, but before he goes, he tells her the truth about her husband's death. Hondo is also intent on telling Johnny, but she persuades him not to, telling Hondo she didn't love her husband any longer and had grown tired of his womanizing and gambling. She says it would be an unkind thing to tell the boy about the true nature of his father's death and that the secret won't 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 Army leaves to move further on into Apache territory and as promised Hondo refuses to go with them but confirms with Buffalo that he knows where Vittorio and his party are and that the young Lt. is leading them into a massacre. Buffalo knows but he also knows that scouts such as himself have been helping to train young West Point officers for many years.

The Army returns after being ambushed by the Apaches, suffering heavy casualties including wounds to Lt. McKay. Vittorio had been killed, causing the Apaches to retreat so they can regroup and select a new chief. Hondo, Angie and Johnny join the Cavalry and settlers and head to the fort. The group is attacked by the Apaches, now led by Silva, and the group circles their wagons. They escape the encirclement twice but the Apaches continue their pursuit. Hondo loses his mount and is attacked by Silva, but Hondo kills him, retrieving Lt. McKay's uniform shirt from his body. The Indians retreat again to choose a replacement chief.

Lt. McKay says that General Crook will be arriving in the territory with a large force to pursue the Apache. Hondo sadly notes the end of the Apache "way of life," denoting that it is too bad as it was a good way. The movie ends with the idea that once back to the fort, Hondo, Angie and Johnny would continue on to Hondo's ranch in California as a family.


Filming locations

Development and production

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. 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.

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 DP Robert Burks were unfamiliar with the new technology and had trouble adjusting to using it, and 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 show 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 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.

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.

Theatrical release

Despite the production troubles that came with the location shooting in 3D, the format had already started to wane in popularity by the time the film was completed. 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.

The film was released on November 27, 1953. Hondo played across the country in the 3D format as it was intended using the Polaroid 3D projection system and became quite popular with audiences, eventually grossing $4.1 million and placing it sixteenth in box office for that year.

Restoration and DVD release

An initial restoration of Hondo was overseen by Wayne's son Michael, head of Batjac Productions, in the late 1980s culminating in a 3D television broadcast of the movie in June 1991. 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.[4]


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 highpoints of the film.

John Farrow, the director, and Michael Pate, who played Vittorio, were both Australian. The Second Unit Director is Andrew McLaglen, who later directed the Wayne vehicles McLintock! and The Undefeated.

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

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, entitled "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 year before. Moreover, a 1994 episode of Married... with Children, entitled "Assault and Batteries," has a subplot in which Al is desperate not to miss a television airing of Hondo because, as he explains, 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.[5] Al holds the film in very high esteem, once telling Peggy's family members, "Your lives are meaningless compared to Hondo!"

"Hondo" became the nickname of John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics, one of the greatest players of the National Basketball Association during the 1960s and 1970s, with the nickname was supposedly inspired by the character played by John Wayne and used since others had difficulty pronouncing Havlicek's last name.

The two male and female main character names from Hondo reappear in John Wayne's 1973 western film The Train Robbers.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  3. ^
  4. ^, John Wayne’s Hondo Comes Out on Blu-ray, The Duke's daughter-in-law Gretchen Wayne talks about the restored version of one of his moodier Westerns, By Daniel Eagan, June 6, 2012
  5. ^ "Assault and Batteries." Married... with Children. Fox Broadcasting Company, New York City, New York, USA. 8 May 1994. Television.

External links

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