Hondo is something of an oddity among John Wayne films. For starters, it was a western not directed by Howard Hawks or John Ford, but by John Farrow, a director Wayne only teamed up with one other time in his career (a WWII film called The Sea Chase). This is also a very tightly edited film, clocking in at just 83 minutes, including an intermission! Though he had certainly performed in his fair share of westerns by this time, Hondo came a couple of years before the release of the long series of w…sterns that John Wayne is most famous for.
The film, based on a short story by Louis L’Amour, tells the story of a drifter and his dog that come upon a woman and her son living alone on the plains, and becomes their protector against the Native Americans that roam in the area. When the woman’s estranged husband shows up, however, trouble starts, and this basic western story becomes something that deals more with tolerance secrets and lies than with ropes and cattle.
In addition to the original Mono soundtrack, this disc also features a modern Dolby Digital 5.1 setup. This is a great new soundtrack, as it does a quality job of making the audio sound full, while not sounding out of context with the age of the film. The 5.1 track also does a nice job of bringing out some of the nuances in Hugo Friedhofer’s wonderful score. Bass tones are more full, and trumpets are clearer. Dialog is easy to hear, and there is a wide dynamic range that opens up the audio experience of the film.
Hondo is presented here in its original full screen format. In fact, while the film was originally shot in full screen, it was also shot in 3-D! At the time, some believed that all films would be shot in 3-D in the future, and this was a film that was attempting to beat the rush. Unfortunately, 3-D became much more of a trend than the standard over time. The standard dimension transfer looks pretty clean, though, with surprisingly good color for a film of this age. There are a few scenes that are annoyingly out of focus, but the majority of the film is sharp and clean. There are also some minor blemishes on the negative, but nothing is too overwhelming or annoying.
For a single disc release, there are a considerable number of extras included here. In addition to the standard trailers and photo gallery, this disc starts off with an introduction by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. I am glad to see such intros becoming more of a standard extra on classic films, as it is so important to understand the climate of the times when a film was released to gain a well rounded impression of the value of the film. Maltin is always pleasant and knowledgeable when it comes to film, so I am glad that he agreed to help out with this DVD release.
He also shows up on a commentary track, joined by western historian Frank Thompson and actor Lee Aaker, who played “Johnny” in the film. This is a quality track that features a nice assortment of facts from a varied selection of personalities in the film community. Sometimes, studios will try to stretch commentaries like this into two or three separate tracks, but I actually prefer it when many different experts are thrown into a room together, as it makes for one very good track, instead of three decent ones.
The meat of the extras is comprised of featurettes on The Making of Hondo, a profile of screenwriter James Edward Grant and a short profile on frequent Wayne acting collaborator Ward Bond. All three of these quality featurettes are hosted by Leonard Maltin, and have been created exclusively for this DVD release.
Finally, the extras wrap up with a featurette on the true history of The Apache. Hondo is one of the earliest films that showed the faults of the white settlers in the treatment of Native Americans in the old west, instead of portraying the natives purely as savages. I believe that it is important for segments such as this one to be included on films that have historical significance, and this one is of the highest quality.
Geraldine Page received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in this film, and Louis L’Amour was nominated for his story as well. Even with all of this acclaim, the film inexplicably went out of print for about 15 years. This new release is a worthy document of this film, and with the inclusion of some surprisingly excellent extras, it will surely help to garner some new fans for this quality film.
Special Features List
- John Wayne DVD Collection Spot
- Introduction by Leonard Maltin
- Commentary by Leonard Maltin, Western Historian Frank Thompson and Actor Lee Aaker
- The Making of Hondo Featurette
- From the Batjac Vaults
- The Apache
- Photo Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Batjac Teaser