Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Hondo (1953) at USC

Tonight we enjoyed a 3-D screening of HONDO as part of USC's weekend-long celebration of the centennial of John Wayne.

It was hard to top last night's showing of THE QUIET MAN, but HONDO's 3-D technology was truly spectacular. What made seeing the film even more special was that although I loved the novel and recently acquired the DVD, this was, in fact, my first-ever viewing of HONDO. I very much enjoyed the movie; it's simply a good, solid Western with an excellent cast, made with great craftsmanship.

I especially liked the scenes developing the relationship between Hondo (Wayne) and Angie (Geraldine Page). Lee Aaker did an excellent job as Page's little boy. Seeing familiar faces like Ward Bond, Paul Fix, James Arness, and Leo Gordon come onto the screen is always fun; Bond in particular is just about my all-time favorite character actor. Michael Pate, who played the Indian chief Vittorio, co-wrote the story and screenplay for ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (reviewed here), which was released the same year as HONDO.

I've seen a few movies in 3-D, including KISS ME KATE, but the 3-D effects were truly impressive. You felt as though the actors were almost standing right in front of you. The 3-D was particularly effective in scenes inside Angie's house, as it gave the set so much more depth than we are used to seeing. And, of course, there were a few arrows and spears which seemed headed right for the audience at certain points! Dr. Jewell said HONDO has already been worked on twice, as 3-D technology continues to evolve, and there may be a third restored edition of HONDO in the future.

HONDO was directed by John Farrow and runs 83 minutes.

Libertas describes a screening of the print which was hosted by Maltin and Gretchen Wayne at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater last year.

HONDO can be seen on DVD in a beautiful edition released by the John Wayne Estate. Extras include a commentary by Leonard Maltin and others, plus featurettes on Ward Bond and writer James Edward Grant. Although I had not seen the DVD copy of the film yet, I had previously watched and enjoyed some of the featurettes very much.

Update: Today I watched the 20-minute DVD featurette on the making of HONDO, which was excellent. Michael Pate and Lee Aaker shared their memories of being cast and shooting the film in Mexico.

It's quite interesting that John Ford shot the climactic battle between the wagon train and the Apaches, as Farrow had to leave to shoot another movie. Stefanie Powers also shared last night that Ford shot a small portion of MCLINTOCK! when Andrew McLaglen was hospitalized. She recalled waiting with trepidation for the great man's arrival at their location; Ford was in a huff as his proteges, Wayne and McLaglen, had not previously consulted him on making the movie.

While watching the featurette I was struck anew at HONDO's visual beauty: stark desert landscapes contrast with cloudy blue skies and the lush green around a creek. To some extent I don't think it was possible to fully absorb all of the film's qualities on the first viewing, especially as the 3-D was fascinating but perhaps a bit distracting in and of itself. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it again in the future.

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