1953’s “Hondo,” directed by John Farrow, is one of those fantastic pairings where both the book (“Hondo” by Louis L’Amour) and the movie (John Wayne) are spectacular. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a treat. This one even took an interesting detour. “The Gift of Cochise” was a Louis L’Amour short story published in the July 5, 1952, issue of Collier’s magazine. John Wayne read it and purchased the rights, and it was turned into the movie “Hondo.” L’Amour actually took the screenplay and turned it into a book of the same name, and “Hondo,” the movie and the book, were released on the same day in 1953.
Hondo Lane, a dispatch rider for the U.S. Army, stumbles, horseless, onto a ranch in the middle of Arizona and into the middle of an Apache/Army war. Angie Lowe and her 6-year-old son, Johnny, are living alone on the ranch and refuse to leave with Hondo for the safety of the fort, with Mrs. Lowe insisting on waiting for her husband, who, in her heart, she knows isn’t coming back. Hondo, knowing she is lying about her husband but unwilling to force her to leave, reluctantly leaves her and Johnny behind, having to report back to the fort that Company C has been wiped out by multiple Apache tribes who have come together, throwing aside their treaties with the United States and any chance for peace.
The great Chiricahua Apache Chief Vittorio is leading the battle against the Army and is held responsible for more than 1,000 settlers’ deaths but, for reasons known only to him, has so far spared Angie and her son.
Will Hondo, who lived with the Mescalero Apaches, ride with the Army against Vittorio and his men, a decision that would almost certainly end in the death of Angie and Johnny, or will he stand aside as the Army’s final battle with Vittorio takes place?
John Wayne was then, and still remains, the biggest name in the film, starring as the movie’s namesake, Hondo Lane. While Wayne did many successful non-Western movies, he is best known for his iconic Western roles. Geraldine Page, as Angie Lowe and starring in her first feature film, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first of eight Academy nominations in her illustrious career. Australian actor Michael Pate played Chiricahua Apache Chief Vittorio (Vittoro in the book), and fellow Australian John Farrow directed the film. James Arness, who had a small role in “Hondo,” went on to play Marshall Matt Dillon for 20 years (1955-1975) in the television series “Gunsmoke.”
While John Farrow is credited as the only director on “Hondo,” he was not the only one who directed. Farrow was contractually obligated to begin work on another film, and when the “Hondo” shoot went past schedule, Farrow had to leave. John Wayne asked John Ford to finish the movie in Farrow’s place, and he did, directing the final scenes of the movie. Ford was never credited for his work.