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Release Date(s)1953 (May 15, 2012)
Studio(s)Batjac/Warner Bros. (Paramount)
Hondo is the first of the John Wayne Batjac productions that Paramount in arrangement with the Wayne family has brought to Blu-ray. Hopefully we can look forward to the other titles in this package seeing their Blu-ray debuts in the not too distant future also (such as Big Jim McLain, Island in the Sky, and The High and the Mighty) though no announcements have yet been made.
Hondo, made in 1953 and originally released for John Wayne's Batjac company by Warner Bros., arrived right in the middle of the cycle of more adult westerns that graced the big screen beginning in the early 1950s - with stories that provided more complex western protagonists than the B-western series of the Saturday afternoon matinees and relationships with Indians as one example of people and incidents portrayed in much more enlightened world views. In Hondo, Wayne is dispatch rider Hondo Lane who happens on a lonely ranch where a woman and young son (Geraldine Page and Lee Aaker, both delivering winning performances) live at the sufferance of Apache bands currently on the warpath. The woman's husband has deserted her and it eventually transpires that Wayne develops a relationship with the woman - one increasingly complicated by both the Indian band of Vittorio (Michael Pate) who has taken a shine to the woman's son and the true connection between Wayne and the woman's husband. The film is a polished production presented in Warner Color under strong direction by veteran John Farrow (active for more than two decades in a wide variety of genre films from the mid-1930s on), with a strong script by James Edward Grant based on a story by Louis l'Amour, a very likable performance from Wayne, good action sequences and appealing location work in Utah and Chihuahua Mexico, and a pleasing supporting cast of familiar Wayne co-players (Ward Bond, James Arness, Paul Fix, Rodolfa Acosta, Chuck Roberson, and the aforementioned Leo Gordon). At a briskly-paced 83 minutes, Hondo is a very enjoyable piece of entertainment.
Western fans should be very happy with the Blu-ray effort that Paramount has delivered for Hondo. The original film was shot at 1.37:1 but also protected for 1.85:1 screens, as was common at the time. The 1.37:1 ratio graced Paramount's earlier DVD release (which fans will want to retain) while this new Blu-ray release captures the wider screen 1.85:1 ratio which works quite interestingly for the film's framing as well. The 1.85:1 Blu-ray image looks crisp and delivers a pleasing and modest amount of grain. It captures the landscape beautifully, the predominant earth tones punctuated by the strong, primary hues of some of the costuming both demonstrating strong colour fidelity throughout. Image detail is very strong indeed with skin textures and surfaces of places and things offering an almost 3D-like look throughout. In that connection, Hondo was originally photographed in 3D and came out early in the cycle of 3D theatrical releases then popular in Hollywood. It was originally shown in Polaroid 3D and had one of the widest releases of any 3D feature from the 1950's, playing the majority of its engagements in depth. Paramount has not delivered an actual 3D home theatre transfer for this release - disappointing, though hope springs eternal for the future.
Hondo has been provided with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless transfer that provides at best a rather modest boost to the film's sense of spatiousness via some minor ambient effects. Dialogue is clear and action sound effects seem reasonably punchy. A TrueHD mono track is also provided and a listen to it seemed to me to provide just as effective an aural experience in all sound aspects of the film. English subtitles and DD 5.1 French, Spanish, and Portuguese sound tracks and subtitling have been provided.
The supplement package is highlighted by a very illuminating and entertaining audio commentary by Leonard Maltin (who also provides a introduction to the film), film historian Frank Thompson, and actor Lee Aaker. Then there's a fine 3-part making-of documentary that lasts about 42 minutes. Rounding out the disc are pieces on the Apache and on the Batjac vaults, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
An easy recommendation for western and John Wayne fans.