John Russell, disdained by his "respectable" fellow stagecoach passengers because he was raised by Indians, becomes their only hope for survival when they are set upon by outlaws.
"You got one thing to do kid - watch him. He can leave until the time they come. After that, no. If he tries to leave with nothing, shoot him once. If he takes the money shoot him twice. If he picks up the water, you empty your gun. Understand?"
I think I've come to a place where I'm just going to have to come clean and admit it - I am a westerns guy. I've always said I enjoyed them, but I usually say that I'm more horror, comedy and science fiction films, but put an amazing western on and I stop everything I'm doing and get lost in the picture. As a multitasker by nature, I usually have a movie in the background while I work, but if a good western comes on I have to shut off the TV otherwise I won't get an ounce of viable writing done. 'Hombre' is that kind of western, a classic piece of cinema that pulls you in, holds you tight, and never lets go of your attention.
John "Hombre" Russell (Paul Newman) is a man who simply wants to live a quiet life in the mountains with his Apache ancestors. Only John isn't Apache, he's white but was raised by these people since before he can remember. As a white man he doesn't fit with either people; an alien in his own world. After inheriting a boarding house, John sees the chance to live life the way he sees fit. The only problem is several people in town, including his own friends have ideas of their own as to how John should live his life. Mendez (Martin Balsam) thinks it's good for John to take over the boarding house and live life as a respectable white man. Jessie (Diane Cilento), the woman who runs the house, has her own feelings - but nothing anyone says can keep John from selling the property and moving on.
After an Indian Agent named Favor (Fredric March) and his wife purchase the last stage to Contension from Mendez, the last way out of town is now open. Seeing a chance to earn a few extra bucks from the folks looking to get out of town, Mendez quickly fills the stage with Favor and his wife, Jessie, John, Billy Lee (Peter Lazar) and his wife Doris (Margaret Blye). Joining the group is a shady gruff and tough bully of a man named Grimes (Richard Boone) who forces another passenger to give up his ticket.
As with any long journey, folks start talking about this and that. When John's history comes up some of the passengers get a bit uncomfortable riding in the same carriage as a man who is empathetic towards the Apache's plight and has lived with them. After being forced to ride outside while Mendez drives - the coach is held up by a gang of bushwhackers - including the former town sheriff (Cameron Mitchell). The bandits free the hoarse team and take Mrs. Favor (Barbara Rush) hostage as well as all of the coach fair leaving the passengers stranded. John doesn't waste time killing two of the bandits securing the cash and the last of the water supply. Knowing how the bandits will likely come back to kill them off, John takes to the hills leaving the others to descide whether or not to follow him. Since he's the only one who knows the land, John becomes the remaining passengers best hope for survival as they trek over harsh terrain under unrelenting sun with a pack of men armed with guns aimed at their back.
Based on a novel by the late great Elmore Leonard and directed by Martin Ritt, 'Hombre' is a classic western - but it isn't a "classical western." By the late 60s, the landscape of westerns was changing giving rise to "revisionist westerns." It was no longer a common sight to see a traditional Cowboys and Indians "Good Guys VS Savages" film. People were becoming more aware of historical events and the conditions native peoples lived in on reservations, as such this sentimentality began to permeate the genre. Some lament the loss of the traditional stories, but what is gained are some incredible character studies and films with a richer sense of history. John Russell is a man without a people. He knows and loves the Apache, but he can never be one. He is a white man but despises their selfish two-faced ways.
Part of the brilliance of 'Hombre' is the screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. who keep the crackling dialogue of Leonard's characters, making conversations as thrilling as gunfights. Together they wrote such genre classics as 'The Cowboys,' 'The Outriders,' and 'Hud' making them the perfect team to tackle this material. The great writing wouldn't be worth anything if it weren't for the fantastic performances. Paul Newman is always good, but he brings a great weight to John. As a character who says very little, it was important to have every line count for something. Equally impressive is Richard Boone as Grimes - John's polar opposite. Grimes talks a lot, and it may sounds like flowers and roses in the wind - but the air is thick with menace and evil.
It had been many years since I'd seen 'Hombre', so putting this Blu-ray in my player was almost like watching it for the first time all over again. It's a beautiful picture from start to finish. For as much gun fighting as there is, there is just as much talking and meaningful conversation. If you're in the mood for something along the lines of 'The Man With No Name Trilogy' this isn't that kind of western. If you're a fan of the original Delmer Daves '3:10 to Yuma' you're sure to enjoy every moment of 'Hombre.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hombre' makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Twilight Time. Pressed on a BD50 disc and housed in a clear case, the disc opens to a static main menu with music from David Rose's score.
As with any catalogue release, especially one that is nearing 50 years old - expectations should always be kept in check. Thankfully 'Hombre' has an absolutely beautiful 2.35:1 1080p transfer working for it. From the opening credits, audiences should enjoy the rich and vibrant colors on display. Flesh tones are equally impressive and well balanced giving the actors their natural hues, that is if they aren't wearing copious amounts of makeup. Film grain has been retained just enough to make its presence felt, but not seen, giving rise to fantastic detail levels throughout most of the film. Likewise black levels and shadows are just as impressive offering inky blacks when needed with minimal crush to speak of. One thing that might be off-putting to some is when the optical dissolves take place - the adjoining shots look noticeably softer. That's not really a mark against this transfer, but something more indicative of the elements at hand. The print is in absolutely fantastic shape, if there is a nick or scratch anywhere, I didn't see it.
Just as impressive as the video for 'Hombre' is the incredibly pleasing DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio track. Levels are never a problem since this movie can be relatively quiet one second - almost silent even - and then have a surge of gunfire the next. Imaging is a bit stifled since this is inherently a mono track playing through both center channels but there is a lot of life in it and it feels like a lot of natural movement to the sound effects. Dialogue comes through with crystal clarity and never has to fight over sounds of gunfire, horse hooves or compete against David Rose's beautifully languid score.
Audio Commentary: Film Historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo talk at length about the film, the symbolism of the imagery and historical context. It's a shame no one involved in the production could be on hand. It's a great and informative track - but it does sound like a couple of film fans talking about a movie they love.
Trailer: (SD 2:21) A solid piece of 60s cinema marketing. The trailer is in okay shape, it looks pretty rough and helps you appreciate the main film's restoration.
I'm extremely happy to see a great western like 'Hombre' given this fantastic treatment on Blu-ray. With an engrossing story populated by rich colorful characters - there is a lot to take in and be entertained by. Twilight Time has done an outstanding job assembling this disc offering a topnotch A/V presentation. I only wish there had been more meaningful extra features available - that's the only thing keeping me from calling this a must own disc. For now - it's highly recommended.