I'm a big 'Married … with Children' fan. I have been since the day it first aired, and I still laugh at most every episode over twenty years later. Some of the best are Al's misadventures to achieve just one moment of happiness and pleasure in his miserable life, no matter how small or trivial his quest may seem to others around him, especially Peggy. And of course, it almost always ends in disaster for the poor shoe salesman, because something inevitably ruins his mission in some hilariously surprising way. Two memorable episodes are Al's desperate attempts to watch John Farrow's classic western, 'Hondo,' which is the reason I'm mentioning my fondness for the show.
Those were still the days when the only way to enjoy classic Hollywood films was to wait until they aired on television, which became like major events in themselves. Miss it, and you're out of luck for some time, like the hapless Al, though it wasn't as comical when it happened in real life. 'Hondo,' which is deservedly considered one of John Wayne's best films, was notorious for being shown on television only once in a few years and wasn't even made available on home video until several months after Al's second effort to watch it, but beyond that little amusing tangent, which made for a couple of really funny TV episodes, there's good reason 'Hondo' is such a great and beloved western.
Based on a short story by Louis L'Amour just before it was expanded into a bestselling novel, the film broke some minor boundaries with its tale about the complicated relationship of white settlers and the Native-American people of the Southwest. By the time the film was released in theaters, the western had become a common film type geared towards younger audiences and the weekend matinee crowd. Farrow's adaptation reintroduced certain dramatic themes to the genre which attracted adults, namely the lack of a single, easily-identifiable bad guy and that the native people were wronged and betrayed by the government. The kids, of course, weren't excluded, as there's tons of excitement and action to be had, and it comes with the sort of wild-west adventure typically expected from a film starring The Duke.
Speaking of which, Wayne delivers one of his most memorable performances as the half-Apache loner, Hondo Lane, en route to the U.S. Cavalry to deliver a dispatch. He's a skilled but complex gunfighter, caught between two worlds always at odds with one another. He's also an honest, straightforward person, which gains him some respect from others while being romantically admired from afar by the heartbroken rancher Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page in her first of many Oscar-nominated performances). What makes Hondo so fascinating is the fact that he appears to live more comfortably amongst the settlers but possesses the utmost respect for Native Americans. It's a vastly different attitude than the one usually expressed by the customary gunslinger of the time, and the film is better for it.
This reverence continues in the portrayals of the Chiricahua Apache people. Although other characters in the story speak of them as an enemy, Vittorio (Michael Pate) and his men are never actually shown as such. In fact, it's the white settlers throughout which are unlikable and somewhat untrustworthy, like the churlish Ed Lowe (Leo Gordon) or the overly-eager, wet-behind-the-ears Lt. McKay (Tom Irish). The narrative never devolves into a clear, black-and-white divide of the good guy versus the bad guy, of who's right and who's wrong. On the surface, John Farrow's 'Hondo' is your standard western, or better yet, your average John Wayne western. But really it's not as it does make the attempt at an honest portrait of the West. Even if it's an inoffensive and wholesome depiction, the endeavor is at the heart of the production, which is partly what makes the classic film — passionately cherished by Al Bundy — a great and admirable one.
As a side note, the movie was also filmed with a 3D theatrical release in mind, so when characters are flinging objects at the camera during action sequences, that's the explanation. Given that fact, the cinematography is one of the loveliest and most stunning for a 3D presentation. It's a real shame we're not allowed that option for our home theaters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Hondo' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-lite keepcase with a glossy cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music. The package includes an advert for a Delta Vacations contest.
Although I grit my teeth at the missed opportunity of releasing an amazing classic western in the original 3D format in which it was shot, I'm at least grateful to see it available on home video in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. But notwithstanding this negligible disappointment, the high-def presentation of 'Hondo' is still quite remarkable. Much of the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is simply outstanding thanks to a full restoration from a few years back. The original camera elements from the Wayne estate were used and spliced together for a new master from some intermediate prints to replace several damages frames. Even if a few scenes show their age and poor resolution, the end result remains splendid because the better parts easily outweigh the bad.
The film is also known for the beautiful camerawork done by Archie Stout, who worked on many John Wayne productions, and Robert Burks, who was Hitchcock's go-to cinematographer in the latter half of his career. The transfer wonderfully displays the beauty of the photography with marvelous clarity and definition, exposing every pebble on the desert floor, every bead and stitching on the Apache clothing, and every detailed line of the rocky landscape. Showing a visible layer of natural film grain, contrast and brightness levels are terrifically well-balanced with excellent shadow delineation, providing the image with an appreciable cinematic appeal. The color palette appears vibrant and rejuvenated, giving the entire video a great lively feel to it, making this a gorgeous Blu-ray release for one of the Duke's best motion pictures.
In the audio department, listeners are given the choice between two Dolby TrueHD soundtracks — the original mono design or an upgraded 6 channel mix. Firstly, having such an option on classic films originally recorded for monaural presentations is greatly appreciated. Secondly, whichever you choose they are both excellent, coming from the same newly restored master as the video.
Dialogue is, of course, hugely important as the movie is very much character driven, and the lossless track never disappoints in this area. Conversations are always intelligible and clear, except for a few mumbles words from Michael Pate. The soundstage exhibits excellent fidelity and a sharply detailed mid-range, giving the design a great deal of presence and warmth. There's not much going on in the low-end, which is to be expected, but a few moments of bass is adequate and provides a healthy punch to the many gunshots throughout. In 5.1 mode, the mix simply widens the soundfield across the entire screen and the musical score bleeds a tad into the background. The track remains a front-heavy presentation, as it ideally should, but it also feels a bit broader and far-reaching.
But no matter which is selected, both offer a very nice presentation for a classic western.
Special features from the 2005 Special Edition DVD are ported over for this Blu-ray edition.
For fans of the western, John Farrow's 'Hondo' is a beloved classic that comes with one of John Wayne's most memorable performances. On the surface, the film is your standard genre fare, especially from The Duke, but pay close enough attention at what lies just beneath that and we find a story that stands out from the typical Saturday matinee feature. The Blu-ray displays terrific audio and video presentation given the extent of damage suffered by the original elements, and supplemental material is the same as the DVD. Although this is a missed opportunity to have the film available in its original 3D format for home video release, the overall package is still recommended for fans, Duke collectors, and Al Bundy alike.