Monday, November 23, 2009

Hombre (1967)

I picked up Hombre when I saw these incredible blue eyes on the cover of the DVD at work. I had already been thinking that when it comes to historical movies, I am very deficient in American history (it was never a subject that interested me much). I figured that I would start there, even though I’d grown up watching some westerns with my dad. Seeing Wynona Ryder in The Age of Innocence practically killed American historical period films for me.

Hombre was directed by Martin Ritt who directed The Molly Maguires and Norma Rae to name a few and the novel was written by Elmore Leonard (whom I LOVED as a kid long before I shoulda been reading his stuff) who also wrote the novels 3:10 to Yuma, Be Cool, Jackie Brown, and Kill Shot.

Paul Newman plays a man who was taken by Apaches as a child and raised as one of their own. He was found working on a detention center with other Apaches when he was a young adult, recognized by someone, and taken into the town. He was shown his family, given his birth name, and chose to return to the Apaches. Years later, when his birth father dies and leaves him an inheritance, he ventures into the white man’s town again, cuts his hair, and decides that he is going to sell the boarding house his father willed to him. He only needs to get to the next town to make the deal.

Only it seems there are a lot of people who want to get out of town. John Russell, for that is Newman's character's American name, ends up on a coach with a doctor and his wife who are very shifty and seem hellbent on getting out of Dodge, so to speak; a very nasty man who bullied a young soldier out of his ticket; the woman he put out of a job when he decided to sell the boarding house; and a young , dissatisfied couple on the brink of divorce.

In true dark hero form, Russell is pushed aside, distrusted, and forced to sit up on the boot with the driver. But who do they turn to when things go terribly wrong?
I know little about the costuming of the American west, the native Americans, and anything in American history that does not involve Gone with the Wind. I have photographs of family members from that time period and the clothing worn by the characters looks very similar, especially the women. There is a good section of society represented in the movie, showing the costumes of the upper-middle class, the sheriff, the working class couple, and the Mexican immigrants, as well as what the Apaches were wearing now that they were basically at the mercy of the white men. There weren’t any of the 1950s beehive hairdo fiascos on the females. It all felt very authentic. It made me want to check into that time period a bit closer.

The cinematography was beautiful. The scenes of the desert and the composition of the shots during the standoff were very nice. Directing was flawless. It was one of the more perfect movies I’ve seen where technical stuff was concerned. The remastered DVD made the entire film look as if it had been made five years ago rather than 1967.

Best part? The writing was brilliant. There was some brilliant dialogue that I had to run the DVD back and listen to again. It was witty, intelligent, and did not use what I call the typical sit-com trick of pausing before and after a particularly good line to be sure you got it. You either get it or you don’t.

My favorite such scene was when Jessie, the feisty, widowed boarding house keeper (is there always one of those?) is throwing a proposal to her sometime bedpartner out of desperation. She says to him:

“I won’t turn your pants pockets inside out, I don’t say no in the middle of the night, when you got the stomach ache I’m ready with the bicarbonate soda. When you get a cold I’m the one who brings up the croup kettle. I know I’m not 20 anymore, but that’s not too bad either, cause over the years I have learned how to control my temper.”

I mean, what more does someone need in their favor? If I ever propose to anyone, that’s the speech I’m using!

Paul Newman was amazing. He was serene and steady and…well…Paul Newman. What else needs to be said? I was surprised to find that I knew a lot of the people in the film from other things and seeing their performances here was a nice deviation from how I normally pictured them. Frederic March played the doctor, the character that we see change and go through many stages throughout the film. He played Christopher Columbus in 1949, Norman Maine in 1937s A Star is Born, and has about 100 credits to his name on IMDB, including for playing on the soundtracks of silent films. I hardly recognized him in this movie, but his brilliance follows him throughout the film. He was a genuine star.

Richard Boone, who plays the bad guy, also has a wealth of credits on IMDB. I don’t think I saw a single one of them but after seeing Hombre, I am going to pick out three or four of them, including 1953s The Robe where he played Pontius Pilate. He was very scary without being an overdone “evil”, all bad person. He was real and alive.

This movie is definitely one I would recommend. It is a very good one for people who are not into classic westerns because it doesn’t contain a lot of gritty cowboy speak and cattle rustling, or whatever it was that they did. It’s a good introduction to this genre of movie.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I've seen this movie around for years, but have never watched it. I'll have to get around to it now. I never watched much of Paul Newman's work until seeing Cool Hand Luke a couple of years ago. He's someone I've been meaning to investigate further for some time now.