Aside from the B-movie, cheapo shoot-em ups John Wayne made through the 30s and 40s – even after John Ford featured him in Stage Coach (the film Andrew Sarris said – “gave birth to American Film” – one of his most hyperbolic albeit accurate declarations) – Hondo (1953) is the nearly-forgotten of Wayne’s great westerns, probably because he would soon make more important films – the classic Ford Westerns the Calvary Trilogy – Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande – and of course, The Searchers – one of the greatest films ever made. Also, the film was made in 3D, but rarely shown in that format – there are a lot of close-ups of arrows, bullets and horses going right into the camera, which probably looek better in 3D then 2D, yet now gives the film an off kilter, kinetic energy. Wayne is the rare film actor who got more popular as he got older – he was a superstar in the 1960s, more famous in late middle age than when he was young. I can’t think of another actor with this trajectory. Wayne also made lots of film throughout his career, of varying quality and he brought his persona to support right wing politics, which still makes it difficult to objectively appreciate his talent. The fact is, he one of the most capable actors in the history of film. Hondo is transitory Wayne; he is abandoning the acting gimmicks of his earlier career and crafting the persona that would sustain him for the next quarter century. Part Apache, the titular character is a loner and former gunman. He smirks and glowers and gets into fights. He now works as a scout for the army when he meets Geraldine Page and her son, living on the edge of the Prairie in the heart of Apache country, during an uprising – Apaches were always doing that – Her husband is away, and she will not heed the advice to leave because the Apaches leave them alone – why? – the gruff Apache (a wonderfully cheesy yet touching performance by veteran character actor Michael Pate) chief – all of his sons have been killed by white men – adopts the son by becoming blood brothers. Cold, emotionally distant, a little ornery, Hondo takes on some parenting duties like teaching the lad to swim by throwing him a pond. Unfortunately Johnny’s real father, who apparently has abandoned his family, has no honor – when he first meets Wayne he is mean to his dog! – And basically needs to be killed, by Wayne. What makes this Western special is Wayne and Geraldine Page – Wayne says he people must learn live without others and Page saying a woman is worthless without a man – the dialog is retrograde – but delivered with such earnest faith, you can’t help but marvel in spite of your own rationality. Watching Wayne and Page exchange dialog and develop a chaste yet credible romance – the only thing they seem to have in common is that they are in a movie together and are both asexual WASPS – is spell-binding cinema. Every time I watch the movie I can’t help but see why the 1960s happened. His unfeeling step father causes the death of both his criminal and selfish, birth- father and his beloved mentor, a long-haired social outsider. Who wouldn’t go on to join the Weather Underground after this kind of childhood? The last line is Wayne’s bemoaning the end of the Apache’s way of life. “It was a good way of life,” says the half-apache Hondo, who was instrumental in the demise of that life and the dysfunctional upbringing of his adopted son. I imagine an adult Johnny telling the Hondo plot to his psychiatrist. One hopes electroshock provided some relief.