HOMBRE (director: Martin Ritt; screenwriters: based on the novel by Elmore Leonard/Irving Ravetch/Harriet Frank; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Frank Bracht; music: David Rose; cast: Paul Newman (John Russell), Fredric March (Dr. Alex Favor), Richard Boone (Grimes), Diane Cilento (Jessie), Cameron Mitchell (Frank Braden), Barbara Rush (Audra Favor), Martin Balsam (Mendez), Peter Lazer (Billy Lee Blake), Margaret Blye (Doris Blake), Frank Silvera (Mexican bandit), Val Avery (Delgado), David Canary (Lamar), Larry Ward (Soldier); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Martin Ritt/Irving Ravetch; 20th Century Fox; 1967)
“Superior western, with a liberal slant, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Former blacklisted Martin Ritt (“Hud”) directs this superior western, with a liberal slant, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. It’s a variant on John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach, as the outcast hero instead of running away from civilization in his final desperate act moves toward it. That was the only phony ring in a hard-bitten tale about racism, injustice and corruption, that is beautifully shot in the Death Valley and Halvetia Mines locations by James Wong Howe.
After an Indian raid white boy Paul Newman is raised by Apaches and learns to believe that the white man’s civilization is hell. When given his release and the name of John Russell by his white man relative who is willing to raise him, Newman instead chooses to live in the mountains with the Apaches–working as a policeman for the reservation. Upon Russell’s death Newman inherits his boarding house, but chooses to sell it and return to the Apaches. Newman is made an outcast by the passengers and forced to ride on top of the stage with the driver instead of inside with the rest of the paying passengers, when he needs a ride back to his chosen people. It’s a special stage leaving the small Arizona town to go to Bisbee. It has been paid for by the slimy racist Indian agent Dr. Favor (Fredric March) and his snobby empty-headed so-called cultured wife Audra (Barbara Rush). The rest of the passengers include the hard-luck softhearted widow who ran Russell’s boarding house, Jessie (Diane Cilento), and her boarders, the unhappy young couple Billy Lee and Doris (Peter Lazer & Margaret Blye). The surly Grimes (Richard Boone) forced a soldier to give him his ticket when he learned the stage was sold out, and is an ominous presence aboard. The stagedriver is the conciliatory Mexican Mendez (Martin Balsam), who worked for old man Russell and has known Newman for a long time. Along the way, near an abandoned mining site, bandits hold-up the stage as they reunite with their leader Grimes to steal Dr. Favor’s satchel of money, funds he stole from the Indian reservation in his plans to flee to a different part of the world and live luxuriously off the backs of the starving Indians under his charge. Newman kills two of the outlaws and takes back the money with plans to return it to the reservation. One of the Mexican bandits (Frank Silvera) tags him with the nickname of Hombre. The rest of the gang holds Mrs. Favor as a hostage and threaten to kill her unless they get the money. In a last second reversal of his hard stance of not getting involved with the white man’s problems Newman makes a fatalistic attempt to rescue the hostage woman when her husband won’t, as she’s left to die of thirst when tied up under a scorching sun.
The spare literate dialogue, intelligence of the narrative, interesting group of diversely eccentric characters featured and the well-written screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, keep the melodrama suspenseful. If it didn’t come with that tacked on unneeded tragic conclusion, it would have been a far more honest film
REVIEWED ON 4/28/2005 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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