Hombre (1967)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“We all die — just a question of when.”

Synopsis:
A white man (Paul Newman) raised by Apaches rides on a stagecoach hired by a wealthy man (Fredric March) and his wife (Barbara Rush). When the stagecoach is overtaken by bandits (led by Richard Boone), the other passengers — including a boarding-house manager (Diane Cilento), a young man (Peter Lazer), and Lazer’s wife (Margaret Blye) — turn to Newman for help.

Genres:

  • Fredric March Films
  • Native Americans
  • Outlaws
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Race Relations
  • Westerns

Review:
As a solid western featuring a stalwart leading performance by Newman, Martin Ritt’s Hombre — listed in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die — remains an odd omission from Peary’s book. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, it tells a simple yet powerful tale of race relations under pressure, with Newman’s Apache-like white man retaining the essence of the culture he’s chosen to adopt and maintain, even once he cuts his hair and returns to “civilization”. We first see evidence of his deep convictions when he meets with the woman (Cilento) running the boarding house he’s inherited; he displays absolutely no interest in listening to her proposed compromise to keep the house going. The screenplay shifts slightly at this point to Cilento’s dilemma: as a working woman in the Old West, she knows that her options are limited, and when her proposal to marry her long-time lover — the town’s sheriff (John Cameron) — is likewise turned down, she recognizes that she must move on.

From there, we learn that a wealthy, arrogant couple (Rush and March) are willing to pay any price necessary to hire a stagecoach to get them out of town, and soon find out exactly why they’re in such a hurry. Two characters we’ve met so far turn out to have alter egos and/or hidden agendas (I won’t spoil anything here), and the remaining characters quickly find their lives in peril, as they face a shoot-off between themselves and the bandits, with water supplies dwindling rapidly. The screenplay retains tension until the very end through the question of whether Newman’s character will abandon his “selfish”, loyalty-free stance and continue to help his fellow passengers survive, or leave them to their own devices. In addition to Newman’s memorable performance, the entire supporting cast is in fine form — particularly Cilento (as a refreshingly no-nonsense female presence), Boone (a truly menacing baddie), and Rush (whose haughty composure gradually melts in the face of adversity).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Newman as Hombre/John Russell
  • Diane Cilento as Jessie
  • Richard Boone as Cicero Grimes
  • Barbara Rush as Audra Favor
  • Fine location shooting (in Death Valley) by James Wong Howe

Must See?
Yes, as a solid western featuring a host of fine performances.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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