Directed By: Martin Ritt
Screenplay By: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank, Jr.
Based upon the novel by Elmore Leonard
Produced By: Martin Ritt, Irving Ravetch
Cast: Paul Newman, Richard Boone, Fredric March, Diane Cilento, Barbara Rush
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 111 minutes
Review Date: December 3, 2010
Hombre is a great name for this 1967 Paul Newman film. When translated from Spanish, Hombre means “Man.” No more, no less. John Russell (Newman) is a half-breed Indian who was raised by Apaches and chose the indigenous lifestyle over the advancing white society. Known by name only to a few, many characters throughout the narrative refer to him as “Hombre,” never being able to place him accurately. While only a small element, it’s an important piece of the foundation on which this seminal western is based: The West was a volatile and violent place, and although weapons generally trumped all, the serpentine tongue often incited the most drastic acts of hate and prejudice. This film is as relevant today as it was in the late ’60s because it portrays society’s inherent xenophobia, a deficiency that plagues each and every one of us in some shape or form. It elucidates the divide cast between different cultures and offers loose suggestions that if this divide were shattered, those weapons that seemingly trump all might not be as necessary.
John Russell, however, knows far better than this. He knows that the divide will be present forever, so he never leaves home without his pistol and buffalo rifle at his side. When his friend Henry (Martin Balsam) tells him he’s been granted a room at a boarding home, he pleads that John don some “White Man’s” clothes and accommodate. John, generally a silent man, gingerly nods and heads to the home where he meets the beautiful caretaker named Jessie (Diane Cilento). She carries with her an accepting outlook on life, quite different from the other boarders at the home.
When John chooses to sell an inheritance in exchange for some horses, he and a few others (Namely Richard Boone as the evil villain and Fredric March as a spiteful entrepreneur) hire Henry to take them to the town across the Valley.
Cicero Grimes (Boone) finally unveils his villainous plan to rob the stagecoach in the middle of a craggy alcove. All doesn’t go as planned though, as John shoots a few of the bandits Cicero had waiting. Despite John’s valiant efforts, the other stagecoach passengers still distrust him. They give him no thanks and still choose to ostracize him because he is a half-breed. With only one satchel of water and a handful of bullets, will the group learn to trust John to lead them out of this mess?
That I leave up to you to discover. I don’t want to spoil the fun inherent within, nor do I want to sound zealous and preachy. However, there is far more to this tale than just Mexican standoffs, horse chases, and the like. It conveys the strengths and weaknesses in all of us when faced with foreign entities and how, when given the choice to refute or accept them, the result can be strikingly different. And for those who don’t care for moral quandaries, the sumptuous cinematography is sure to please. Definitely check this one out.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.