This is one of John Wayne's best Westerns, not directed by John Ford. Wayne plays the eponymous hero, Hondo Lane, a former gunfighter who is now a dispatch rider for the U.S. Cavalry. Upon meeting Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her son Johnny (Lee Aaker), Hondo learns that her husband had deserted them in the wake of an Apache uprising.
The plot of the movie, directed by John Farrow (actress Mia's father), resembles that of George Stevens' Shane,” released several months earlier. Both Westerns are based on the premise that every child needs a sociological father to instruct him how to become a real man.
Wayne helps Mrs. Lowe restore the ranch and becomes a role model for her son, Johnny, teaching him, among many things, how to swim by throwing him into the water.
Hondo starts as Johnny's sociological father and ends up as his legal parent, after killing his birth father, though he is unaware of his identity at the time.
At the end, as in many Westerns, Hondo leaves with his new family to start a new life in California.
The supporting cast includes Wayne's regulars Ward Bond and James Arness.
“Hondo” was shot in 3-D, which added excitement to the fight scenes and depth to the chases, but it was mostly released in flat versions. (As a novelty, which in this picture meant shooting flaming arrows at the audience, it soon became overly familiar, not to speak of the expense involved).
Oscar nominations: 2
Motion Picture Story: Louis L'Amour
Supporting Actress: Geraldine Page
Two days after the nomination, noted writer L'Amour informed the Academy that his story had first been published in Collier's magazine on July 5, 1952, under the title “The Gift,” thus rendering it ineligible. The nomination was withdrawn, through the winner, Ian McLellan Hunter, for “Roman Holiday,” was no other than blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
“Hondo” was Geraldine Page's big Hollywood entre, bringing her the first (supporting) Oscar nominations. She would be nominated for seven additional Oscar, finally winning the Best Actress Oscar in 1985, for “The Trip to Bountiful.”