Hombre: Martin Ritt’s Western, Starring Paul Newman

Martin Ritt’s Hombre set a new trend in American Westerns by depicting a white hero (Paul Newman) who, reared as a child by Indians and grown to manhood in white society, finally elects to live with the Indians.

“Hombre” was not only critical of mainstream white society, but also showed Indians to be morally superior.  This was probably a reflection of the zeitgeist that prevailed in American society of the late 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War and the anti-War movement.

In this and other respects the film reflected the left-of-center politics of its behind the scenes creators: director Martin Ritt, screenwriters (and husband-andwife team) Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, and star Paul Newman.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, the taut and tight script keeps dialogue to a minimum, thus serving well Newman as John Russell, a Caucasian separated from his parents during childhood and raised as an Apache Indian.

Following the pattern of John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach, a good deal of the story is set on a stagecoach, in the Arizona desert of the 1880s, with the passengers respresent a mix in terms of social backgrounds and political values.

We learn that Russell has inherited a boarding house, which he has traded for horses. On his way back hom, he is advised by his only white friend Henry Mendez (Martin Balsam) to shed his Indian clothings and get a “proper” haircut, so that the whites on the coach would accept him.