Hondo (1953): Oscar-Nominated Western, Starring John Wayne and Geraldine Page









Hondo is one of John Wayne’s best Westerns in the 1950s, an exception, since it was not directed by maestro 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 Farrow’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–a mature authority figure–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.

hondo_wayne_5At 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.

Wayne’s production company Batjac purchased the rights to Louis L’Amour’s short story, “The Gift of Cochise,” in 1952. Wayne’s friend and frequent collaborator James Edward Grant wrote the adaptation, which expanded the original story with new characters and a cavalry subplot. L’Amour wrote the novelization of the film, which became a bestseller after the film’s release.

The film was shot in the Mexican desert state of Chihuahua 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.

John Ford Uncredited






The shoot went over schedule, and Farrow had to leave to direct another movie. The final scenes featuring the Apache attack on the wagons of the Army and settlers were shot by John Ford, whom Wayne had asked to finish the film; Ford was uncredited.


Footage from Hondo was later inserted into the opening sequence of Wayne’s last film, The Shootist, to illustrate the backstory of his character.

The two main character names from Hondo (“Lane” and “Mrs. Lowe”) reappear in Wayne’s 1973 western The Train Robbers; Ann-Margret’s name is Mrs. Lowe.

Oscar Alert

Oscar nominations: 2

Motion Picture Story: Louis L’Amour
Supporting Actress: Geraldine Page

Oscar Scandal

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.

Actor Alert

“Hondo” was Geraldine Page’s big Hollywood entree, bringing her the first (supporting) Oscar nominations.  The winner, however, was Donna Reed for From Here to Eternity, which swept most of the 1953 Oscars.  Page would be nominated for seven additional Oscar, finally winning the Best Actress Oscar in 1985, for “The Trip to Bountiful.”