If you haven’t seen the restored original 3D version of John Wayne’s “Hondo,” the 3DGO service for Smart TVs features the impressive 1953 Western among its offerings for $4.99.
The first thing you notice from the opening moments is that the 3D not only looks quite effective but also as if it used very modern technology. That’s because it did — the stereoscopic photography used more than 60 years ago was not the most popular technology of the day — the format for which audiences wore cardboard glasses with one plastic red lens and one blue lens — but rather the same polarized technique used with today’s 3D films.
The second thing you’ll notice about this lean 84-minute film (adorably, it still includes the original Intermission card used to allow projectionists time to change reels) is that this is a pretty darned good Western story. And that’s because it is based on a story by one of the best and most popular Western writers, Louis L’Amour. The small-scale John Ford-like character study (Wayne director buddy Ford did hang around the set for awhile and helped “Hondo” director John Farrow direct a couple scenes) features Wayne as a wandering cavalry loner who stumbles upon and quickly develops a mutual attraction for a single mother living isolated and alone with her young son. Making her remarkable debut as the young mother is Geraldine Page, whose performance as a headstrong woman determined not to let fears of Apache Indian attacks scare her from her home, garnered an Academy Award nomination.
Finally, “Hondo” was one of Warner Brothers’ first widescreen releases.
Gratefully, all this is available once again for modern audiences due to a 2007 digital restoration and 3DGO’s presentation on TV which is exhilarating on all levels, both technically and dramatically. The movie was unavailable in any form for many years, only in standard non-widescreen for many more years, and, even after the restoration, the 3D version has not been made available on Blu-ray.
<Review continues below the following video trailer…>
Wayne delivers one of his finest multi-dimensional personal character performances. Director Farrow, saddled with trying to make all this work with two very different new and largely untested formats simultaneously — widescreen and 3D — deftly manages to set up shots specifically designed to accentuate the 3D effect without seeming too obvious — objects such as plants or building posts in the foreground. Even when on a few occasions he succumbs to gimmicky shots of gun barrels pointed at the camera, arrows flying towards the lens, or knives being thrust in the direction of the audience during a climatic duel between Wayne and an Apache, those shots are enjoyable and fairly effective as well.
And he paints the expanded horizontal film frame nearly as artistically as Ford.
— By Scott Hettrick