Hombre: Still Tough and Terrific at Age 50
The last of Paul Newman’s three iconic mid-1960s “H” roles that started with Hud (1963) and continued with Harper (1966) took moviegoers on a tense and absorbing ride that opened 50 years ago today. Adapted from a 1961 Elmore Leonard novel by screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. and directed by Martin Ritt, Hombre (1967) was the most internalized Newman among the trio, and yet may have the most to say to today’s polarized era. The “hombre” of the title is “John Russell [Newman], a white man raised by Apaches who has learned not only to guard his own self-interest but also to live with the hatred his Indian heritage provokes in bigoted whites,” Great Hollywood Westerns author Ted Sennett writes. “Through fateful circumstances, Russell joins a motley group of mostly contemptible people in a desert stagecoach ride (inevitably suggestive of John Ford’s Stagecoach) that results in robbery, shoot-outs and death for both the villains and Russell. Ironically, Russell gives up his life to save an Indian-hating woman (Barbara Rush) who has been left by the robbers to expire in the blazing desert sun….Ritt’s taut direction, Newman’s tough-fibered performance and James Wong Howe’s spare, unfussy photography combined to make Hombre a compelling film.” Biographer Shawn Levy recounts in his 2009 Paul Newman: A Life: “Newman liked to say that he found the key to the character when he drove past a general store near an Indian reservation in Arizona and saw a man standing stock-still in the shade on its porch; a few hours later, when he drove back to his hotel, he saw the same man standing in the exact same spot in the exact same position. That stillness would, in his mind, become the patient, calculating, diffident, dangerous essence of John Russell.” He later continued: “In ways it was a straightforward genre Western, but Newman’s eerie stoniness in the center gave it an air of modernity and menace. John Russell was a character who would have been on the periphery of other films – Stagecoach, say, which surely inspired some aspects of Leonard’s novel. But placed at the center here, and embodied with thoroughly convincing coldness and steel by Newman, he quietly makes the case that the history of the Old West has been miscalculated – at least on-screen. In his political life, Newman cold sometimes misstep by insisting too hard on his point of view; here, playing a man who in his very being was an argument for more equitable treatment of Native Americans, he was persuasively eloquent in his silence, sternness and courage.” Besides Newman and Rush, the formidable cast includes Fredric March, Richard Boone, Diane Cilento, Martin Balsam, Cameron Mitchell and Frank Silvera. Also included on this movie’s 1080p-sharp Panavision-lensed journey across rough terrain are an Audio Commentary by Cinema Retro film historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo and an Isolated Music Track of the lyrical score by Bonanza veteran David Rose. It all adds up to one tough, terrific Hombre on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.