1967/Director: Martin Ritt/Writers: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr. (From the novel by Elmore Leonard)
Cast: Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone, Martin Balsam, Diane Cilento, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Rush, Peter Lazer
I couldn’t believe my luck when the other day,while traveling here in China to another city, I found a used copy of Elmore Leonard’s western novel Hombre in a small, second book store. Of course the old paperback book was criminally over priced at about five American dollars but you can either buy it or do without here.I had just rewatched the film with my wife about a week before and the film made her a Paul Newman fan. “He’s so cool!” she exclaimed and struggled to watch the film though it lacked Chinese subtitles for her (we did find find English subs and she always has my onrunning commentaries.) I read the book in two settings and it gave me some fresh insights into a film I have seen well over a half a dozen times and will no doubt see again, maybe even in the next couple weeks. Hombre falls into a category of films I simply never tire of. It is directed by Martin Ritt (who had worked with Newman before and mostly notably on the film Hud) and was photographed by the simply great cinematographer James Wong Howe (who also shot Hud). And again like Hud, and several of Ritts' films, the screenplay was written by the team of Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank, Jr. Like many of Ritt’s films Hombre carries some social message that is thinly veiled at best.I tend to be the type of film viewer who does not over analyze most movies I watch but in the case of a film like Hombre you simply cannot avoid getting pulled into the messages the film is sending. It is a western but much more –like many westerns of the 60’s and early 70’s- with its harsh commentaries on racism, greed, class and moral/ethical dilemmas.
He soon shows he has no interest in owning a boarding house and tells the woman who has managed it for years he owes her nothing and is going to sell the house for a herd of horses he had gotten a offer on. The house is managed by Jessie (Diane Cilento) is hard biting and wise and not one to argue with the simple way things are. We see this in her character as well when she accepts the cold reality that her long time man friend sheriff Frank Braden (Cameron Mitchell) is going do ‘do her a favor’ and not make an honest woman of her at this crucial time in her life. She doesn’t moan or beg and instead leaves the sheriff’s office to adjust to her dire situation.
I don’t feel we ever get the feeling that Russell himself sees himself as anything less than a white man in the color of his skin sense but he is by all means outside the white man’s society and its conclusions about what is good or bad for the Indians. He sees that they have been robbed of their decisions and are forced to live where they don’t want to live and live lives that are not natural to them. The film seems to stop there and does not explore the violence and evil of both the white man and Apache as did a film like, let’s says, Robert Aldrich’s 1972 film Ulzana’s Raid, were the brutal acts of renegade Apache’s even push Indian sympathizers into states of hatred and revenge seeking. Hombre’s message is kept amongst white people (and the Mexican driver Mendez who makes it clear to Russell that a Mexican is still closer to a white man than an Apache ever will be.)