Monday, February 2, 2015

Hondo starting John Wayne

Chicago enjoyed some odd 19 inches of snow yesterday. It was the fifth largest amount of snowfall in Chicago since snowfalls have been recorded.

An excellent time to watch a movie. Hondo for some reason stuck out to me and many of the reviews were compelling.

Fine movie.

I look at someone like Hondo. What goes through my mind?

Archetype outcast.

Hondo isn't like others in that he's a half breed. This gives him a more empathy for those who his government, the United States, seeks to destroy. He's also a bit of an outcast because he speaks what he feels is the truth regardless of how unpleasant that it. He's also not afraid to get his knuckles bruised or to fight over things that others might consider trivial.

Hondo stands with rifle at the ready while another man is getting ready to shot Hondo's dog. The meaning is clear. Pull on my dog and I'll kill you. But Hondo is a strange beast and doesn't say that. Rather the threat is more implied. "A man outa do what he thinks is best."

Hondo also enjoys 'benefits' from his half-breed heritage. For instance, an enhanced sense of smell. When the young wife Angie doubts him, Hondo goes on to explain a wide number of things that his sense of smell tells him ranging from her baking and bathing to the smell of her being a woman.

Hondo goes with the flow of life. While he admires the Apache that he fights against, he doesn't fight with them. He doesn't' join their side. There is no sudden conversion and seeing of the light. He rather stays with the new family he's somehow acquired.

"End of a way of life. Too bad. It was a good way."

With Hondo's proven skill with ranged weapons, especially his rifle, his keen senses, his loyal dog animal companion, Hondo would make a perfect Ranger in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Problem for me? While I like the idea of the ranger, especially the Ranger of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, the one who hunts in the wilderness, the one who brings others out of the wild, the one who fights against those in the vastness surrounding civilization, I hate almost every edition's take on the ranger except for 4th editions.

1st through 3rd used magic and animal companions while 4th went for a 'martial' variant who was part rogue, part warrior, part barbarian survivor. 5th edition went back to the whole magic user bit and well, I'm glad it has its fans, I'm just not one of them.

Part of the problem with an archetype that no one really agrees on. Even in most of the fantasy books that feature a ranger, Drizzt the dark elf, the dark elf rarely uses magic spells. Not only that, but Drizzt's 'animal companion' is a magical creature, a magic item itself! Not quite something that's should be an archetype core class in the player's handbook.

The world Hondo inhabits here is strangely nuanced. For such an old film, it doesn't portray the Apache as barbaric savages but if anything, a wronged people who seek revenge against a nation that's wronged them, even as they must deal with the fact that some of those people belonging to the nation that's wronged them, aren't bad people.

Despite the age of the film, there are some beautiful scenes in terms of background. A dry parched background with blue skies and dusts everywhere.

The leader of the Apache, Vittorio, a chief who sense Hondo's kindred spirit, a man who hates lairs, a man who, despite being at war with the 'white man', doesn't kill a lone woman and her child, but rather tries to protect them by adopting the boy into the tribe and trying to convince Angie to marry into the tribe for her and the boy's protection.

Despite the nobility of the people that is most inherent in their leader, not all of the Apache are of this noble spirit.

The guy in the center here? Silva? He's a bit of a bastard but can you really blame him?

When he first appears on Angie's farm, he approaches her son, Johnny who, despite being a child, humiliates Silva by blowing his staff apart with a pistol and making Silva fall to the ground and wonder if he's been shot.

Silva's brother, a member in a scouting party, is killed when Hondo turns the tables on the ambushers and is prevented from instantly killing Hondo because Silva's chief, Vittorio, has a blood bond with Hondo under the mistaken assumption that Hondo is the father to Vittorio's blood bound in-law son, Johhny.

So Silva declares blood right and fights Hondo and promptly, despite the injuries Hondo already suffers, loss. Another massive loss of face.

This materializes when after the Apache drop off an even more badly injured Hondo to Angie and Silva kills Hondo's dog.

When the opportunity arises, when Vittorio is killed against the US military, Silva is now able to lead a full attack against the retreating military whose picked up settlers, including Hondo and Angie. This allows the viewers to have a 'villain' Apache without all of the Apache people getting targeted with the same paint brush as when Hondo finally engages Silva in hand to hand combat, it's a man on man combat and not the embodiment of two people's will engaged.

On his own side? Those military forces that Hondo works for? He knows that they're not always right. When we're first introduced to Hondo speaking with Angie,, he warns her that she's got to leave the settlement. She declines because she's always been friends with the Apache. Hondo notes that it was the United States that broke the treaty and that the Apache might not be so friendly any more.

Later on, when the military comes sweeping into the wilds to safely escort settlers out of the Apache regions, Hondo notes to his friend, Buffalo Baker, that the commander is too new and is going to get everyone killed. Buffalo remarks that it's up to people like him and Hondo to make sure he stays alive long enough to get that experience.

In another instance, another scout, Lennie, remarks that he wants Hondo's rifle and if he doesn't get it, he'll tell Angie that Hondo murdered her husband. Hondo's reply is something along the lines of "I never liked you."

Despite that and the brief beating Hondo delivers to Lennie, Lennie saves Hondo's life later on with Hondo's rifle, which Hondo awards to the man. The threat of being killed by the Apache, even a half-breed like Hondo, is too much for a fellow scout to take.

There are numerous other bits that stand out. For example, Buffalo Baker. Here's one of Hondo's old friends who bets against Hondo not making it out of the Apache infested lands and is disappointed that he's lost the wager!

He's also a man who protects Hondo from getting shot in a bar brawl.

Hondo's known Buffalo for years, but it's not until Angie invites Buffalo in for some food and drink does Hondo learn's Buffalo's last name.

In older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, the idea of a 'henchman' wasn't that unusual. In Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion works, there is the idea of the Eternal Companion. This isn't the usual hireling but someone with their own set of skills. Buffalo would fall into that category quite easily as the two men have a steady back and forth and share a similar set of skills and outlook on the world.

Anyway, Hondo is a solid movie that does a good job of showing forces in opposition where the people involved aren't monstrous and vile and individuals on all sides must be watched.

Has anyone read the book? Any recommendations or warnings on it? It'd be a while before I got to the novel as I have many a book to get to before that, but I'm always open to hearing about it.