Hombre is another new addition to the shelf down at my local video shop. I had seen it sitting there for a week before I grabbed it and brought it home. You know, it is a funny thing with movie watching how in the space of a short time you can unintentionally watch two movies that are very similar in content. It has just happened to me within the last few nights. Let me explain further.
Both Hombre and The Wind That Shakes the Barley are similar in tone. Whilst completely different country wise they both deal with the clash between two differing peoples and cultures. Barley is of course between the English and Irish, Hombre between Apache Indian and white Americans. Both deal with the injustices done on the other and the ensuing reactions. In many respects they are racial in aspect and show both the victimised and the victims sides of the equation. And finally, both films deliver their respective messages clearly and without compromise.
Hombre was made in 1967 and was one of the very first films to delve into the plight and mis-representation of the American Indian within cinema in particular. I always remember as a boy growing up playing cowboys and Indians with no-one wanting to be an Indian. They were the bad guys, and of course our limited perceptions had been formed by the Hollywood western. Films like John Wayne's The Searchers were manifest of this, and whilst a great film, it was an example of Hollywood's portrayal of the Indians as the perpetual bad guy.
This is an extremely good film on every level. The cinematography is wonderful, and for a 45 year old film it is still very clear and crisp. I was just in raptures of it, and the wide screen only enhanced it. I really wish I could see it on the big screen. It is fantastically filmed and I just couldn't get over how fresh it looked. Visually it has stood the test of time better than many films of its era. This is the first of many things to like about Hombre.
It was an interesting thing to see Paul Newman in two films in quite quick succession. They were made nine years apart and it is obvious how far Newman's talent had come. In Left Handed Gun he was a very young actor with a huge amount of talent and gives a good performance. In Hombre he is far more experienced and gives an excellent performance.
Newman's talent as an actor to me is often forgotten about. He is one of the very best American actors ever and yet in the AFI's list of the top twenty actors Newman isn't listed. The likes of William Holden, Edward R. Robertson, and Robert Mitchum are, and yet Newman for me is much superior and deserves to be there. Of course this all boils down to opinion etc, but Newman was an exceptionally gifted actor and it is often forgotten just how good he was. Eight Oscar nominations and one win is nothing to be sneezed at.
I must admit to not having seen all of Newman's films but the ones I have he has impressed me with his ability. We all know about Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy, but his role in Hombre must rate as one of his best surely?? In Hombre he plays a white brought up by Apaches and he is more Indian than white man. He plays the part brilliantly. His every move, jesture, and way of speaking is indicitive of his actually being Indian. He is unbelivable in capturing the quiet grace of the people who raised him. If you don't believe me then watch the scene in the stage coaches waiting room. His body language is perfect. He has the quiet grace and the wish to be left alone as he realises he is not among his 'own'.
This is born out later as he is asked to ride on top of the stage coach after it is found out by the other occupants that he is Indian. The racial angle of this film is very apparent and not subtle. It makes it very clear the prevailing opinions of the times towards the Indians. They get described as lazy, dirty, diseased and de-rided for eating dogs. Newman turns around and brings the real plight of the Indians to light by saying, 'have you been that hungry that you actually would eat dog?' Of course he is shot down with the comment 'I would never eat dog no matter how hungry I was'. This highlights the ignorance of the white man to how badly the Indians actually lived.
Newman explains they don't grow things to support themselves because the land they were given was so poor that nothing could grow on it even if they tried. They had been kicked off their good land to make way for white farmers. He goes on to explain that the Indians didn't want to live where they were but couldn't do anything about it. Of course it is to no avail and the white passengers poo-poo all they hear. It is a very strong, poignant, and powerful scene. We see within a Hollywood movie the true plight of the Indians in all its misery and squalor. It is ungarnished, unpleasant, all too close to home indictment of those who pushed them to such depths and walked away without a care.
The film then turns things around as the passengers then find themselves in need of this Indian's services to keep them alive, and lead them out of the desert. The tables are turned and Newman is naturally reluctant to do so. He feels as whites they should experience what his people did. He is also angered because one of the passengers had stolen $12.000 that was ear marked for his tribe. He takes the money intending to take it back to its rightful recipients. It is fantastically realised as the tables turn and the whites are in need of the Indians skills just after they had been running them down.
This is just such a great film. I could go on and on about it!! The message is crystal clear and Newman is absolutely flawless in his performance and delivery. Right throughout he barely speaks which adds so much credibilty to his role. I just cannot praise him enough in Hombre. This isn't Paul Newman playing at Indian this IS Paul Newman AS an Indian. He is believable and with it showing the truely great actor he was.
The rest of the cast is superb to. One scene is reminiscent of Unforgiven where Newman asks a Mexican to help him ambush the baddies pursuing them. He agrees and shoots one of them. He then runs of and later says, 'I have never shot a man before, what a thing to do'. So within the message of Indian mis-treatment Hombre also delves into a bit of anti-westernism. It really is a film that went out of its way to explode so many myths and highlight truths that film had put within peoples minds.
I absolutely recommend Hombre. It is a 'must see' film. Its message is clear and just as relevant today as it was in 1967. It is a powerful and truthful indictment of Hollywood's constant mis-representation of the Indian people. The great thing about it is that it is superbly acted and filmed which adds an incredible amount of credibility to the film and its message. Anything less could have been dis-missed out of hand. After viewing this you can understand, and respect, Marlon Brando more for refusing his Oscar for The Godfather.
Hombre was a brave film for its day, but sadly neccesary. Not only is it a film about the injustices towards Indians through film but it also a great film in its own right. A superb watch and one I thoroughly enjoyed watching. One of Paul Newman's best performances surely???