(1967) Paul Newman, David Canary, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Rush, Frederic March, Diane Cilento, Richard Boone, Martin Balsam, Peter Lazer, Margaret Blye, Skip Ward, Larry Ward, Frank Silvera, Val Avery
In a rare Western outing for Paul Newman, Hombre is particularly adult, as it deals with social and moral issues on the cerebral scale.
The story takes place in the 1880s with an ambiguous character named John Russell (Newman) — a white man raised by the Arizona Apaches. As Russell practically considers himself an Indian, his motivations and intentions follow in that vein.
At the film’s opening, Russell inherits a boarding house from his real life father, and surprises all parties concerned when he trades this perpetuating money maker for a herd of horses.
Leaving town for good, Russell is virtually surrounded by scurrilous folk who find his “kind” offensive and insist he ride atop the stagecoach with the driver.
Along for the ride is Indian agent, Gil Favor (Frederic March), who has embezzled government funds allocated to supplying meat for the Apache on the reservation. Favor’s wife (Barbara Rush) is not much better with her uppity attitude and racist tongue, nor is a pair of young tenderfoot newlyweds with their eternal whining. Enters Grimes, played by Richard Boone, who previously played television’s Paladin on Have Gun, Will Travel for six seasons. As Grimes enjoys pushing folks around, one ponders who the real villain is in this story.
A mysterious figure throughout, the complex character of Russell is somewhat revealed in the final frame, characterized by bittersweet irony. Paul Newman proves his flexibility and sensitivity as an actor in Hombre. Kudos goes to Oscar winner Martin Balsam as Mendez, who tries to reach out to Russell. Beautiful redhead Diane Cilento (Sean Connery’s former wife) gives a good performance as a world-weary woman who seems to be the only one on the trip able to shut Richard Boone’s mouth. Boone, of course, is reminiscent of his other fun villainous roles in Man Without a Star (1955), Star in the Dust (1956), and Big Jake (1971). Honorary mention goes to other television cowboys –High Chaparral’s Cameron Mitchell as a lawman going downhill fast, and Bonanza’s David Canary as a tough-talking lowlife punk.
Hombre is an important entry in the ’60s Westerns which aptly precedes Newman’s indelible role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). This gold sleeper is not to be overlooked. It gets better with time, and the message is universal — brotherhood. Harmony is another issue. The pacing may be somewhat plodding, but the payoff delivers!