With all the talk about movies full of violence and unpleasantness these days, it is easy to assume that the older a movie is, the more decent it will be. But 1967’s “Hombre,” starring Paul Newman, refutes that notion entirely. It is a thoroughly nasty piece of work that leaves a bad taste in the mouth even the next day after watching it.
Based on a Elmore Leonard novel of the same name written in 1967, Hombre stars Paul Newman as John Russell, a white man raised by Apache Indians. Paul Newman apparently misunderstood and thought he was supposed to play a wooden Indian, as his acting was terrible and his lines were delivered in a monotone. Furthermore, his nasty, vengeful attitude and total lack of moral courage did nothing to further the supposed aim of showing the plight of the Indians at the hands of the greedy, prejudiced white folks.
The plot of Hombre consists of Newman’s character, John Russell, who has always disdained the white man, inheriting a boarding house from one of them who had been kind to him at one time. He decides to unceremoniously sell it to buy a herd of horses, not caring one whit that he’s throwing the caretaker, Jessie, out on the street. The local Indian agent and his snobby wife are trying to flee the town after defrauding the Indians by pocketing the money meant to feed them, and basically charter a coach. John Russell, Jessie, and two of her boarders decide to go along, and a crude, cruel fellow named Cicero Grimes (played by Richard Boone) threatens to shoot an amiable soldier traveling to his wedding if he doesn’t give him his ticket. Since no one will stand up for the fellow, he complies and the unpleasant addition crowds in to the coach as well. Even though he is gross and vulgar, the “lady” aboard demands that Russell be made to ride atop the coach when she discovers his tie to the Indians, and he is deeply insulted. But honestly, the fact that he’d already shown repeatedly that he hated everybody and everything except the Indians probably added to the others’ reluctance to stand up for him.
Out in the middle of nowhere, some bad guys, including the Sheriff Jessie had been reluctantly shacking up with and had matter-of-factly offered to marry when she had no other place to go, came to rob the coach, led by the vile Grimes. He had already assaulted the young, married woman on the coach, and now he demands that the Indian agent’s wife go with him, with no protest from anyone, not even her husband. Of course, earlier she had been mocking and ridiculing him to the other ladies, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he didn’t care anything about her either. Actually, marriage was just one of the things savaged in this film in every way imaginable.
When the robbery happens, Russell is the only one who fights back; some are killed, some get away, and Russell takes off up the mountain. The others hustle after him, knowing he is familiar with the terrain. He finally waits for them, but makes the Indian agent give him the saddle bags of money recovered from one of the men who was shot, and he also demands his gun. He is sure the baddies will return because he knows there is no water up ahead. They do, and the other survivors are shocked that Russell lies in ambush to shoot them; when the agent takes a gun, the money, and the water and Russell retrieves them, they are likewise shocked when he makes the agent go off on his own.
When Jessie later tries to help the man, she brings the bad guys to the door of the shack the group has holed up in, and extreme unpleasantness ensues, ending with the agent’s wife being tied out in the brutal desert sun to die unless the money is given up. All day the group listens to her begging her husband for help, while he stands dispassionately by, unmoved. The others protest, but the only one willing to actually do anything is Jessie, even after being warned that it is a trap. It is painfully obvious that Russell also has a major grudge against the lady for disdainfully saying that starving Indians eat dogs, something she would never do. Russell observes that he bets she’d eat dog now. When the woman is near death, Russell finally relents, because of Jessie’s courageous example. He reveals that he only wanted the money to return to the Indians so they wouldn’t starve. Then he goes down and releases the woman and is shot to death and that is the grim ending of this vile movie.
If you want a major downer, with no redeeming value whatsoever, about a bunch of cruel, hateful, vengeful losers, by all means rent Hombre and it will fulfill all your requirements! But don’t watch it just to figure out why a movie about Indians and white men is called Hombre; I’ll spare you by explaining. John Russell is the name given to the man by the white man who tried to help him and whom he ran away from after being rescued from the Indians. The Indians have their own unpronounceable name for him, which is only mentioned once or twice. Hombre is the name the Mexican folk have given him; they are the only ones who come off as even halfway decent, so I guess that’s why the name they chose was likewise chosen for the name of the film.
Miserable Personal Experience