An interesting thing happened during my watch of Hombre. I watched the first 20 minutes of it yesterday night, before my sleepiness took too big a toll on my attention and I left the rest until today. Of what I had seen, the film seemed like a typically atypical western, of the kind that appears on the list more often than should really be allowed. Upon starting the film up again today, at the spot where the sheriff turns down a marriage proposal from Diane Cilento’s character, I was struck at how well-written the scene was. From there, I took note of the rest of the production; the sets, the color, the lighting, the acting. On any other day, I would’ve dismissed it all as just another anti-western of the kind I’ve seen countless times already, but today was different. Today, for whatever reason, I took the film on its own merits, apart from how it compared to the rest of the flock on the list that it was a a part of, and I found a lot to like. There’s also a lot to shake your head over, but that I was able to see the silver linings I can only attribute to the roulette of my daily mood.
Paul Newman stars as John Russell, a white brought up by Apaches, who is now trying to reintegrate himself into white society to claim an inheritance after his father’s passing. True to the film’s anti-western roots, he promptly sells his inheritance for horses, and catches a ride on a stagecoach out of town with a motley group of characters, whereupon they are robbed by a band of outlaws and left for dead. Now, the other passengers, initially hesitant toward Russell (so much so that one of them requests he not ride with the others, and instead ride up top with the driver), must trust him to get them home, especially when the outlaws make a return for a large sum one of the passengers is carrying. Or, at least, the film would be about how the passengers who were against Russell when they found out he was an Apache must now overcome their prejudice in order to trust him, if the film had explored that angle at all before the actual plot starts happening. Really, though; the film doesn’t set up enough of the supposed bigotry that the fellow stage riders have towards Russell before they are required to overcome it and band together against the outlaws. They just sort of… do, without the additional angle that the film seemed to ready itself to present during the running time. Add to that that the film treats Newman’s character with an almost reverential awe and wonder, like he isn’t even a human being, and it’s kinda hard to care for anything that happens. Newman’s Russell never seems to err or make a wrong move, and everything he says is always spot on and 100% right, so why worry about anything that may or may not happen to such a flawless character? Granted, there are flaws, but they’re all in the other characters, and most of their flaws are in how they interact with the flawless Russell, and that’s not enough of a conflict to sustain the picture in the first place. It’s thus that the film seems rather languid, which at first seemed to be a stylistic choice, but as the film ended, I couldn’t help but feel was an accidental shortcoming.
This was still a pretty enjoyable flick, and the technicals were all where they should be, including the excellent production value. But, it was as the story was going on that thought after thought kept popping up in my head, about why the characters were doing this when they had no reason to, or why the plot was doing that when it didn’t have much of a reason to either. I really don’t want to say that this is one to enjoy with your brain turned off, because I personally do not believe that excuse should apply to any film, but I’m really left with no other way to recommend this one. It’s likely this that has led me to give the film the rating I did, just from a lack of any other determining factor. That’s pretty much the rub; if I have to make excuses as to why this is a great film over just a good one, then I’d just be making excuses. This is enjoyable, largely for Newman and the script, but I can see why this was one of the most recent removals.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10