Hombre (1967)

Hombre (1967), directed by Martin Ritt.

Paul Newman plays a white man raised by the Apaches, then educated by a white foster father. He can move in either world, but prefers the Indians. He doesn't much like what he finds when he cuts his hair and puts on Anglo clothes for a trip. Not looking for trouble, but it finds him. And he can deal with it.

This is part of the revisionist Western, anti-hero effort of the 1960s, but in many ways is still a traditional desert survival tale of a fight against stagecoach robbers. There is new blunt talk about race and sex, but it's not The Wild Bunch (1969) or even Little Big Man: no bloody massacres or rape scenes.

Newman is mostly an observer in the first half of the film. The central characters are actually Diane Cilento as a gritty, direct-speaking boarding house manager, and Richard Boone as a bad news tough guy, always the scariest villain in his films.

Newman comes to the fore when it's life or death. Snubbed before, now everyone wants him to lead, even sacrifice himself. He's a hard man, with no illusions about respecting white standards. In a twist, they talk him around at the end. "Why", I think, is a mystery.

Our thoughts turn to Stagecoach (1939) with this plot: we even have the embezzling rich man. This is the great Fredric March, unapologetic and unembarrassed in his villainy, no matter how many times he is caught and exposed.

At first, Martin Balsam seems an odd choice to play a Mexican, but honestly: he could do anything.

We have three interesting women:

From a novel by Elmore Leonard. I don't know how much of his dialogue survives, but some of it sounds just like him.

Photographed by James Wong Howe.

Twilight Time Blu-ray with commentary by the regular crew.