The general public hasn't seen “Hondo” ride across a wide screen since its initial 1953 release. Even then, most small-town theaters hadn't yet converted to CinemaScope-size projection.
Consequently, most John Wayne fans have only seen the film in the old square format on screens both large and small.
But the Duke's daughter-in-law has finally done something about all that.
“It's really nice to be able to bring it to an audience that gets to see it the way it was intended to be seen,” said Gretchen Wayne in a recent phone interview promoting the debut of “Hondo” on Blu-ray, widescreen video format.
She is the keeper of many of her father-in-law's best-loved films as owner and president of Batjac Productions, the independent film company founded in 1951 by John Wayne, and run for 40 years by Gretchen's late husband Michael.
Batjac produced more than 25 films and has retained ownership of such Wayne-starring titles as “McClintock!,” “The High and the Mighty” and “Island in the Sky,” as well as several non-John Wayne features, including “Seven Men From Now,” a 1956 Budd Boetticher-directed Western starring Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin, which made its DVD debut in 2005.
Gretchen Wayne took over Batjac after her husband's death in 2003, and entered into a multi-picture, multiyear distribution deal with Paramount in 2004, supervising the restoration and rerelease of these films for home video.
The Blu-ray release of “Hondo” is another step toward fulfilling her husband's mission to make all of his father's films available to the public.
“And it is one of my favorite films,” she said. “It was certainly one of my husband's favorites. And my father-in-law always felt he looked his best in this film. This was his peak in terms of physical appearance.”
Adapted by James Edward Grant from a Louis L'Amour short story, “Hondo” stars the Duke in the title role of a cavalry scout who happens upon the modest Lowe ranch where he finds strong-willed Angie (Geraldine Page in her screen debut) and her small son Johnny (Lee Aaker of TV's “Rin Tin Tin”), going about their business unaware of hostile Apaches nearby.
The film also stars Ward Bond, Michael Pate and James Arness.
“My husband and I were dating, we were both in high school at the time this film was being made, and he left to go down to Mexico with his brother Patrick to be on location with his dad,” Gretchen Wayne recalled. “So I got to hear all the stories about how there hadn't been rain in seven years, and that's why they went down there, to have the beautiful clouds and the sky and not worry about water. And, of course, it rained for the first time in seven years.”
Although the Blu-ray edition is presented in 2-D, the film was originally shot in 3-D, which presented its own set of problems at the time.