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The trio sounds more than promising. Martin Ritt, Elmore Leonard, and Paul Newman — the director of Hud, the novelist of a good many westerns and mysteries, and an actor who could probably win the world's poll of the most-perfect-looking man on the planet (he also manages to be a fine actor). Hombre (1967) certainly is an important movie. However, as intriguing as the film appears, unfortunately it's a plodding affair that needed more violence, darkness, and humor to enliven its themes of alienation, racism and heroism. Though admirably slow — especially considering most people will watch the film as a western — and admirably scripted with the hero as half-breed Apache who really hates everyone he's supposed to be standing up for, Hombre doesn't quite make it as the character study it wants to be, particularly when compared to Ritt's other great human studies: his 1963 Hud starring Newman and his 1965 The Spy who Came in From the Cold starring Richard Burton. Newman plays John Russell in Hombre, a half-breed Apache who's more at home in the Indian world he was raised in than the white one he's willed into. It's the American west in the 1880s and Russell is lured back into "regular" society when he inherits a boarding house from his real father. Not planning on straying from his native ways, he promptly trades the house for horses. But as Russell's leaving town, he's forced to sit with the driver (played by a great Martin Balsam) as a group of distrustful, racist stagecoach passengers give him unnecessary attitude. Included in the coach are the boarding house owner (Diane Cilento), a corrupt Indian agent (Frederic March), his snooty, pretty wife (Barbara Rush), and a young, inexperienced couple already annoying each other. Trouble is afoot when the shady Grimes (Richard Boone) enters the picture, and soon enough the folks are stuck in the middle of the dessert as a result of his outlaw actions. Who are they going to turn to? The only man around is Russell, who they've more than alienated by this point — but will he help them? What makes Hombre potentially effective is its plot device of making us question if we even care if Russell fosters any of these people in the first place. We do care about Russell, an enigmatic, thoughtful man who, interestingly, possesses not a silent rage, but a quiet, hardheaded and realistic dismissal of those who judge him. While watching the various characters crumble around him, we learn, through his coolness, how either weak or strong they are. Hombre is a likable film with some good lines and soulful close-ups of the stoic Newman, but one wishes it was a little more cutting, a little more creative. Still, Newman gives a layered, moody performance that's not a typical "I-am-wise-Indian-brave," and the craggy Boone (popular from Have Gun Will Travel ) is a truly nefarious-looking, scary villain with a laughing SOB of a face. Fox's DVD release of Hombre presents a pristine anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that nicely exhibits its numerous close-ups and color cinematography by James Wong Howe. The audio comes in both Dolby Digital stereo and mono. Supplements include a still gallery and trailers from Newman classics including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hustler, The Verdict, and of course, Hombre, in which the narrator declares: "Hombre means man and Paul Newman is Hombre!" Keep-case.

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