Thursday, June 16, 2016

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Apache Kid" (1967)







"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"






HONDO: "Hondo and the Apache Kid"  (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 6; Original Air Date: October 13, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Kathie Browne as Angie Dow, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Michael Pate as Chief Vittoro, Buddy Foster as Johnny Dow, William Bryant as Colonel Crook.  Guest Stars Nick Adams as The Apache Kid, Farley Granger as Jack Graham, Danielle Rotar as Star Bird, Sofia Marie as Emmy Jo, Stan Barrett as Running Wolf, James Beck as Highton.  Written by Frank L. Moss.  Directed by William Witney.


Series Overview for HONDO: TV's Unlikeliest Cult Hit at this link  


Ace Civil War and Ohio Flood journalist Jack Graham is brought to Arizona territory by his latest cause celebre: the "persecution" of The Apache Kid, childhood friend of Hondo's turned renegade who is wanted for murder (among other crimes).  Graham's articles have already resulted in pressure on Richards to capture the Kid alive.  After Lane is instrumental in doing so, the famed reporter excoriates Hondo in print as a "Judas", putting the scout and all of Fort Lowell under intense scrutiny from coast to coast--and particularly from Washington D.C.



With Graham's unwitting (and unknowing) aid, the Apache Kid soon breaks out of the guardhouse to start a fresh crime spree.  After killing his sentry, the renegade Kid (who is even less welcome on his tribe's land) slays Star Bird's father, kidnapping the bride-to-be and sending her fianc√© Running Wolf in pursuit.  With faithful Sam at his side, Hondo gamely tries to track down the escaped prisoner and his badly abused hostage.  Hot on the trail of both is Graham, brandishing a telegraph guaranteeing his "heroic" subject a top attorney.


Like the previous segment, Hondo and the Apache Kid gives us a clueless outsider to the Arizona territory with impressive credentials in his field, but a thoroughly wrongheaded superiority complex.  Jack Graham is hailed as the champion of Pennsylvania coal miners and New England mill workers, but he's out of his element in the southwestern desert--he first "saw an Indian" just three months earlier.


Witnessing the unjust execution of that falsely accused Native American in Texas inspired his current crusade, but unfortunately, Graham's chosen representative is as unworthy a poster boy as he could find: a kidnapper, thief, rapist and murderer.  Hondo gets a terse (ten seconds, tops) soapbox moment, telling the reporter that he's wasting his help on a sociopath hated by his own people that could be used by the numerous Natives who have been wronged and cheated: Delgado (Hondo and the Singing Wire) and especially Ponce Colorados (Hondo and the Savage) come to mind.


Moss avoids some of the pitfalls that befell Frank Chase in that latter teleplay.  Obnoxious Graham threatens to wear out his welcome, but fortunately Chase gives him to us in smaller doses: Graham disappears completely during the episode's middle third while the audience witnesses the treachery that the scribe is oblivious to.  The three Apaches who end up unjustly executed here are all murdered by The Kid, whose every action justifies the jailing (not solitary confinement as embellished by Graham).  An equal opportunity criminal, the Apache Kid also slays a farmer (while raiding the man's home for food) in addition to the aforementioned trooper.


Tarantino favorite William Witney keeps this one moving, staging a badass reveal for Adams and an exciting apprehension of him in the teaser alone.  The director fades in on the collateral damage of the trackdown and doesn't disappoint during the cat and mouse game between Hondo and the Kid.  Lane's frustration at every near miss is palpable as time ticks away for the fugitive's captive--carnal desires after three weeks in the guardhouse are the least of her worries.

Danielle Rotar
The main flaws with Hondo and the Apache Kid have to do with its titular antagonist.  Captain Richards' early assessment of him as just a "bad Indian, that's all" is never convincingly elaborated on.  Buffalo tells us that the Apache Kid (no other name, either) was "like a brother" to Hondo, and the two were trained as Indian scouts by the same man before The Kid broke bad.  It takes a leap of faith to believe that the illiterate, almost mute (he has three words of dialogue, total) Apache Kid could have ever been all that, and the only explanation we're given for his despicable actions is his Napoleon complex.  "Runt of the litter", Hondo says, eliciting one of those three words: "Lies!".


If the Kid's feral manner requires one suspension of disbelief, Adams diminutive stature makes another necessary, particularly in fistfights with Taeger, who is eight inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier.  Fortunately, Adams' trademark intensity helps a great deal towards that end.  The star of Fenady's THE REBEL some six years earlier, Adams is consistently ferocious and elusive.  His Kid also shows a remarkable gift for infiltration time and time again, which helps make it plausible that he learned alongside Lane--"part panther, part Apache" himself--once upon a time.


Jack Graham may seem just as one-note on the surface, but on closer inspection he's broken bad himself.  It's clear from his reputation and past triumphs that he started out as a true champion of underdogs before losing his way.  He states he's there to see that the Kid is treated fairly, but his actions tell us that journalistic objectivity has long fallen by the wayside: Graham is addicted to the power his pen gives him.  Charles Foster Kane's belief that people will think "what I tell them to think" comes to mind.  Any information that contradicts the narrative he's constructing is dismissed as a lie--Graham simply cannot be dissuaded from making his latest "discovery" into a larger than life hero (the Kid appears as tall as the mountains on the newspaper's front page).


After Graham's close call (yes, his muse turns on him), does he seek out any of the numerous Native Americans that (as Lane stated) could "use his help"?  No, the writer only knows one way to apologize, and it's a self serving one--he attempts to make Lane into his next sensationalized hero (after trashing the scout's reputation for weeks).  Of course, the prospect of Graham "repaying his debt" by making Hondo the next protagonist of his "dime novel garbage" gets the reaction you'd expect.  And yes, after an hour with this blowhard, it is a satisfying thing to see.


Chief Vittoro adds gravitas as always, another improvement over the prior segment.  The Apache's leader is with Hondo in spirit but unable to assist him since the scout's task involves taking the Kid to "white man's justice".  The Chief would prefer to do away with the murderer the Apache way, and might be right in this instance, since a sequel (Hondo and the Apache Trail) was needed.


HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?

That pictured punch in the tag aside, Emberato's temper has improved ever since the closure provided in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre.  The inevitable final confrontation with the Kid is Hondo's only other one on one scuffle (the Kid is swarmed in his initial capture) and the scout ends finally ends it with a right cross after the villain's rifle ammunition runs out. 


IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?

Proof of just how formidable an adversary we are dealing with: Hondo and Buffalo never get a chance to set foot in their favorite watering hole--a first for the series.


A DOG'S LIFE:

Sam helps with the tracking for two-thirds of Hondo and the Apache Kid, but he spends the final act as a therapy dog for the newly orphaned Emmy Jo.


GUEST CAST NOTES:

Striking Diane Rotar (credited as Danielle), nineteen at the time, was already known as Jennifer Somers on THE VIRGINIAN.  Long-time stunt coordinator Stan Barrett had his first acting credits on HONDO, appearing in three episodes in all.  He too gets to duke it out with The Kid--can't that guy get along with anyone?



THE BOTTOM LINE:

An interesting examination on the power of the press and how easily that power can be misused, Hondo and the Apache Kid also manages to be an exciting, tense chase tale.  In what would end up being one of his final performances, Nick Adams makes a lot out of very little dialogue.  A solid, satisfying effort overall--though the Kid's return (Hondo and the Apache Trail) is even better.  (*** out of four)

HONDO airs every Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM Central on GetTV. Effective July 3rd, 2016, HONDO changes time slots, to Sunday mornings at 6 A.M. Central on GetTV.


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