"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"
HONDO: "Hondo and the Judas" (1967 ABC-TV/Batjac/MGM) Episode 9: Original Air Date November 3, 1967. Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards. Guest Stars: Forrest Tucker as Colonel William Quantrill, Ricky Nelson as Jesse James, John Agar as Frank James, John Carradine as Dr. Leonard Zeber, Roger Perry as Johnny Reno, Richard Bakalyan as Cole Younger, Roy Jenson as Bob Ford, Fritz Ford as Charlie Ford, Kip Whitman as Jim Younger, Ken Mayer as Marshal Bragg, Charles Maxwell as Leek Harker, Pete Dunn as Bottles. Teleplay by Frank Chase; Story by Andrew J. Fenady. Directed by Lee H. Katzin.
Mail call at Fort Lowell. Hondo Lane receives a terse letter that simply reads: "New Canaan. Life or Death. Now." Signed with the letter Q. The scout mysteriously and abruptly rides out alone, leaving Sam with Buffalo Baker as he begins a multi-day journey east. Along the way, Lane is recognized from afar by the Harker brothers. Unaware that Emberato has been pardoned, the aspiring bounty hunters trail the scout when he departs.
"A man can live with one wing, but not with gangrene."
Once Hondo arrives in New Canaan, he finds an almost deserted ghost town. Inside the saloon: Lane's former Confederate commander, Colonel William Clark Quantrill. Thought to have died four years earlier, Quantrill is alive but not particularly well--he's missing his left arm and prone to ill-tempered outbursts. Lane also discovers that the Colonel sent the same cryptic note to all of his former Raiders: the James brothers, the Youngers, Bob and Charlie Ford, and late arrival Johnny Reno.
Once all are present for the surprise (to Hondo at least) reunion, Lane learns the all-important situation he's been summoned for is Quantrill's planned robbery of an Army payroll wagon. But that isn't the ex-commander's only project: he also has vengeance on his mind against the "Judas" among them who cost him an arm and left him for dead in a ditch. Wanting no part of either idea, Lane leaves a note and begins the long trek back--with three would-be assassins hot on his trial and the Colonel not far behind.
We discover in Hondo and the Judas that the protagonist's search for his wife's killer took him all the way to the Kansas-Missouri conflict. There, the man General Sheridan hailed as "the best scout and infiltrator on either side" gained that reputation in the South's most notorious guerrilla unit. That is, two years before he was "late of the Texas 7th". While not necessarily contradicting what we were told before, this revelation still seems improbable for a number of reasons.
Fenady provided the story but assigned this teleplay to Frank Chase (Hondo and the Savage), whose heavy-handed approach marred that interesting FORT APACHE variation. In his sophomore installment, BONANZA veteran Chase is uncharacteristically sloppy, blundering badly before the opening credits. Lane leaves Sam at Fort Lowell, explaining that "this is something before you--before Destarte, even." Uh, not according to Hondo's long-cited reason for joining the South in the first place, which was avenging her death! Katzin should have cut this, particularly since it is contradicted later in the episode by Quantrill.
Going against the show's entrenched universe is a no-no for any episode, but it's of utmost importance to have Lane's impetuses clear here. We're about to learn that Hondo fought under a notorious bushwhacker who led attacks targeting civilians--not unlike the one in which Lane's wife, unborn child, and "sick old men" were massacred. Positing Hondo Lane (whose commission was legitimate, unlike Quantrill's) as a loyal follower of this sociopathic opportunist takes a considerable leap of faith. Lane's reputation also takes a hit with the disclosure that he was captured in Lawrence on the eve of Quantrill's most flagrant raid.
Consistent inconsistency with both the series' established backstory and this episode's reigns throughout Hondo and the Judas. In one particularly blatant example, Robert Ford objects vociferously to riding with a madman (Quantrill); barely thirty seconds later he charges Hondo with being "the only one who wants to get out of this deal"(!) and is angry enough to fight about it.
Exercising artistic license on the highly chronicled figures in Hondo and the Judas is a given; the decisions on when and what are as questionable as all the rest. As you'd expect from a Fenady production, research is evident: William Quantrill was once a schoolteacher, and in a key moment, Chase neatly makes the point that many of the guerrillas killed by his reckless actions were teenagers. But Quantrill's claim to be a Southerner who fought for the South as a matter of "duty and love"? Well...
"I used to be like you, I could forgive my enemies...…"
Quantrill was born in Ohio and spent subsequent pre-War years in Illinois, Utah, Kansas...Hell, practically everywhere but a Southern state. A northerner who fought for the South, in reality. Just like Hondo--a commonality, if presented, would create understandable circumstances for Lane ending up a Raider. Not the only missed opportunity along these lines--the real Cole Younger was also motivated to become an underground fighter by the death of his father at Union hands, for example.
The presence of so many infamous rogues seems more liability than asset, since the misdeeds of the James-Younger gang and Quantrill's Raiders are much more widely known than those of (say) the Apache Kid. That said, with Hondo and the Judas being such an outlier for the show in premise and quality, it's seeing those figures played by a cultist's dream cast that provides most of the entertainment value.
"Say it clearer than that, Ford!"
Bob Ford is Hondo's lone antagonist among his fellow Raiders, and also the only one showing overt allegiance to the Gray. Since Hondo is now working for the hated Blue Bellies, the younger Ford accuses the scout of being the Judas--frequently. Johnny Reno is Hondo's closest friend of the Raiders, with Cole Younger also consistently supportive. Notably, Frank James ensures Hondo gets a fair fight once things come to a head with Ford.
"People think he died a hero in the War, let it stay that way."
Despite that eyebrow-raising line, Quantrill isn't glorified here. The Colonel we meet tricks Hondo Lane into meeting him under false pretenses. He saves Hondo's life (for a second time)--but as we later learn, mainly because he needs Lane's current employment to serve as cover for the robbery. A self-serving opportunist to the end, Quantrill uses these loyal ex-soldiers with little regard for lives besides Zeber's--and his own. Manipulative? When Lane makes it known that he'd like to pass on "the plan", the Colonel shames him, asserting that he led the Lawrence raid solely to save Hondo's neck! Hondo's reaction is a wordless and priceless combination of disgust and disbelief:
What if Quantrill had lived? Hondo and the Judas posits that he would have applied his "hit and run" tactics to robberies--just like the James-Younger gang ended up doing, only on a larger scale. Nothing noble there. Nevertheless, loyal Zeber gives a rebuttal, implying more than once that Quantrill was ethical before he was corrupted by the horrors of war and betrayal.
After nearly a decade of affability between THE MUSIC MAN and F TROOP, Tucker reminds you just how frightening he could be as a villain. Roger Perry is equally impressive as tortured loner Reno, but Ricky Nelson is merely adequate at best in his stunt-casting as Jesse James. The most intriguing character is the fictional Zeber, essayed by old pro Carradine. A broken-down yet hard to read physician, he appears at various times to be the Judas or the real brains behind the mad mastermind. In the end, the Doctor seems inspired by Hondo's forgiveness towards his former adversaries.
In reality, Bob Ford was exactly eighteen months old when the Lawrence massacre took place, his brother Charles was all of six years of age, and John Reno was never anywhere near the South or Quantrill. Suffice to say it took far more than the typical number of liberties to get all these malefactors together and the advisability of doing so turned out to be rather dubious. When all is said and done, Hondo and the Judas is a misfire--albeit one with a phenomenal cast.
MISSING FROM SYNDICATION:
Television prints and the version streaming on the late Warner Archive Instant missed two key conversations between Ford, Zeber and Hondo. The missing minutes are restored to the complete series DVD version from Warner Archive.
HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?
The coward Robert Ford (whose future assassination of Jesse is subtly referenced in the tag) is Hondo's main antagonist here, angry at Lane for his current job and eventually getting his ass kicked after throwing a punch at a disabled Hondo. It's the titular one's only fracas of the episode, but it's a really good one as Ford fights dirty, then finds the ante upped considerably by his temporarily one-winged adversary. One of the finest fistfights of the entire series and easily the best minute of this episode.
A DOG'S LIFE:
Chase apparently wasn't much on writing for canines. Sam was absent from both of his teleplays after the teaser.
IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?
Fort Lowell's cantina barely gets a scratch from Buffalo's losing effort in an arm wrestling match, but the deserted watering hole in New Canaan gets quite a workout after Ford edges too close in his commentary.
In Bruce Eder's excellent bio of The Horn Section's patron saint for All Movie Guide, he singles out Tuck's "very effective" performance here in "one of the better episodes" of the series. I agree with half of Eder's assessment. One of very few missteps for what was usually a very good-to-excellent series, Hondo and the Judas is a questionable idea poorly executed. (** out of four)
HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 10:15 A.M. Central Time on getTV.
HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is also available on DVD from Warner Archive.