Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Geraldine Page in Hondo

Geraldine Page received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Angie Lowe in John Farrow's Hondo. The film isn't one where you'd typically find an Oscar-nominated performance, because it's a pretty standard Western. It's got a generic Cowboys vs Indians plot, but still manages to be fun albeit slight entertainment. John Wayne plays Hondo Lane, a US Army Calvary scout who happens upon the ranch of Angie Lowe (Page) and her son, Johnny (Lee Aaker). What follows is basically exactly what you'd expect-- they fall in love, Indians attack, etc. Geraldine Page is an actress who I've seen very little of, but the two Oscar-nominated performances I have seen (The Trip to Bountiful and Sweet Bird of Youth) both really amazed me. This was her first credited film appearance, and she gives one of the most endearingly normal, unshowy Oscar-nominated performances I've seen so far.

The subtlety that Page brings to the film is almost a necessity when paired with an actor like John Wayne. At this point in his career, Westerns like this one obviously were business as usual and Hondo doesn't have anything particularly special to add to the genre. What is great about Geraldine Page's performance is the balance that she provides to the film. Wayne's performance is one we've seen from him many times--gruff and robotic, and in response Page is subdued and simple. Her and Wayne have a nice chemistry in the film that Page allows to grow stronger and stronger over the course of the film. Angie's interest in Hondo grows as each scenes goes by, which Page shows through a series of calculated lingering stares and smiles. It's those scenes where she is allowed to express her interest where Angie really shines in the film. Page's onscreen charisma and grace is on full display, and you can see where this actress could grow to be one of Oscar's favorites.

However, her film really doesn't do her any favors. Basically everything about her film is a leagues below her level, most notably her fellow actors and the script. There are a lot of scenes were Page struggles to make anything of her character and is forced to act with actors (mostly the 'Indians') who are about as good as charismatic as a block of wood. Oftentimes she doesn't seem to be anything more than a tool for the story, shifting back and forth between different characters like nothing more than a prop. She also has a serious lack of chemistry with the child actor that plays her son, and there is literally no connection between the two. Most of these things are not directly Page's fault, but hold her performance back nonetheless.

The real genius of this performance is how normal and average Angie Lowe is, a rare sight in this category. She just feels like a real person, with no huge dramatic scenes or showy moments to be found. It's a refreshing type of performance for this category, which is so often filled with over the top shrews or sultry ingenues. But as much as I admire Geraldine Page's performance and the fact that the Academy would award such subtle work, the limits placed around Page are too strong for even her to break out completely. It's still a reliable piece of work that is getting 3.5/5 Thelmas.


dinasztie said...

I have always been very interested in this one, I have just never been able to watch it. Otherwise, really great review!

Derek Bowman said...

I'm pretty much with you there, I wasn't too excited about this film at all. Westerns just aren't my thing. It was surprisingly fun.