If John Wayne wasn't already firmly enough established as an authentic American cultural icon along the lines of -- and I mean no disrespect -- Judy Garland, he is now. Last week, the battered hat the actor wore in "Hondo" was presented to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, taking its rightful place in the government-sanctioned repository of Americana, along with Dorothy's ruby slippers and Archie Bunker's chair.
The gift coincides with this week's release on DVD of the iconic 1953 Western about a taciturn loner who becomes the protector and love interest of a lonely settler woman (Geraldine Page, in her first major film role) after he shoots her no-good husband in self-defense. The newly remastered and all-new-extras-stocked disc is being released along with "McLintock!," a 1963 Western comedy with overtones of "The Taming of the Shrew," available in widescreen format for the first time ($14.99 each).
They're the latest two additions to "The John Wayne Collection" (Paramount), a series that includes a 10-disc box set ($134.88, available exclusively from Amazon.com) featuring "El Dorado"; "Hatari!"; "In Harm's Way"; "Rio Lobo"; "The Sons of Katie Elder," the movie on which John Singleton's recent "Four Brothers" was based; "The Shootist"; "Donovan's Reef"; "Big Jake"; "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"; and "True Grit," the movie for which Wayne won the Best Actor Oscar. Also available separately are "Island in the Sky" ($14.99) and the Academy Award-winning "The High and the Mighty" ($19.99), two of Wayne's films that had been unavailable on either video or DVD.
Adapted by stalwart Wayne screenwriter James Edward Grant (who also wrote "McLintock!") from a best-selling book by Western raconteur Louis L'Amour, "Hondo" is the better of the two films, with a story line as taut and tough as beef jerky and a hero perfectly suited to Wayne's laconic style. Originally shot in 3-D just as the early 1950s fad was beginning to fade, the film (directed by John Farrow, father of Mia) is sparing with the visual gimmicks, even if a climactic battle sequence between Apaches and cavalry-led settlers does indulge in a little of the spear-and-knife-in-the-face cinematography that gives away its 3-D roots.
"McLintock!" is more of a goof, and although it's politically incorrect fun to see the Duke rassle in the mud with frequent co-star Maureen O'Hara and turn her over his knee for a "Shrew"-style spanking, the film feels slighter than "Hondo," even at a half-hour longer.
New DVD 'Magazine'
Debuting this month is the Journal of Short Film, a DVD-based quarterly dedicated to the art of the short. It was founded by filmmaker and textbook editor Karl Mechem, who put out the first call for submissions last spring and who modeled the ad-free compilation on literary journals. The inaugural issue features nine films ranging in length from just three minutes to a little more than 16 and running the stylistic gamut from sci-fi (New Zealander Jonathan Brough's "No Ordinary Sun") to documentary (Ashkan Soltani's "Long Struggle," a look at land struggles between two Shoshone Indian sisters and the federal government).
Focusing more on the kind of short films you would see in an art gallery than at a typical film festival, the premiere issue of the "magazine" is an intriguingly open-minded roundup of everything from straight-ahead narrative (Steven Bognar's mother-and-teenage-daughter portrait, "Gravel") to the kind of thing contemporary art curators like to call "new media" ("Amelita Destruction," a segment from a set of live "improvised cinema" by the art collective Potter-Belmar Labs, which specializes in interactive sculpture, installation, video and performance).
Annual four-issue subscriptions are available for $36 from www.thejsf.org (single volumes $10).