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Home Entertainment : John Wayne Ambles in From the Desert as ‘Hondo’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The well of John Wayne movies not available on video is just about dry.

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Wayne is one of the biggest attractions in the home video market. Of his 152 movies--from the late-1920s to the mid-1970s--114 are on tape.

But after “Hondo,” the 1953 Western that just came out on MPI at $20, there’s not much left--mainly some of his pre-1940 B-movies. And it seemed like “Hondo,” rumored to be on the verge of release for years, would never come out.

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Michael Wayne, son of the late star and president of Batjac Productions Inc.--which has the rights to “Hondo"--explained why it took so long to release the movie.

“We were waiting for the right time--and the time never seemed right,” he said. “I was waiting for a time when Westerns were more popular, which has happened after ‘Dances With Wolves’ and ‘Unforgiven,’ and for a time when none of his other movies were being released by other companies like Fox or Warner or Republic. But last February I said, ‘It’s coming out this fall, no matter what.’ ”

Research showed that fans were eager for “Hondo.” But that demand had been somewhat orchestrated. One of Batjac’s tactics was to keep it off TV, so fans wouldn’t take it for granted--or tape it.

“I never put it into syndication,” Wayne said. “It’s only been shown four or five times on TV. I wanted interest and demand to build up.”

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To make the film more attractive to finicky contemporary audiences, Wayne put “Hondo” through a meticulous restoration process, so it’s one of the best-looking classic movies on the market.

And what about another aspect of “Hondo” that might disturb many of today’s fans--the fact that this Western, like nearly all from those days, was not politically correct with respect to Native Americans?

“It’s much more sympathetic toward Indians than most movies of that era,” Wayne insisted. “The Hondo character was half-Indian and was married to an Indian. He had great respect and admiration for the good Apache chief. But then another chief takes over, and that’s where the problems of the political correctness sort start.”

Though “Hondo” isn’t exactly PC, retailers don’t expect that to hamper sales. Wayne said that MPI has shipped 750,000 copies to stores, a whopping amount for a 41-year-old movie.

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The next John Wayne movie to come out, “The High and the Mighty,” will probably do even better. This exciting 1954 drama, featuring Wayne as the pilot of an airplane in jeopardy, has wider appeal than “Hondo,” which will attract mostly male action fans. Michael Wayne said that this one, which has been on TV even less frequently than “Hondo,” will be out sometime next year.

After “The High and the Mighty,” the most prominent Wayne movie not on video will be a routine drama from 1953, “Island in the Sky,” one of his least interesting ‘50s movies.

Michael Wayne is working on another project--transferring “Hondo,” which was originally in the old 3-D format, into what he says will be the first full-length color 3-D laser disc. The disc, due in March and priced somewhere between $75 and $100, will be made through a new digital process and will feature trailers, outtakes and a commentary track. The package will also include 3-D glasses as well as a second laser disc, the standard “flat” version for those who don’t want to bother with 3-D.

Foreign Films

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There has been a flurry of fine high-profile foreign-language movies released in the past month, which is unusual since sometimes there may be only one or two such movies every few months.

It started about a month ago with “Like Water for Chocolate,” one of the most popular foreign films ever released in this country.

Just out this week is FoxVideo’s engaging, clever farce “The Wedding Banquet,” about a gay male couple--one is American, the other Taiwanese--living in Manhattan. When the parents of the Taiwanese, who don’t know their son is gay, come to visit, he stages a fake wedding with a female artist.

Chinese director Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine” (Miramax) is an entertaining epic, covering a period from the 1920s to the ‘70s, that recounts the volatile relationship between two male performers in the Peking Opera. Though the characterizations aren’t as vivid as they might be, it’s still a fascinating tale.

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What’s New On Video:

“Bad Girls” (FoxVideo). In this feminist Western, none of the bad girls seem very bad. Four prostitutes (Madeleine Stowe, Andie MacDowell, Mary Stuart Masterson and Drew Barrymore) want to open a respectable business in Oregon but have to shoot their way past a gang of vicious outlaws.

“Surviving the Game” (New Line). A homeless man (Ice-T) is the prey at a swank retreat were hunters pay big money to track and kill humans. This is a good, grisly action film, co-starring Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey, who proves once again that he plays coldblooded villains as well as any actor in the business. Same plot as the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “Hard Target.”

“Bitter Moon” (New Line). On a long ocean cruise, a wheelchair-bound writer (Peter Coyote) captivates a couple (Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott-Thomas) with lurid tales of his kinky past. The film, directed by Roman Polanski, may work for those with a taste for the totally offbeat.

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