Category Archives: Authors

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë


Cover of Standard eBooks version of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights: Spoiler-Free Synopsis

As a young man, Heathcliff, an orphaned gypsy, is adopted by the Earnshaws, who live at Wuthering Heights, an isolated farm on the moors, where he becomes devoted to the pretty but spoiled daughter Catherine Earnshaw. In her turn, Cathy claims to love Heathcliff, but she longs for the money, education, and culture she sees in the Lintons, their neighbors at Thrushcross Grange. In an attempt to escape her narrow, abusive home-life, Cathy encourages Edgar Linton’s love and a proposal, arousing Heathcliff’s violent jealousy. Meanwhile, Edgar’s sister Isabella, though she has a pampered and luxurious life, wants to escape Thrushcross Grange, and she finds Heathcliff desperately exciting, arousing Cathy’s angry possessiveness. In this violent yet engrossing revenge tale, Heathcliff and Cathy’s tempestuous relationship threatens the lives of everyone in both families, as well as those of their descendants and the story’s multiple narrators. Can anyone survive their destructive passions?

The only undisputed portrait of Emily, by her brother Branwell Brontë.

Author Emily Brontë

One of the famous Brontë sisters, all authors, Emily was noted for her shyness, her love of nature, and her tendency to befriend stray neighborhood dogs. When a typhoid epidemic swept her boarding school, she was sent home (where two of her sisters died soon after) and educated at home. Emily wrote from a young age, mostly poetry and world-building with her sister Anne, and became a teacher at age 20. When Emily’s health suffered from the strain of teaching, she returned home. In 1848, shortly after the sudden death of her beloved brother Branwell, she took ill with an inflammation of the lungs from (undiagnosed) tuberculosis. She died in December 1848, only one year following the publication of Wuthering Heights, the novel for which she is famed.

1847 edition title page of Wuthering Heights with author’s pseudonym Ellis Bell

Critical Reception of  Wuthering Heights

Contemporaneous reviews (1847-49) of Wuthering Heights were not kind. While a few critics remarked on the terrific story (New Monthly)  and powerful writing (Tait’s Edinburgh Review), most critics declared Wuthering Heights  a strange book (Examiner), a disagreeable story (Athenaeum), or a strange, inartistic story (Atlas). Comparing the novel with Jayne Eyre, critic James Lorimer was brutally dismissive:

Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read. (North British Review)

Contemporary critics sometimes still compare Wuthering Heights to Jane Eyre (Virginia Woolf, 1916), liken its protagonists to Shakespeare’s villains (Joyce Carol Oates, 1983), and confess to loving its “strange cruelty and enchantment” (Anne Rice, 2004).

Still, Wuthering Heights, though warped into a strangely violent love story by Hollywood and some readers, is now generally accepted as a classic. While acknowledging the novel’s structure as famously complex, critics have begun to more closely analyze the multiple, unreliable narrators, questioning the identity of the real villains of the story. Many critics now view Wuthering Heights as arising from yet altering the patterns of its Gothic predecessors, with their ghosts, isolated castles or fortresses, and captive heroines, creating a more complex and ambiguous world than that found in Gothic novels, and portraying females as more than persecuted Gothic heroines. Like Jane Eyre, written by Emily’s sister Charlotte, Wuthering Heights deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those concerning women and children, causing both Wuthering Heights and its author to now be revered as feminist icons.

Standard eBooks cover for Wuthering Heights

Free Public Domain Versions of Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is available free online because it is in the public domain: the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public. Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain,  some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to their edition of a public domain work; publishers  can then copyright only that particular edition of the public domain book.

Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, and WikiSource  are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search any of their sites by author or title of the book.

You can read Wuthering Heights online or legally download a free copy from the following sites:

• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.

• provides an HTML version  (which can be read online) as well as PDF, plain text, ePub, and Kindle versions, all of which can be downloaded to your devices.

• WikiSource provides a 3-volume version of the 1847 first edition of Wuthering Heights (in two volumes; volume 3 of this edition is sister Anne’s Agnes Gray), available 0nline, for any device. This edition, unfortunately, has typographical errors (via the publisher, who was renowned for his carelessness), and, at this time, WikiSource does not yet have the 1849 second edition, corrected (and editorially revised) by the author’s sister Charlotte after the author’s death. The WikiSource unsourced edition may be the one upon which the Gutenberg edition is based. Both the first and the unsourced editions are available to read online.

• Amazon has an Amazon Classics ebook version (with a very brief, 2-paragraph biography of the author), but this public domain version is free only to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. (The other “free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers” version of the novel has a warning that it contains quality issues, i.e., numerous errors.)

Though the book is also available on many other sites, I have not included any sites which have intrusive or misleading ads. The following sites offer Wuthering Heights free, but I have not examined these versions for typographical or editorial errors.

• ManyBooks provides the 1910 edition of Wuthering Heights, available online only, although you can change the font size.

• FullTextArchive has the novel, divided into 7 parts, available to read online or as a pdf to download to any device.

• Freeditorial offers an online, pdf, and epub versions. You can also send a copy of the file to your Kindle or Kindle app by providing your unique Kindle email address.

Other Free Wuthering Heights Information: Wikipedia’s Wuthering Heights has a plot summary, novel timeline, character list, and family relationships chart.

Audiobook: Although Amazon offers audio versions of many of the books in its classics series, the digital-mechanical voices “reading” the books are often stilted and distracting. The higher quality audiobooks are rarely free or even discounted. If you are not yet a member of Audible, however, you receive two free titles during your trial membership, one of which could be Audible’s exclusive version of Wuthering Heights, read by Joanne Froggart (of Downton Abbey fame). Additionally, both the Juliet Stevenson and Janet McTeer narrations of this novel are also excellent audiobooks, and you could choose one of those as your free title. Any free audiobooks acquired during the Audible trial remain in your library even if you cancel your membership.

Related Posts

Looking for other classic poems, stories, novellas,
novels, or nonfiction books in the public domain?
See my Free Classics page


• Portrait of Emily Brontë, by Patrick Branwell Brontë. Photo @ Wikipedia

• 1847 (first edition) title page of Wuthering Heights with Brontë’s pseudonym “Ellis Bell.” Published by Thomas Cautley Newby. Photo @ Wikipedia



Filed under Authors, Books, Classics, E-books, Free, Free Books, Free Classics Available Online, Free Classics in the Public Domain, Free Stories in the Public Domain, No Spoilers Review, Public Domain Classics, Public Domain Works Online, Review, Review/No Spoilers

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens


A Tale of Two Cities: Spoiler-Free Synopsis

In Paris, about a decade before the French Revolution, a traumatized and physically broken Dr. Manette is released from the Bastille after being unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years. He is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, who was born in France but grew up in England believing she was an orphan. While taking her father back to England to live with her, Lucie meets the young French émigré Charles Darnay.

In London, Darnay, who has rejected his aristocratic family’s heritage and changed his name, is arrested and put on trial for his life, accused of being a spy. One of the attorneys defending him, Sydney Carton, who is brilliant but cynical and disreputable, so physically resembles Darnay that it is remarked upon in court. Darnay and Carton become friends, and both men fall deeply in love with Lucie Manette. Lucie comes to love both men in return, but she cares for Carton maternally rather than as a potential spouse.

After the French Revolution breaks out and the Reign of Terror begins, a former family servant begs Darnay for help. After returning to France, Darnay is arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death despite his rejection of his family’s abusive exploitation of peasants. One of the most vengeful revolutionaries, Madame Defarge, who hates all French noblemen and who also knows the reason for Dr. Manette’s 18-year imprisonment, is insistent that Darnay be executed. Further, Madame Defarge plans to denounce both Dr. Manette and Lucie as “traitors” so that they will also be executed.

Can Carton, spurred by his love of Lucie and his friendship with Darnay, save them all from the guillotine?


Dickens at his desk, 1858. Photo by Watkins.

Author Charles Dickens

Dickens’ father John, who constantly lived beyond his means, was confined in Marshalsea, a  debtors’ prison, and 12-year-old Charles, a voracious reader who was enjoying a private school education, was forced to quit school and go to work. At that time, there were no Child Labor laws nor even laws limiting any adult’s working hours. Dickens worked 10 hours a day at a blacking factory while paying for his own keep at a boarding house. Dickens later wrote (to his 1892 biographer) that he “wondered how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.”  After his father received funds upon his own mother’s death and was released from debtors’ prison, Charles’  mother wanted him to remain at work, and Dickens later wrote of this: “I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget.”

This early family grief, overwhelming adult responsibility at the age of 12, dreadful factory experience, and being forced to work to help support his mother and siblings because of his father’s profligate living were repeatedly portrayed in Dickens’ literary work.  His grim portrayals of crime, poverty, and unjust but all-powerful social institutions deftly revealed some of the horrors of life for the working class in Victorian England.

1859 cover of A Tale of Two Cities. Photo © Christie’s Auction House

Critical Reception of  A Tale of Two Cities

Beginning with the famous lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens’ best-known historical novel, about the period before and after the French Revolution.  Many writers, like Tolstoy and George Orwell, praise Dickens’ writing as well as his social commentary, but some writers, such as Virginia Woolf and Henry James, bemoan the “lack of psychological depth and loose writing” in Dickens’ novels. Contemporaneous lawyer, judge, and critic James Fitzjames Stephen called the novel a “dish of puppy pie and stewed cat which is not disguised by the cooking.” Author Jorge Louis Borges quipped that Dickens was so much a British resident that, despite its title, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’ novel is really only about one city: London.

Despite the wide-ranging critical reactions, A Tale of Two Cities is considered the bestselling novel of all time, with an estimated 200 million copies sold worldwide. The novel has been adapted for film, television, stage, musicals, radio, and opera. The book was the acknowledged inspiration for the screenplay of the 2012 Batman story The Dark Knight Rises.

A Tale of Two Cities has become a classic, not only because of its complex characters but because the novel deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those arising during times of great political upheaval and change.

Free Public Domain Versions of A Tale of Two Cities 

A Tale of Two Cities is available in its entirety free online because it is in the public domain (the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public). Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain, some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to the work; publishers can then copyright that particular edition of the public domain work.

Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, WikiSource, and the University of Adelaide (where you can search by author or title) are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search these sites by author or title of the book.

You can read A Tale of Two Cities online or download a copy from the following sites:

• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.

• The University of Adelaide provides a short biography of Dickens and has the complete book available to download, read online,  or as ePub and Kindle books.

• provides HTML version  (which can be read online) as well as PDF, plain text, ePub, and Kindle versions, all of which can be downloaded.

• WikiSource provides the 1898 edition, also called the Gadshill Edition, with the original illustrations, available 0nline, for any device, while Wikipedia’s Tale of Two Cities has several of the book’s original illustrations along with the plot summary and character list.

• Amazon currently has a free Kindle ebook, but before clicking Buy, make sure the price is still $0.00 as Amazon, which is not a non-profit organization, has a tendency to charge for any public domain books that are being frequently downloaded.

Related Posts

Looking for other classic poems, stories, novellas,
novels, or nonfiction books in the public domain?
See my Free Classics page

• Photo of Charles Dickens at desk, 1858, by Watkins. Photo @ Wikipedia

• Cover of 1859 edition of A Tale of Two Cities, published by Chapman & Hall.
Photo ©  Christie’s Auction House; Reproduction of Photo @ Wikipedia


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Filed under Authors, Books, Classics, Classics in the Public Domain, E-books, Free, Free Books, Free Classics Available Online, Free Classics in the Public Domain, Free Stories Available Online, Free Stories in the Public Domain, Public Domain Classics, Public Domain Works Online

Free Scary Stories, 1-7 October 2018


All these classic stories are in the public domain,
available in their entirety online or as free ebooks
(1-7 October 2018)

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Free Scary Stories
for Halloween (1-7 October)

More Free Scary Stories
for Halloween (8-14 October)

Even More Free Scary Stories
for Halloween (15-21 October)


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Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Authors, Books, E-books, Free, Free Books, Free Scary Classics, Free Scary Stories Ebooks, Free Scary Stories in the Public Domain, Free Scary Stories on Kindle, Free Scary Stories Online, Free Stories for Halloween, Halloween

But This Isn’t a Detective Story: Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, the Film



I’ve loved detective fiction since I was 6 and discovered the Nancy Drew mysteries in the bookmobile, preferring Nancy and her pals to the Hardy Boys and their adventures. Later, I dove into Edgar Allan Poe’s mystery stories without even realizing that Poe is credited with the invention of detective fiction in English, with his 1841 publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which appeared before the word “detective” even existed. Without even knowing that I was reading a specific genre, I tore through all the works of Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie, loving the casts of strange and fascinating characters even more than I cared about “whodunnit.” Little did I realize that Agatha Christie was considered the star of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (1920-1949) when the whodunnit was the primary genre of crime fiction. Nor did I realize that Christie was one of the bestselling novelists of all time: I just knew she wrote lots of books and the bookmobile seemed to have all of them. Most importantly, I liked her books very much.

Gillian Anderson as Magda, and Julian Sands as Philip, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

I wasn’t as interested in Christie’s plots as much as I was in her flawed but vitally interesting characters. I often guessed whodunnit and was unimpressed with many of the detectives, not realizing that the amateur or inept investigator is one of the tropes. Gosh, I didn’t even know what a “trope” was, let alone that genre authors used recurring types of characters, themes, or plot devices in their books. And I certainly didn’t realize that many of the detective stories I read had “several classic features,” such as a large, rambling country estate where a group of equally suspect characters distracted the sometimes amateur investigator (and readers) while the least suspicious character continued to commit the murders. I did, however, learn to ignore “red herrings” before I realized there was a term for it, if only because I concentrated instead on the characters themselves, little caring who had actually committed the crime. It wasn’t the murder or the initial victim that I was interested in. I liked all the people involuntarily pushed together after the crime, where they flailed and fought against their lives, against fate, and against each other.

Crooked House, First British Edition, 1949 ©

I still read mystery fiction, though these days I prefer the hard-boiled or noir genres. Again, it’s the characters that interest me, not the crimes or even the process of solving the murder. So it was with great surprise that I saw a 2017 film version of one of Agatha Christie’s classics, Crooked House, which she herself listed as one of the favorites of her own works. I’d heard of the book, and have it on my TBR list, but I hadn’t heard of the film, and I tend to notice films that are adapted from books pretty quickly, especially when the screenwriter is Julien Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame since I so love his work. With a cast of excellent actors playing atrociously selfish and seriously flawed characters, Crooked House is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps because I had not read the Agatha Christie novel of the same name on which it is based, I came for the actors and stayed for the characters, watching it again immediately afterward to see all the delightful ways the author — and the screenwriter — give clues, scatter red herrings, and create the kind of ambivalent characters that I adore.

Stefanie Martini as Sophia Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Dark and moody, the film begins with the detective’s office, where an unnamed lady is waiting, without an appointment, and where viewers immediately learn that she and the private investigator have some prior relationship. Beautiful, young, vastly wealthy Sophia Leonides (Stefanie Martini) requests that her former lover Charles Hayward (Max Irons) come to her family’s estate because she believes her grandfather’s recent death may have been murder. Further, she is afraid that the murderer is still in the house.

Max Irons as Investigator Charles Hayward, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Because the investigating business is not going so well and he needs the money, because Charles doesn’t want to work at Scotland Yard in the shadow of his own famous father’s career nor under the eye of his father’s colleague, Chief Inspector Taverner (Terence Stamp),

Terence Stamp as Chief Inspector Taverner, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

who constantly reminds Charles of how his father sat, leaned forward, looked, acted; and perhaps because he’s never gotten over being summarily and without explanation abandoned by the lovely Sophia, Charles goes to the house — the big and gorgeous country estate house — to talk to the Leonides family members.

What a group! Charles immediately meets the family matriarch, Aunt Edith aka Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close) who wields s shotgun like a pro and laughs at Charles’ delusions that he “saved Sophia” when the two were in Cairo.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Aunt Edith came to the Leonides’ English estate years ago, from America, to nurse her dying sister. After her sister’s death, Edith stayed on to run the household, and raise the murdered man’s two sons, Philip and Roger.

All grown up, with wives and children, the boys still live at their father’s home, on their father’s money, though each has his own reasons for doing so.

Julian Sands as oldest son Philip Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Sophia’s father Philip (Julian Sands) is an author and a playwright, who had some minor financial troubles that forced him to return home and live under his father’s controlling and manipulative domination.

Gillian Anderson as Philip’s wife Magda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Philip’s wife — Sophia’s mother — Magda (Gillian Anderson) is a once-glamorous, heavy-drinking, stage actor who has delusions of grandeur and talent. She’s convinced she could become a film star if only her father-in-law would give them the funds to produce her husband’s brilliant screenplay, written specifically for her as the lead. Now that her father-in-law is dead, however, she fears that she will continue to wither away in relative obscurity on the estate, albeit in the company of her husband Philip, her eldest daughter Sophia, her disgruntled and angry teenage son Eustace (Preston Nyman, below), and her youngest daughter Josephine.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith, and Preston Nyman as Eustace Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Twelve-year-old Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), who loves ballet and wanted to become a dancer, welcomes Charles to the estate because she loves to read detective fiction almost as much as she loves to spy on family members via a telescope from her treehouse.

Honor Kneafsey as Josephine, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Because she then writes everything down in a journal that she never shows to anyone, her family is convinced that she is writing down their secrets.

Christian McKay as younger brother Roger Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Youngest brother Roger (Christian McKay) also lives at his father’s home, ostensibly because it is he, rather than his older brother Philip, who runs his father’s business.

Amanda Abbington as Roger’s wife Clemency, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Roger is an angry young man, and though his prickly wife Clemency (Amanda Abbington) attempts without success to keep her husband’s outbursts under control, it is soon clear that both of them resent their father’s new wife more than anything else.

Christina Hendricks as the new, much younger wife, Brenda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Of course, the new, much younger wife is everything you’d expect in a story like this. A former Las Vegas showgirl, Brenda (Christina Hendricks) is naïve, voluptuous, and rumored to be having an affair with Laurence (John Heffernan),

John Heffernan as the tutor, Laurence, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

the tutor of Philip’s children Eustace and Josephine, as well as the ghost-writer of the deceased patriarch’s memoir, the only copy of which seems to have been stolen.

Roger Ashton-Griffith as the family attorney, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Now, just for fun, throw in a bumbling family attorney (Roger Ashton-Griffiths, who’s no doubt best known as the bumbling Mace Tyrell in Game of Thrones, who suddenly realizes that, inexplicably, the Old Man Leonides’ will most recent will, where everyone in the family was equitably and reasonably provided for, was never actually signed. That means everything — the estate, the businesses, the vast fortune — goes to the widow. That American, that dance-hall trollop, that Brenda, who probably — insists virtually everyone in the family — knew all about the unsigned will and so had the most motive of anyone to commit the murder in the first place.

Jenny Galloway as Nanny, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

And for even more fun and intrigue, stir in old Nanny (Jenny Galloway), who fears that she’s soon to lose her comfortable job and home because the widow, who is without children, won’t need a nanny, and because Nanny’s youngest charge, Josephine, is now too old to have a nanny anyway. Now make Nanny obsessed with getting that nasty journal away from Josephine because… well, just because… it’s a nasty, dirty book. And Nanny hasn’t even read it.

The family dinner, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

By the time Charles’ third-hand car won’t start and he has to stay the night and we get to the family dinner — the first time we actually see all the family members in the same room actually interacting with each other — this party is roaring dangerously, combustibly hot.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith de Haviland, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

When Lady Edith asks Charles to tell them what a murderer is really like, he rather smugly lists a murderer’s traits as “vanity, distorted morality, a lack of empathy, and a tendency to believe they’re above the rules that govern others.” The rest of the family’s rather bored expressions, along with Lady Edith’s boisterous laughter as she quips “that description fits every member of this family,” are no surprise. After all, no one knows villains so well as their fellow villains.

A few critics felt that the cast of accomplished actors in Crooked House  “promised… more than it could deliver” or that the the film was “flawed” though a “top-notch period piece.” Emily Yoshida of Vulture described the the film as “directed with slightly sleepy, but entertainingly morbid style” and said that, ultimately, Crooked House knew what its job was and did it: “to set up a tangled web of colorful characters, throw in a few red herrings, set off its dynamite, and make its exit while the smoke is still in the air.”

Stefanie Martini as Sophia, Julian Sands as her father Philip, and Gillian Anderson as her mother Magda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

From the bumbling, naïve, inept investigator to the thoroughly despised former-showgirl young wife, from the two bickering, resentful, completely spoiled brothers to their angry or utterly vain yet bewildered wives, it is this tangled web of deliciously twisted characters that makes Crooked House worth watching. If you haven’t read the novel on which it was based, even better: then everyone in the film can surprise you.

Like me, you may find that you don’t actually care who committed the murders. Yes, murders, because, as detective-fiction fan Josephine points out, there’s always another murder. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll be both delighted and horrified when you finally learn who, actually, done it all. And while the younger stars are certainly talented, it is Glenn Close, as Lady Edith, and Gillian Anderson, as Magda, who shine as hot and bright as their characters’ falling stars.

Unfortunately, although this film is free to watch for Amazon Prime members, it is not yet available via rental, only purchase ($14.99) from Amazon, YouTube,and GooglePlay. If you do buy it, you won’t regret it.

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Filed under Actors, Authors, Books, Classics, Drama, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Suspense

Maybe It Was the Heat of the Sun, Maybe It Was Something Much Hotter: Hombre, the Film



If you’re not a fan of Elmore Leonard, you should be. He’s one of the best storytellers around, renowned for his gritty realism, his succinct and highly memorable dialogue, his intense characters, and conflicts that turn audience expectations upside-down and backward before rolling those expectations down a steep hill. Twenty-six of Leonard’s stories and novels have been turned into films or television series, and you can always pick out the original dialogue because, as he memorably quipped, “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” and “I try to leave out the parts that readers skip” (Ten Rules of Writing).

Whether you’re a fan of his early Westerns or his later crime fiction, you can never go wrong reading one of Elmore Leonard’s pieces of fiction or watching one of the dramatic adaptations of his work. “Edgy” and “unexpected” are probably two of the best adjectives to describe his fiction, although he’d no doubt object to my using so many adjectives, since he was famous for describing his characters as little as possible, letting their dialogue and their actions reveal all that was essential in their natures.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Diane Cilento as Jessie, and Margaret Blye as Doris, Hombe ©

Based on the novel of the same name by Elmore Leonard, Hombre (1967), the film is everything you’d expect from Elmore Leonard, but nothing you’d typically expect from Hollywood, espcially in the 1960s. If you were to see the advertisement, you’d think it was just another white man raised by Indians trying to return to white society where nobody wants him kind of movie. “Ah, yes,” wrote Roger Ebert in his original review of the film, “we know the characters well from a thousand other Westerns”:

The good but indecisive Mexican, the decisive but bad Mexican, the thieving Indian agent, his cultured wife, the desperado, the lady boarding house operator with a heart of gold, and the Kid.

While those are, indeed, some of characters in this story, Hombre goes far beyond the Western tropes and clichés to become an examination of morality, human nature, and the struggle to survive.

Some critics call Hombre a “revisionist Western” because it shows Indians — or, at least, a white man who was raised by Indians — in a way that’s different from the shrieking savages riding circles around burning covered wagons that Hollywood typically portrayed. But the film is not really interested in the conflict between the races, although racism certainly is a significant part of the characters’ natures and contributes to many of the film’s conflicts. Instead, Hombre is about human conflict, no matter the race, the gender, or the age of the character. And that’s what makes this film a classic.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

Hombre opens with a blue-eyed Indian (Paul Newman) and a band of fellow Apaches patiently waiting for a group of horses to come down to a waterhole, which they have fenced off in order to capture them.

Peter Lazer as the Kid, Hombre ©

A Kid (Peter Lazer) comes down and tells the blue-eyed Indian, whose adopted name is John Russell, that Henry Mendez wants to see him about an important matter.

Martin Balsam as Mendez, and Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

When John Russell goes to see Mendez (Martin Balsam), a half-Mexican, half-white stage driver, he tells Russell that his adopted father has died and left him a boarding house that actually makes money. Mendez encourages Russell to “accept” his own half-white heritage and take ownership of the boarding house, which would make his life easier. Mendez also encourages Russell to cut his hair so that other whites will accept him more easily.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

Meanwhile, at the boarding house, the woman who has been running it for years is nervously anticipating the new owner’s arrival.

Diane Cilento as Jessie, Hombre ©

Jessie (Diane Cilento) even tosses her sheriff-boyfriend Frank (Cameron Mitchell) out of her bed, sending him back to his own room in the boarding house, since she isn’t sure how the new owner will take such “immoral” relations. She gets the house ready for John Russell’s arrival, even polishing the silver, causing Mendez to laugh, telling her that Russell “eats with his fingers,” so she’s going through a lot of work for nothing.

Cameron Mitchell as Sheriff Frank, Hombre ©

Russell doesn’t want the silver because he doesn’t even want the boarding house. He intends to sell it, leaving Jessie out of a place to live and of an income. After she attempts to convince her boyfriend — Sheriff Frank — to marry her, she decides it’s time to leave and start a new life somewhere else.

Margaret Blye as Doris, and Peter Lazer as the Kid (Billy), Hombre ©

At the station, two other boarding house residents are also waiting to leave so they can start a new life: the Kid, whose name is Billy, and his wife Doris (Margaret Blye), who apparently married Billy to escape a brutal, unhappy life with her father, only to have an equally unhappy life with her new husband. She believes if they start their life somewhere else, their relations will improve, and Billy hasn’t much choice except to go along with her.

Barbara Rush as Audra Favor, and Fredric March as Reverend Dr. Alex Favor, Hombre ©

While this group is waiting for the stage’s departure, an obviously wealthy woman (Barbara Rush) and her older husband (Fredric March) come into the station. When Mendez informs them that they cannot hire the stage to get to their destination in three days, Mrs Favor buys the stage, horses and all, to ensure that she and Favor are able to make their trip.

Richard Boone as the Bad Guy, Hombre ©

Later that night, the Bad Guy (Richard Boone) comes into the station and insists on taking one of the passengers’ places on the stage. After he intimidates an army officer into giving up his seat, he joins the rest of the passengers on a journey that, rather than being merely the trope of strangers on a journey in a stagecoach who are forced to form a community, albeit a temporary one, becomes, instead, a journey that will show the racial, cultural, and economic tensions that divide everyone in the group.

All the gang in Hombre ©

When the stage driver Mendez attempts to go a different route to avoid three strangers that he fears are highwaymen who want to rob the passengers, the group is attacked by some people they never expected to fear. Stranded in the desert with the money the outlaws want, they attempt to return to the town they left. The outlaws, who have a hostage and some of the water, follow the group, willing to kill any and all of them for the fortune they stole from the stage.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

As if an abundant stolen fortune and a serious lack of water in the desert weren’t enough for a group of clashing personalities to deal with, the group members turn on each other for every reason imaginable, revealing the greed, misogyny, racism, and elitism that makes this Western more than a cowboys vs. Indians, white men vs. non-white men, good vs. evil tale. Virtually everyone in this story is selfish and ugly, everyone wants something he can’t have without hurting someone else, and everyone seems ready to betray everyone else in order to survive.

Hombre is an “excellent example of how violence is more effective the less it’s used,” and the emotional and cultural violence is more important to the story than any of the physical violence, most of which, including the murders, is not graphic. With outstanding performances by Newman (John Russell/Hombre), Boone (Bad Guy), and Cilento (Jessie),  Hombre‘s messages are far more brutal than its shootouts.

Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon (free with a 7-day trial of Starz), GooglePlay, YouTube (not available for iOS), and Vudu. Always free for Starz or DirecTV subscribers.

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