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The film begins with the wedding of Joaquin Murrieta to his devoted
young bride in California in 1848--just after the territory was ceded
to the United States from Mexico after the Mexican War. Joaquin and his
fellow Mexicans are uncertain what to expect under American rule and
unfortunately matters are made much worse when gold is
discovered--lawlessness and injustice seem inextricably connected to
the Gold Rush. While affecting all the Hispanic community in the film,
it's worst for Joaquin because Anglos rape and kill his wife (the rape
is strongly implied in the film) and a bit later an insane lynch mob
kills his brother. Feeling he had no other choice, Joaquin joined a
group of bandits and soon increased their number and became a major
force for evil. Only later, when it is perhaps too late, does he
realize that his actions are wrong and he repents of his new wicked
The plot for this film is quite exciting and Warner Baxter did an excellent job playing lead--as did J. Carrol Naish as his hot-tempered sidekick, "Three fingered Jack". While they were not Hispanic actors, they did credible jobs in the film and I was impressed that the film tried to give Joaquin and his men some humanity and sense of purpose. They were not just mindless killers or bandits. Oddly, Bruce Cabot, a man known for playing bad guys in 1930s and 40s films, plays a very decent and likable guy in this film--one who understands why Joaquin chose a life of crime and sympathizes with his plight. The film has enough action and plot to make it more than just another time-passer.
What makes this excellent film so interesting, though, is that after I finished watching it I did a search on Google and found that there really was a famous bandit named Joaquin Murrieta at the time. However, many of his exploits seem rather legendary and the exact story is muddled over time. How much of the Murrieta saga is based on his movie portrayals and how much of it is true is open to debate.
FYI--Though the movie is set in 1848, gun aficionados will notice that there are LOTS of repeating pistols and rifles in the film--something you would have probably not seen at the time. While there were a very few revolvers and multi-shot rifles in 1848, they were mostly experimental and took ages to load--most being hand-loaded without cartridges. Actual cartridges were super rare and were only seen about a decade later and even by the time the Civil War took place, most weapons were single-shot--taking 30 seconds to a minute to reload. This film just seemed to use the same .45s and other guns you'd find in a Western set in the 1870s. Again and again, people fired and reloaded with great ease--and this would not have been the case in the 1840s.
Two later versions of the story of Joaquin Murietta with Jeffrey Hunter
and Ricardo Montalban stuck closer to the truth about the famous bandit
from the California Gold Rush Days. But certainly Warner Baxter,
dusting off his Cisco Kid accent certainly made a dashing Murietta.
I'm not certain why Gilbert Roland who was always a personal favorite of mine didn't play this part, it seems like something he was born to do. Though Baxter's portrayal is honest and sincere I doubt that Latino groups today would let a Warner Baxter play Murietta any more than they would have him play Cisco Kid.
California was the most heavily populated of the area that was known as the Mexican Cession which came into the United States as a result of the Mexican War. Even at that American immigration was gradually overwhelming the Mexican population just as their ancestors overwhelmed the largely peaceful Indians in California.
But when gold was discovered in 1849 that was it. By the next year California was admitted to the union it had grown that exponentially. Such depredations as depicted that turned Murietta into a bandit were a fact and interesting that in 1936 that was shown on screen.
Ann Loring and Margo do well as the women in Murietta's life and J. Carrol Naish was just starting on that colorful career of his that had him play every kind of ethnic type on the screen. He made a great Three Finger Jack whose small band of outlaws Murietta takes over by leadership and charisma.
Perhaps Murietta's story such that can be verified is due for a more modern retelling. Still this is a fine version of the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Really forgotten masterpiece! (Small spoilers included)
It looks like just another B Western but it's something more significant than you would assume. When did you see another Western with a Mexican as a hero or without happy ending (from 1936)?
Great casting (especially Warner Baxter & Margo) and directing by William A. Wellman
My rate: 9/10
A suave (if too old) Warner Baxter plays legendary bandit Joaquin Murieta in this creaky Western, set in 1848 California just after Mexico ceded California to the U.S. and gold fever swept the land. Murieta, a simple farmer at the time, loses his wife to land-grabbing Americans and he exacts revenge upon them, making him a wanted man. Later, his brother is killed by another gang of Mexican-hating Americans, and he joins forces with a notorious bandit (Naish) to fight the gringos. Beautifully written, although watching men constantly riding horses at a full gallop gets tired very quickly. Also, the film has way too many long shots, making it hard to follow the action at times. It's almost like a silent movie, although this was shot in the mid-1930s. Five years later came "The Mark of Zorro" with Tyrone Power and which tells a similar tale of revenge and banditry in old California. But "Mark" is a far smoother production and stands as a masterpiece. "El Dorado" looks like a dinosaur by comparison, and is to be viewed for historical purposes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As I understand it, this story was based on an actual bandit from California in the 1840s. That said, for contemporary audiences, this film would likely have recalled the Robin Hood story (the title does refer to Joaquin Murrierta as "the Robin Hood" of El Dorado, i.e. California). And many would have seen the silent Robin Hood and Zorro films which featured Douglas Fairbanks as the title heroes. But where Zorro was set in California while it was still under Spanish control, and where the idea that a noble hacienda-do could take on the corrupt Spanish government and win, here we have a story set after the Mexican War, where California was under the control of the United States, and where despite his ill treatment at the hands of ignorant gold rushers, his attack on the United States as a bandit could not be tolerated (or allowed to go unpunished), and so you have a much more tragic tale than the pop corn heroism of Zorro or Robin Hood. That makes for a very interesting film. It must be noted that there are some errors (the type of weaponry is all wrong for the time). But even this early in his career, William Wellman shows himself to be a capable director, and the acting, overall, is pretty good.
Does anyone know where I could purchase this title? I have someone very dear to me having a birthday this April and would love to surprise him. He talks about listening to this when going to bed at night as a child. It brings fond memories of his departed mother. I've searched just about every avenue I could think of but as of this writing, I have came up with nothing. The version he talked about is narrated by Lorne Green. I could find it under this name but i can't find where to purchase it. Juaquim Murietta is the story's main character and it was from 1936. Lorne Green narrated it in the late '60s or '70s (not sure). Any help or suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated!
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