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A ruthless, comical, fun-loving, romantic rebel general, General Jose Juan Reyes, preparing to make a stand against the Mexican-government army takes over a small Mexican town and imprisons the town leaders, including the father of fiery Maria Dolores Penafiel, who is among those citizens who take a stand against Reyes. Maria protests by slapping the face of Reyes, (the first of many times) and he is so enthralled by her spirit that he immediately declares she must become his wife. In response, she shows some more spirit, she sets off a firecracker under his horse. Reyes begins to soften and, with the aid of Father Sierra and Maria, who is about to marry her local suitor, he helps the town fight an influenza epidemic. He decides to retreat than stage a battle in the town against the advancing government troops. Maria is so stirred by the bugles of the retreating rebels, that she leaves her marriage ceremony and marches with Reyes and his ragged army across the desert into the sunset. ... Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
perhaps minor, but necessary classic of commercial film-making
You have to have like zero sense of Mexican history and culture not to understand the multiple levels of thematic development and narrative going on in this film. And unfortunately some of the reviews on this film evidence just that lack of sense.
The Mexican revolution (roughly 1910-1920) was one of the most confusing - and bloodiest - in the annals of national political developments in the West. Perhaps only the Spanish Cuivil War could equal it for ferocity, and that only lasted less than half as long. An entire generation was shaped by the slaughter but also by the struggle to establish a national identity at last committed to some principle of legitimate democratic governance. The legacy - and the problems -continue.
The leading male, General Reyes (based loosely on Zapata), is a complex character; he is hardly a saint - he passes judgment on a wealthy businessman (who has raise the prices of necessities to prevent their purchase by the poor) and has him executed. Is he authoritarian murderer and thief? Or is he trying to establish and enforce a new law? Can this be determined in a time of revolution, when the very question of what constitutes legitimacy is at issue? Yet we are given to know that he can love individuals - and also the people as a whole, when an influenza epidemic breaks out and he orders his men to help the stricken, even at the risk of their own lives - and his.
The relationship between Reyes and the wealthy landowner's daughter Maria will probably not make much sense unless you understand that Mexican culture is profoundly Romantic in the 19th Century usage of that term. Both Reyes and Maria are fiercely struggling to determine how to maintain their individuality while pursuing a courtship threatening to engulf them both. Their resolution - allowing the revolution to seal their fates together - is pure (Percy) Shellyan. (This is a very tough-minded romance, and only a true Romantic would know what that means. The closest Hollywood came to it is Gone With The Wind which this film resembles, as a rather compressed variant at 80 minutes - and maybe Casablanca.)
As to the film-making - it is glorious - absolutely beautiful cinematography, exquisitely taut direction, brilliant performances by the leading actors. The editing is a bit rugged, but it may have to be. I was at first confused by the influenza epidemic sequence - it is all smoke, darkness, sudden jump cuts and time ellipses - until I realized that this was as intended. Director Fernandez knew that his audience wanted a battle to decide the fates of the characters, but also recognized that this would spoil the romance. So the epidemic displace military engagement; nonetheless, it too is a battle, a battle to survive, and so must be both confusing and threatening, involving the loss of life and the definition of the personalities at risk and how they respond to it.
That is intuitive film-making, and very risky, and brilliant if pulled off well. And I think it is. The ending, for me, was emotionally staggering, but only Reyes' and Maria's collective endeavors to survive the epidemic - and help others during it - could properly prepare me for it.
An absolutely knockdown film. The existing prints - the one at Internet Archive I saw was a Mexican television edit, and I've read of worse - are not great, and maybe lacking episodes. Still what is available makes proper claim that this ought to stand as a (perhaps minor, but necessary) classic of commercial film-making. God knows what was going through RKO's Hollywood brains when they decided to make a Mexican film by a Mexican director (in English, with US actors), but thank god they did.
(BTW influence: Undoubtedly seen by Sam Peckinpah who hired Fernandez to play Mapache in the Wild Bunch - note certain character similarities. Probably also seen in Europe, where it would have earned more respect than in the US, I suggest Sergio Leone may very well have been a fan, note similarity of certain shots, certain relationships, certain characters, to those in The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.)
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