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1863. Texas Ranger Todd Croyden and Union spy Whitney Randolph cross into Mexico to investigate a growing struggle for power between the French-supported Maximilian and the native-born Benito Juarez. In Mexico they meet General Liguras, who is loyal to Juarez, and the beautiful Madeline -- daughter of or wife to the powerful and manipulative Basil Danzeeger. Croyden falls for Madeline but soon runs afoul of Danzeeger who condemns him to be pulled apart between two horses. Written by
dinky-4 of Minneapolis
The fact this movie runs 104 minutes indicates Paramount thought it something more than the usual 90-minute John Payne B-western. But what was it intended to be? Historical drama about Civil War-era Mexico? Epic romance against a tempestuous background? Or a rollicking "buddy movie" which teamed stolid John Payne with slick-talking Dennis O'Keefe? Elements of all these genres can be found here, rather uneasily placed inside a "western" frame, so while the end result is never dull, it's never quite as satisfying as the impressive title would lead you to believe.
Payne spent a lot of time in 1940s musicals and comedies but by this stage of his career he'd aged into film noirs and action movies -- a change exemplified by the condition of his chest. In his earlier movies, such as "Footlight Parade" and "To the Shores of Tripoli," his beefcake scenes displayed a smooth, almost boyish chest, one that had been carefully shaved and polished. Later in his career, however, a thick thatch of black hair appeared on his chest, emphasizing the tough virility of a mature male. Payne has two chances here to show off that chest-hair. In the first, he sits in a tub taking a bath while carrying on a conversation with Dennis O'Keefe. (This intimacy tries to project a "buddy" flavor but the two actors just don't have the compatible chemistry and their relationship doesn't "build.") In the second instance Payne's shirt flares open as he's tied, face-up and horizontal, between the sides of two horses. The two horses are then sent charging across open country with the intention that Payne be torn apart in the process. It's by far the movie's most memorable scene but the use of a dummy in some shots lessens its impact. (For a better scene of Payne bare-chested and in bondage, see his "Caribbean.")
As for the Payne-Fleming romance, these two seem to fall in love merely because the viewer expects them to. Just as with the Payne-O'Keefe combination, this relationship proves too weak on which to construct a satisfying movie.
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