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Having fled to Mexico from the U.S. many years ago for killing his father's murderer, Martin Brady travels to Texas to broker an arms deal for his Mexican boss, strongman Governor Cipriano Castro. Brady breaks a leg and while recuperating in Texas the gun shipment is stolen. Complicating matters further the wife of local army major Colton has designs on him, and the local Texas Ranger captain makes him a generous offer to come back to the states and join his outfit. After killing a man in self defense, Brady slips back over the border and confronts Castro who is not only unhappy that Brady has lost his gun shipment but is about to join forces with Colton to battle the local raiding Apache Indians. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
Robert Parrish's other notable Western is called 'Saddle the Wind'; this one should be called 'Unsaddled by the Wind'. This, unceremoniously, is what happens to craggy Martin Brady near the beginning of this marvellous Western, as his horse is humiliatingly felled by some breezy tumblewood, and the aging gunslinger breaks his leg, perhaps a punishment for disobeying his employers, the all-powerful Mexican brothers Castro (oh yes!), one governor of his province, the other a hot-headed, power-hungry general.
As the 1950s drew to a close, the traditional Western was about to be eclipsed: the genre was full of these low-key, elegiac tributes to the traditional Western hero, the pioneer forever blocked by his murderous past from entering the community he helped forge; 'The Searchers' is only the most famous example.
Brady's case is even more troubled than Ethan's, trebly exiled from comforting notions of home. He is an American raised in Mexico, with a pronounced Hispanic accent, claimed by both countries, but for selfish, ulterior, practical reasons (he is an excellent tracker and gunman); both despise him for his rootlessness. The film takes place around the Rio Grande, the legendary border between the US and Mexico, and this is the border Brady must frequently cross, the dividing line in his identity.
Significantly, this split was occasioned by the need to flee after the vengeful adolescent killing of his father's slayer - this personal dislocation is linked, generically, to a wider instability, a rueful recognition of the lack of continuity between a nation and its past. Typically, this instability is inscribed in the body, the dirty, aging, sagging, smelly, hairy body of Brady, self-encrusting like a Beckett character, which only has to tumble in the wind to break.
This bodily failure is linked to sexual potency, or lack thereof - just as his own relationship with his father is cut short by death, so sexual relations become an impossibility, Brady's potency replaced by his gun-prowess. The latter gives him a sterile sense of wholeness - all those mocking, non-reflecting mirrors - that prevents him enjoying any union with a woman. It is ironic, therefore, that the failure of his Western-hero body allows Brady to fumble towards growth as a man.
As I say, the 1950s was full of films like this, 'The Gunfighter' and the like. But whereas those films sounded the end of an era, 'Wonderful Country' seems to usher one in. Mitchum's character on paper is an old loser, but has a wary, romantic charisma, an ambiguity that would be exploited by Sam Peckinpah, in particular Pike Bishop in 'The Wild Bunch', played by another aging Hollywood icon, William Holden. The Mexican setting and atmosphere, and the murderous general also prefigure this film, while 'Country''s best scene, when Brady shoots his friend's murderer (a scene containing, incidentally, some of Mitchum's best acting) is full of the startling, new violence.
Further, the gorgeous, heightened, 'unrealistic' colour, the bizarrely 'unWestern' compositions (e.g. the Whartonesque framing of Brady and Helen in a Mexican drawing room) and the irruption of the carnivalesque all point towards Leone. this last reveals the brilliance of this film (which features a harikari as moving as 'Le Samourai', a renunciation as shocking as 'Dirty Harry') - the festival of the Saint serves two cancelling functions: in the narrative it is a legitimising expression of fascist power to foreign dignitaries; in terms of the film, the Western, Hollywood, it is an explosion of an alien visual register that is subversive and exciting.
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