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Gerald S. O'Loughlin
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In order to flee from powerful enemies, young Mayan king Balam leads his people north across the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of what will become the United States. They build a home in the new land but come into conflict with a tribe of Native Americans led by their chief, Black Eagle, while both Balam and Black Eagle fall in love the beautiful Mayan princess Ixchel. Written by
When Chief Black Eagle (Yul Brynner) and the enemy warrior fall off the pyramid together, they land in what is clearly a softened landing pad covered with sand, as at least 10 square feet of sand around them erupts into the air when they land in it. See more »
One major advance films have made since the "classic era" of the 1960s and before that, is in realism of characters. You don't see white people playing Asians or blacks or Indians anymore. When you do see it, in these old films, it now looks ludicrous and takes away from the seriousness of the movie.
Yul Brynner, however, is one guy who could get away with it. Here, he plays Mexican-Indian warrior "Chief Black Eagle" and he's believable. Whether it's his deep, menacing voice or bald head with striking feature, Yul was cool no matter role he played.
I can't say the same for the rest of the cast. The co-star, George Chakaris as "Balam (the ninth)" as the same pretty-boy hairstyle right out of the late '50s/early '60s; Richard Basehart ("Ah Min," a Mayan priest) has coloring on his face and wig you have to see to believe! Barry Morse ("Ah Zok") will forever be typecast as "Lt. Girard" the man who harassed for years TV's "The Fugitive." Meanwhile, there is film-TV-tough guy Leo Gordon as "Hunac Kell" and Shirley Anne Field as "Ixchel." Field is beautiful and looks the part, but a British accent in Mayan territory? However, as the film goes on, Field is more and more believable, for some reason.
Whatever, there's always the story and a nice widescreen print now out on DVD, which I was fortunate enough to obtain for rent. It was filmed in the Yucatan, so the scenery is real - not some studio back lot.
In the story, Balam's Mayans get pushed out of their area by a war-mongering neighbor, led by Kell. There is nowhere to escape except by water over the Gulf of Mexico. This was no easy feat back in these early days. They make it, start to build their new homes and civilization, only to run into the Indians who already reside nearby. They are led by Chief Black Eagle and he's not too friendly.
The rest of the film answers two big question: 1 - What will happen between the two groups? Will one annihilate the other, or can they live in peace? 2 - What if the old enemies - Hunac Kell's barbarians - show up? And......of course, the big question: who gets the girl?
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