Anti-Catholic and anti-cleric policies in the Mexican state of Tabasco lead the revolutionary government to persecute the state's last remaining priest.Anti-Catholic and anti-cleric policies in the Mexican state of Tabasco lead the revolutionary government to persecute the state's last remaining priest.Anti-Catholic and anti-cleric policies in the Mexican state of Tabasco lead the revolutionary government to persecute the state's last remaining priest.
Both sides have their right points; it is an underrated picture, if only for its technical feats of cinematography (Gabriel Figueroa is just right for this kind of material for Ford) and Ford's usual talents as a basic storyteller with a tendency for pure cinema expression (i.e. lack of dialog is a plus with the emotion expressed through the camera and actors. But it is also not well-acted in a couple of instances, notably the beautiful but overbearing Delores Del-Rio as the woman living in the town who's baby is baptized by the Priest played by Henry Fonda. For Fonda, it should be said, he at least gives all he can for a performance that possibly other actors could have played with more magnificence. In fact it's for him that some of the picture is most watchable, as he flexes his emotional chops for a scene where it's required for complexity like when he misses the boat and is asked to bless someone dying only to realize there is no wine and must go to ask from a vulgarian for wine (which, as it turns out, is drunken with brandy and all by him).
While it might not be the Fonda we all know and love from Grapes of Wrath or My Darling Clementine he does what he can with the part, and it's a tribute to him and Ford that they make it engrossing on a very simple level that carries some complex connotations. When focusing on the actual chase and flight from the Mexican police it works very well (particularly with a hammy but effective informer played by J. Carrol Nash). It's just when Ford over-indulges in the spiritual aspect of the picture, which is only made clearer towards the end, that it loses its footing. Indeed the start of the picture kind of threw me off for a little bit as Fonda comes in with the Christ-like symbolism highlighted on the wall, and the townspeople come in with tears in their eyes and a somber song to sing and Fonda blesses and baptizes others. I wondered: is this a little TOO much in the way of what Ford does best, which is telling the story? He can be brilliant in throwing in his deep-rooted Catholic ideas as pure visions on the screen, and once or twice in the Fugitive he does... and then other times it falls flat or goes too high where it starts to become a full-blown religious picture as opposed to a societal thriller.
Should Ford fans see it? Of course; even a lessor Ford picture will have something interesting. Will everyone like it? Surely not. Yet it is usually fine, traditional work and shouldn't be completely dismissed.
- Aug 24, 2008