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In 1847, a group of fifty-two French Basques, including women and children, sets-out from Independence, Missouri to California. These settlers left Europe behind to escape the famine, unrest and aftermaths of the Napoleonic Wars. They bring with them their few belongings, customs and a few grapevines they hope to plant into the fertile Californian soil. They learn English on-the-fly from the younger men who speak it a little. In Independence, they purchase wagons, mules and provisions. They also hire a local trail master for a fee. The trail master, Lon Bennett, is skilled but he likes women and booze too much. When Lon Bennett learns that his Basques only have seven wagons he argues they should join a major wagon train of 20-30 wagons. Strength in numbers, no doubt, but large wagon trains could take weeks to assemble and the Basques cannot wait. Bennett tries to bail-out of his commitment but he already had spent the fee the Basques paid him by partying in the local hotel-saloon with...Written by
I had heard from friends that this was a film about Basques. Since the film had been gone off the circuit, I was eager to see it when it reappeared on TV. Being an anthropologist and ethnic Basque, I was most interested in how Hollywood would treat this subject. Well, after my initial disappointment and shock at not only a limp-witted story and a mediocre performance by Susan Hayward, my real dismay was at the presence of the French Basque, Jacques Bergerac for going along with a misinformed and misinforming depicition my (i.e., our) people. The Basque traditions depicted in the film were totally fictious and laughable. How Bergerac picked up his paycheck with no feeling of shame is a mystery to me. Hayward was always beautiful and exciting. But seeing her dance a Flamenco (not ever a Basque tradition) and hearing her make a bad attempt at a French accent, was disheartening. Chandler emoted as usual, no surprise...but the only thunder in Thunder in the Sun, were my groans of complaint and disgust at this bad parody of the culture of my ancestors.
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