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BURN! (QUEIMADA!) (director: Gillo Pontecorvo; screenwriter: Franco Solinas/Giorgio Arlorio; cinematographers: Giuseppe Bruzzolini/Marcello Gatti; editor: Mario Morra; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Marlon Brando (Sir William Walker), Evaristo Márquez (Jose Dolores), Norman Hill (Shelton), Renato Salvatori (Teddy Sanchez), Dana Ghia (Francesca), Valeria Ferran Wanani (Guarina), Giampiero Albertini (Henry), Tom Lyons (General Prada), Alejandro Obregón (Major); Runtime: 132; United Artists; 1969-It/Fr)
“It’s a clunky political drama that features a cynical and unscrupulous Marlon Brando.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is director Gillo Pontecorvo’s sequel to the Battle of Algiers. It’s a clunky political drama that features a cynical and unscrupulous Marlon Brando as British agent Sir William Walker, who in the mid-19th century becomes an instrument for revolution in a sugarcane producing Portuguese colony in the Antilles — an island called Queimada (the island was once burned in an insurrection). His job is to ferment revolution among the Caribbean natives, as he acts in the interest of the British government to weaken Portuguese influence in the area and open up trade with Britain. The film plays as a political primer about colonization and revolution, and offers a quick history lesson on the white man’s exploitation of the blacks. Though the lessons it offers are reasonably correct and the photography is stunning, the film suffers because it is unfocused, lacks imagination, and the acting is awkward.

Brando picks a porter, Jose Dolores (Márquez), to be his revolutionary general because he’s willing to fight back against the whites, as Brando states that the black man must be angry about slavery on the sugar plantations before he can become free. The revolution starts with a bank robbery and when the Portuguese troops come to arrest the general, they are slain and the colonizers are kicked out as the natives rebel. But when Teddy Sanchez (Salvatori), who Brando acted in behalf of to put him into power as the head of the provincial white government favoring Britain, is not received well by the general — he must yield to the general and surrenders his government peacefully. But the general is uneducated and his black followers can’t run the country without the whites, so he gives the island back to Sanchez and returns to cut the sugar on the plantation as a worker instead of as a slave.

Ten years pass and in 1848 General Dolores has established himself again as a revolutionary leader, and his guerrilla army sets the city on fire. Brando is tracked down living in a slum neighborhood in London and this time is hired to fight against the revolution, as he takes a job as a military adviser for the British sugar company. His job is to put down the monster he created by either negotiation or military action, and thereby allow the sugar company to prosper again in that region.

The Brando character is confused about what he’s doing there, as all he can eventually say is that when he takes a job he wants to do it well. He ends up hated by the general, but remains sympathetic to the cause of freedom. The general sums up his revolutionary stance by saying: “Freedom is something only you must take, if the Man gives you freedom– it is not freedom.”

This is a flawed but still a provocative film. It tried to combine drama and entertainment with a sharp political analysis.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”