(director: James B. Clark; screenwriter: Louis Vittes; cinematographer: Alex Phillips; editor: Benjamin Laird; music: Leon Birnbaum; cast: Brian Keith (Bill), Cesar Romero (Lopez), Margia Dean (Julie), Rodolfo Hoyos (Pancho Villa), Rosenda Monteros (Mariana, Pancho’s Sister), Elisa Loti (Manuela), Ben Wright (Madero), Mario Navarro (Pajarito the Kid), José Espinoza (Posado the Mailman); Runtime: 72; 20th Century Fox; 1958)
“Neither the leader nor the film had much passion.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Pancho Villa has been depicted in no less than 18 films. This historical film is an inaccurate entry into that list. It portrays Pancho as a playboy bandit interested in women and gold, until he suddenly becomes socially aware of the suffering of the poor people at the hands of the rich and witnesses governmental cruelty in response to the peons’ requests for reform. Pancho then joins the Mexican Revolution.
Pancho Villa (Hoyos) and his gang of 25 bandits are safely hid in the mountains. But Pancho loves the city life where there’s women and booze, so in the opening scene we see him in a cantina with his trusted right-hand man Lopez (Romero). He falls for the beauty of American saloon singer Julie (Margia Dean), and offers her double her wages to sing in his mountain hideout saloon.
On the way back to his lair, the postman Posado tips him off about a train with gold coming by the mountain towns. The bandits rob the train and discover there’s a gringo passenger aboard, Bill (Keith). He’s a criminal under arrest by an American officer, who is shot when Bill warns Pancho about him. Bill joins Pancho’s gang, and since he’s an aimless drifter he hangs around helping Pancho with odd chores.
Pancho talks him into getting Julie to come back to their hideout and be his woman and saloon singer. Julie knew Bill back in the States. When she’s with Bill, she wonders why he left her in the States. Bill says because he’s a loser with no future, and didn’t have the money to keep her in style. Bill steals her away from the dangerous Pancho, as they decide to be together again.
The most dramatic scene is when Pancho returns to the hacienda he was born in and gets revenge on the rich caballero who raped his sister. He also kills the cruel hacienda owner. When he hears about the misery of his people, he bands together with a more educated leader, Madero (Wright). Pancho now becomes the army commander of the revolutionary group, and attacks the army fort with hundreds of men and the help of Bill. After the victorious battle, he lets the gringo go back to the States with Julie.
James B. Clark directs in a flat style. As for the acting, only Keith comes out of the mountains with his head held up semi-high. Dean wrote her own songs, but those songs were not very good. The pic was about a charismatic leader, but neither the leader nor the film had much passion.
REVIEWED ON 2/18/2002 GRADE: C –