WONDERFUL COUNTRY, THE
(director: Robert Parrish; screenwriter: Robert Ardrey/story by Tom Lea/uncredited Walter Bernstein; cinematographer: Floyd Crosby/Alex Philips; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Alex North; cast: Robert Mitchum (Martin Brady), Julie London (Helen Colton ), Gary Merrill (Major Stark Colton), Albert Dekker (Texas Ranger Captain Rucker), Jack Oakie (Travis Hyte), Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige (Sgt. Tobe Sutton), Charles McGraw (Dr. Herbert J. Stovall), Pedro Armendáriz (Governor Castro), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (General Marcos Castro), Chuck Roberson (Barton), John Banner (Ben Sterner), Max Slaten (Ludwig Sterner); Runtime: 98; United Artists; 1959)
“A top-notch western.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A wonderfully rich western that ambitiously covers many familiar themes and does a good job in developing the main character and his knotty personality. It is based on a story by the artist Tom Lea, who has a cameo as a barber. Robert Parrish flawlessly directs the action scenes and does a good job in setting the tense mood, and also shows a good eye for getting the costumes right (dig those Mexican sombreros!). The complex script is credited to Robert Ardrey. But Robert Mitchum as Martin Brady is the key to the film’s success. He has the presence to carry off the role of the gringo pistolero who is employed by Mexico’s Governor Castro (Armendáriz), and whose life changes when he crosses over the border to a sleepy Texas town to deliver guns for his boss.
As an arty touch, Brady’s fancy Andalusian black horse, a gift from Governor Castro, is called Lagrimas — Tears. The horse rears when entering the town, apparently frightened by the tumbleweed blowing down the street. This causes Brady to break his leg and means that he’ll have to stay in this Calvary town for three months until he can ride again. Living again in the States brings back a sense of homesickness as the Texas Ranger Captain Rucker (Dekker) wants to recruit him and the white Major Colton (Merrill), in charge of a battalion of black troopers, wants him to get Castro to help him root out the Apaches. The Indians are raiding the border towns and then going back into Mexico to hide.
But what makes Brady feel most again for his home country, is the major’s sultry and unhappy wife Helen (London). She respects her hubby but doesn’t love him, and in one look at Brady the heat rises in her body. Helen has the film’s most tenuous line: “I’m always betrayed by hope.” Brady, who has lived a rash life, has the most sensible line in the film: “What we feel is not wrong.”
Brady’s contact in Texas, Ben Sterner (Banner), tells him that the guns he sent to the governor’s ruthless brother General Marcos (Mendoza), never reached him and the Castros hold him responsible. While Brady tempts Helen but is spurned — his admirer, Ludwig (Slaten), a relative of Ben’s from Germany, is killed defending Brady’s honor by a rowdy (Roberson) who is jealous that Helen won’t talk to him but keeps company with a gunman like Brady. When the rowdy draws on Brady, he’s killed and Brady flees to Mexico to see General Marcos with a message about the horses.
In his struggle for redemption, Brady rejects the tyrant Castro brothers and rides back to Texas to start life over again. In order to come home again he must escape from Governor Castro’s as well as General Marcos’ henchmen. He must also fight off the Apaches and help the seriously wounded major reach the Texas fort with the help of what’s left of the black troops, who under Sergeant Tobe Sutton (Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige-great pitcher in the Negro league) continue to push homeward from Mexico after battling the Apaches and being double-crossed by the Castros. Additional help comes from the Mexican peons, who ask nothing in return.
The Mitchum character survives to find peace within himself, as he symbolically lays down his gun beside his cherished dead horse and walks across the Rio Grande to Texas.
A top-notch western, with lots of emotion and different ways to look at outsiders (loners, immigrants, blacks, and unhappy women) and how they cope in the American desert of the southwest.
REVIEWED ON 6/9/2002 GRADE: A-