Old Gringo

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Old Gringo
Theatrical poster
Directed byLuis Puenzo
Screenplay byAída Bortnik
Luis Puenzo
Story byCarlos Fuentes
Produced byLois Bonfiglio
CinematographyFélix Monti
Edited byWilliam M. Anderson
Glenn Farr
Juan Carlos Macías
Music byLee Holdridge
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 6, 1989 (1989-10-06)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$26 million[1]
Box office$3,574,256

Old Gringo is a 1989 American romantic adventure film starring Jane Fonda, Gregory Peck, and Jimmy Smits. It was directed by Luis Puenzo and co-written with Aída Bortnik, based on the 1985 novel The Old Gringo by Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes.[2]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[3]


American schoolteacher Harriet Winslow goes to Mexico to work as a governess for the Miranda family, and becomes caught up in the Mexican Revolution. Mexicans transporting her from Chihuahua, secretly soldiers of Pancho Villa's army, use her luggage to smuggle weapons to the servants at the Miranda hacienda. The servants in turn aid the attacking revolutionary army of General Tomas Arroyo. During the attack, a sardonic "Old Gringo", American author Ambrose Bierce, joins the fighting on the side of the revolutionaries; he operates a railway switch that sends a railroad flatcar laden with explosives to its target.

After the Miranda hacienda is taken, Winslow becomes romantically attracted alternately to Bierce and then Arroyo. Bierce has come to Mexico to die in anonymity; he feels that his fifty years as a writer have won him praise only for his style, not for the truth that he's tried to tell. Arroyo, by contrast, has returned to the hacienda where he was born. His father was a Miranda who had raped his peasant mother. Later in his youth, Arroyo murdered his father.

While his army enjoys previously unknown luxuries on the war-damaged palatial estate, Arroyo becomes obsessed with his past. Transfixed by childhood memories of his family buried there, he fails to move his army when ordered by Villa. To bring Arroyo to his senses and avert a mutiny of his officers, Bierce burns papers that the illiterate Arroyo considers sacred—papers that supposedly entitle the peasants to the hacienda land. Arroyo responds by shooting Bierce in the back, killing him. Bierce dies in Winslow's arms.

Winslow goes to the U.S. embassy in Mexico to claim Bierce's body and bring it back to the United States. She claims that he was her long-lost father. This puts Villa in a predicament because a U.S. citizen was murdered by one of his generals. Wishing to avoid American meddling in the revolution, he has Winslow sign a statement that her father had joined the revolution and was executed for disobeying orders, as was General Arroyo who had shot him, and that she witnessed both executions. She signs the statement, is provided with the coffin bearing Bierce's body, and witnesses the execution of Arroyo.



Ennio Morricone was hired to compose the music for the film but left shortly after accepting, because he agreed to work on Cinema Paradiso instead after reading the script proposed by producer Franco Cristaldi.[4]


Before its release in theatres, the film was booed at the Cannes film festival.[5]

Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times said: "There is a potentially wonderful story at the heart of Old Gringo, but the movie never finds it--the screenplay blasts away in every direction except the bulls-eye. ... It's heavy on disconnected episodes, light on drama and storytelling."[6] Janet Maslin in the New York Times said: "... the film's version of romance is no less aimless than its battle scenes. ... The sly, cantankerous character of Ambrose Bierce, an aged cynic surprised and delighted to find himself vibrantly alive and at last in control of his own destiny, reveals in Mr. Peck something vigorous and new."[7] On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 46% based on reviews from 13 critics.[8] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B on scale of A to F.[9]

The film was a box-office failure.[10]

Jane Fonda received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress for her performance in the film, where she ended up losing to Heather Locklear for The Return of Swamp Thing.[11]


  1. ^ https://catalog.afi.com/Film/58214-OLD-GRINGO
  2. ^ Old Gringo at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Old Gringo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  4. ^ De Rose, Alessandro (2019). Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words. Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 9780190681012.
  5. ^ Rohter, Larry (22 October 1989). "FILM; Why the Road Turned Rocky for 'Old Gringo'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2015-05-25.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 6, 1989). "Old Gringo movie review & film summary (1989)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  7. ^ Maslin, " 'Old Gringo' Fuentes Tale, Stars, Peck, Fonda and Smits." New York Times, Oct. 6, 1989.
  8. ^ "Old Gringo". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  9. ^ "OLD GRINGO (1989) B". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  10. ^ James M. Welsh (January 2000). "The Old Gringo". Masterplots II: American Fiction Series. Retrieved 18 May 2012.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Razzies.com - Home of the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation". 2012-07-07. Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2023-03-19.

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