The Wonderful Country (film)

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The Wonderful Country
The Wonderful Country FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Robert Parrish
Produced by Chester Erskine
Written by Robert Ardrey
(screenplay)
Walter Bernstein
(uncredited)
Tom Lea
(novel)
Starring Robert Mitchum
Julie London
Pedro Armendáriz
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Floyd Crosby
Alex Phillips
Edited by Michael Luciano
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
1959
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States of America
(production)
Mexico
(filming)
Language English
Box office $1 million (US/Canada rentals)[1]

The Wonderful Country is a 1959 Technicolor Western film based on Tom Lea's novel of the same name that was produced by Robert Mitchum's DRM Production company in Mexico. Mitchum stars along with Julie London.

Baseball pitcher Satchel Paige plays a soldier in the film, and Lea has a cameo as a barber.

Plot[edit]

In Mexico, expatriate American pistolero Martin Brady is employed by the Castro brothers, Marcos (Victor Manuel Mendoza), a general, and Don Cipriano (Pedro Armendáriz), the new governor. On a business trip to the United States to arrange the purchase of a wagonload of rifles and ammunition, he is delayed when he breaks his leg in an accident in the Texas border town of Puerto. Treated by Dr Stovall (Charles McGraw), he stays with German immigrant Ben Sterner (John Banner), who is the seller of the rifles, and Ben's nephew Ludwig (Max Slaten).

Brady's help is sought by the local U.S. Army commander, Major Colton (Gary Merrill), to persuade Cipriano Castro to cooperate with Colton's Buffalo Soldiers in an expedition against hostile Apaches in Mexico. In the meantime the rifles he purchased for Castro have been stolen. Captain Rucker of the Texas Rangers knows that Brady fled to Mexico as an adolescent after avenging the murder of his father not knowing the man he killed was an outlaw, and tries to enlist him as a Ranger. Brady is attracted to Colton's unhappy wife Ellen (Julie London), but after shooting a man (Chuck Roberson) who murdered Ludwig and then drew on Brady, he returns to Mexico to inform Cipriano Castro of the missing rifles.

Major Colton and Ellen arrive to meet with Cipriano, arranged by Travis Hight (Jack Oakie), the representative of a railroad threatened by the Apaches. Ellen and Brady have a brief affair. Cipriano tells Brady that by law he must pay a debt for the rifles and orders him to assassinate his brother Marcos, who seeks to make himself governor instead. Brady refuses and finds himself an outlaw in Mexico as well. Weeks later on the run, he finds cavalry sergeant Tobe Sutton (Satchel Paige) and returns with him to Major Colton's camp.[2]

Colton has been seriously wounded in a skirmish with the Apaches but is determined to rendezvous with Captain Rucker and General Castro's troops. En route they recover the stolen rifles from a small band of Apaches, but Colton dies. The rifles are returned to General Marcos, who reveals that Cipriano is also dead and he is now governor. Calling Brady an assassin, he demands the Americans surrender him and leave Mexico immediately. However Rucker offers to help Brady prove that the shooting in Puerto was a case of self-defense if he returns to Texas. Brady decides to risk it and heads across the river to the U.S. to be with Ellen.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Robert Parrish went to Tom Lea and asked if he [Parrish] could direct it. The only money that Lea received from the picture was for his role as the barber.[3]

The motion picture was filmed in the state of Durango. Parrish and Lea first asked Henry Fonda, then Gregory Peck to take the starring role. But, Mitchum really wanted to do the film, and after Fonda and Peck said no, Mitchum took over production.

During filming in Durango, Mitchum and his stunt double Chuck Robertson decided to have a few drinks at a local cantina. They witnessed two Mexicans get into a violent confrontation in which one drew a pistol and fired a shot into the other's face. After running outside momentarily, the wounded man came back into the bar and dropped dead. The incident shook up Mitchum so badly it convinced him to keep his drinking to the hotel and its vicinity.[4]

Reception[edit]

The film was not well received at the box office and by some critics, but other critics considered it beautifully filmed, by cinematographers Floyd Crosby and Alex Phillips.[5]

A rave review in the New York Times appeared on Nov. 5, 1959, critic Howard Thompson referring to Mitchum as "ideally cast" and writing: "This is a superior, intelligent film on nearly every count ... beautifully paced by Robert Parrish's direction and magnificently evocative of the locale where it was made, this Chester Erskine production is consistently rewarding."

Upon its release, TIME said about it: "But the result is just a crying Shane. All that is truly dramatic is the wonderful country itself" and about Mitchum's performance: "...he sounds like an Aztec exchange student after six terms at C.C.N.Y.". "The rest of the plot is as snarled as a ball of tumbleweed." and; "...a western that is more woolly than wild".[6]

Upon its 1961 release in Cuba, it set off an ideological fury due to "two Mexican bandits who were named the Castro brothers".[7]

As Roger Fristoe notes, recent critics regard the film more highly than critics writing more than fifty years ago.[5] Dennis Schwartz wrote in 2009 that the film is "A wonderfully rich western that ambitiously covers many familiar themes and does a good job in developing the main character and his knotty personality."[8]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ "ACTOR SATCH: Ageless hurler plays cavalry sergeant". Ebony. No. 2. Johnson Publishing Company. 15: 109. December 1959. ISSN 0012-9011. 
  3. ^ Lea, Tom (illustrations and interviews), Rebecca McDowell Craver and Adair Margo (1995). Tom Lea, An Oral History. El Paso, Texas: Texas Western Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-87404-234-4. 
  4. ^ Server, Lee (2001). Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care. St. Martin's Press. pp. 339–340. ISBN 0-312-28543-4. 
  5. ^ a b Fristoe, Roger. "The Wonderful Country". Turner Classic Movies. 
  6. ^ "The New Pictures". TIME. October 5, 1959. Retrieved 2008-07-04.  Subscription required.
  7. ^ Souza, Raymond D. (1996). Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-292-77708-8. 
  8. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (June 9, 2002). "The Wonderful Country". Ozus' World Movie Reviews.  A relatively recent review by a critic who awarded the film an "A-" rating.

External links[edit]