Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wonderful Country (1959)

Dir: Robert Parrish - Cast: Robert Mitchum, Julie London, Gary Merrill, Albert Dekker, Victor Manuel Mendoza, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Charles McGraw,  Chuck Roberson

An interesting movie, based on a novel by Texan author Tom Lea (1). It stars Robert Mitchum as an American called Martin Brady who once had to flee his home country after he had killed the murderers of his father. Today he's living in Mexico, making a job as a hired gun annex gun runner for a couple of local tyrants. When breaking a leg while on a business trip, he decides to recuperate on the American side of the border. 

He is held for a Mexican first, but when people find out he's actually an American, everybody's interested in hiring him. The US Army and the Texas Rangers are planning a mission against rebellious Apaches who have crossed the Mexican border and think Brady's familiarity with the local geography and language might be useful to them. Brady refuses and things are further complicated when he gets romantically involved with the wife of an army captain. 

Some have compared this movie to John Ford's The Searchers. To Brady Texas, the country he was forced to leave, is a sort of paradise, a promised land, but it's also a paradise that no longer exists: time has passed, things have changed, and when he forced to leave the country again (after shooting a man), he knows he will forever be wandering between the winds and the two countries. 

Watching the movie today, it's hard to believe that Mitchum wasn't the first choice for the role. He took his chance (he would even co-produce) after Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck had shown no interest (2). Mitchum also brought in director Parrish. The movie was received well by some critics, but others didn't like Michum's performance and thought his accent was horrendous. Today it's held in much higher praise; many think The Wonderful Country features one of Mitchum's most underrated performances, and it's also considered to be Parrish's best western (to large audiences he is probably best known for the far more violent, but erratic A Town called Bastard). 

This is a brooding, melancholic, beautifully shot western and both Leone and Peckinpah seem to have studied it. An yet there's something missing. Both the opening scene (Mitchum breaking his leg) and the ending (Mitchum walking back to Texas after he was forced to kill his favorite horse) are very well-handled, but the bulk of the movie is awkwardly paced, occasionally flirting with catatonia, and somehow this intricate script starts to work against the movie in the second half. The romantic subplot (involving Julie London) doesn't really help either. 

When released in Cuba, the film caused some controversy because two of the Mexican bandits were called "Castro"


(1) For a note on the novel and the author, see Ron Scheer's website Buddies in the Saddle: Tom Lea, the Wonderful Country (1952)

(2) Roger Fristoe, The Wonderful Country, on: Turner Classic movies.

1 comment:

  1. I've been wanting to see this film ever since I read the book. I like Mitchum in western roles. Have to put in an alert at TCM for the next time it comes up.


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