Sog., Scen.: Lawrence Kimble. F.: Maury Gertsman. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Bernard Herzbrun, Alfred Ybarra. Mus.: Frank Skinner. Int.: James Mason (Frank Matson), Märta Torén (Laura Thorsen), Dan Duryea (John Wheeler), Basil Ruysdael (Father Moreno), William Conrad (Ollie), Rodolfo Acosta (Francisco Morales), King Donovan (Grieder), Robert Espinoza (Santiago). Prod.: Leonard Goldstein per Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. 35mm. D.: 79’.
After leaving Britain in bitter resentment, James Mason appeared in Fregonese’s Hollywood debut, somewhat appropriately, a film about life on the run. Mason plays Dr Frank Matson, a shady physician who takes off with a bag full of stolen money and the girlfriend of a gang leader, hiding out with her in Mexico. But fate knocks loudly on the door, echoing one of Fregonese’s major preoccupations: the encounter with death. “For no matter the tears that may be wept, the appointment will be kept,” the film’s opening title card bluntly announces.
Märta Torén, a Swedish actress who died prematurely at the age of 31, plays Laura Thorsen, while Dan Duryea, as John Wheeler, is the same old brutal Dan Duryea character – without ever losing our sympathy. The cynicism of Mason’s character is even more intense, if more hidden; his inner violence stronger, if more suave. Matson takes advantage of his medical knowledge to deceive and to negotiate his way out of trouble. But he later comes to use it to integrate and eventually to heal. He regains his sense of self-worth by opening a hospital, curing the poor in a Mexican village whose inhabitants are shown stereotypically as either naively kind or outright cutthroats. The only comfort comes from the fact that the Americans are shown in no better a light – as if Fregonese perceives the entire world according to these two categories, with no shades in between.
The film’s narrative is not wholly even but shows great promise, and nimbly uses mirrorings and other visual symbols for the two sides of Matson’s character. He carries identical leather handbags, one containing his medical tools and the other the stolen money, representing his existentialist choice between two ways of life. He is also torn between a big city with its streets reeking of death, and his temporary haven in the coastal village. The game of fate involves things happening twice: a car accident, an encounter with a sick Mexican patient, a journey by aeroplane, and the face-off with Duryea. A sense of doom hangs in the air and pushes all the players into the ‘red circle’ where they meet their designated fate. This is the ballad of a fatalist.