Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Herbert Childs (1948). Scen.: Philip Dunne. F.: Harry Jackson. M.: Robert Fritch. Scgf.: Lyle Wheeler, Mark-Lee Kirk. Mus.: Sol Kaplan. Int.: Rory Calhoun (Martín Penalosa), Gene Tierney (Teresa Chavez), Richard Boone (maggiore Salinas), Hugh Marlowe (don Miguel Aleondo), Everett Sloane (Falcon), Enrique Chaico (padre Fernández), Jorge Villoldo (Valverde), Lidia Campos (zia María), Hugo Mancini (tenente dell’esercito), Teresa Acosta (ballerina). Prod.: Philip Dunne per 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.. 35mm. D.: 95’. Technicolor.
This year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato offers some of the most eclectic westerns ever made: Henry King’s realist, anti-violence drama The Gunfighter, Budd Boetticher’s austere and minimalist Ride Lonesome and Tourneur’s Argentinian western, Way of a Gaucho. Interestingly, the latter was meant to be directed by King, too, but his wife’s illness prevented him from accepting an assignment that demanded shooting entirely in Argentina.
Gauchos are a “special breed of men answering only to their laws and codes”, as the voiceover in the opening sequence clarifies with its clear analogy to cowboys, setting the tone for a classic western narrative. The film follows the story of gaucho Martín Penalosa, from imprisonment, after killing a man in a duel, to agreeing to serve in the militia, which he eventually deserts. This gives the film its dramatic core, especially after Martín’s commander, Major Salinas, embarks on a long chase to capture the deserter, who by now has become a hero bandit.
When Martín saves the life of a woman and later falls in love with her, the film finds its romantic weight. The ending, a rather optimistic one, stays faithful to both the myth of the gaucho and that return to law and order – a conclusion that the Juan Perón government (who were closely monitoring the production of the film) had possibly expected. It’s also been claimed that the production of the film in Argentina inspired the local filmmakers to produce that country’s first western, El último cow-boy (Juan Sires, 1954).
In his brilliant study of Tourneur’s cinema, Chris Fujiwara calls this “a poignant meditation on freedom and desire”, and along with Anne of the Indies, “perhaps the most beautiful of Tourneur’s films”. A great part of that beauty lies in the use of colour, which is totally lost in home video versions of the film, even those in supposedly high definition. The actual colours, as seen in this print from the 60s, with their dark blues and reds against the bright backdrops of outdoor scenes, are captured, like the lives of its three leading characters, rough and crisp.