FROM THE ARCHIVES: Way of a Gaucho
Reviewed by Robert Cashill

Written and produced by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by Herbert Childs; directed by Jacques Tourneur; cinematography by Harry Jackson; edited by Robert Fritsch; music by Sol Kaplan; starring Rory Calhoun, Gene Tierney, Richard Boone, Hugh Marlowe, and Everett Sloane. DVD, color, 93 min.,1952. A Fox Cinema Archives release.

A movie with few or no reviews appended to their Internet Movie Database or Rotten Tomatoes entries is for me a provocation. When I come across a film that has somehow fallen through the critical cracks, I write it up, then submit a review to both sites. I was just about the first person to comment on Jules Dassin’s Uptight (1968), though neither site has seen fit to change its title from the incorrect Up Tight!, as I asked them to. But there are occasional rewards—after I posted the first IMDb review of 1958’s Behind the Mask, which marked the film debut of Vanessa Redgrave, the great-great nephew of director Brian Desmond Hurst sent me a note of thanks on Facebook.

And, every so often, I stumble across a worthwhile movie, like Uptight (which debuts on DVD and Blu-ray in October) or Way of a Gaucho, one of the first releases from the Fox Cinema Archives MOD program. Jacques Tourneur’s output has been spottily released on DVD, but DVD-Rs have taken up the slack, with films as diverse asExperiment Perilous (1944), Easy Living (1949), Wichita (1955), and The Fearmakers (1958) available from various labels. Though best known for horror films like Cat People (1942) and noirs like Out of the Past (1947), Tourneur’s career was restless and wide ranging, with Gaucho a particularly exotic production. Chris Fujiwara’s excellent Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall (1998) details the shoot, which allowed Fox to spend profits frozen in Argentina by the Perón government. The difficult assignment did not go smoothly for the director, who was said to have been drinking heavily throughout, and writer-producer Philip Dunne and studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck hired Henry Levin to shoot additional scenes in Hollywood, which would rarely be as welcoming to Tourneur again. Still, the film is, as Fujiwara states, “a poignant meditation on freedom and desire.”

An Argentine Western, the film stars cowboy actor Rory Calhoun as Martin Penalosa, a gaucho who is imprisoned for killing a man after a duel. Rather than languish in jail, Martin accepts an offer to serve in a militia, where he quickly runs afoul of a hard-nosed major, Salinas (Richard Boone). Upon deserting, he rescues a noblewoman, Teresa (Gene Tierney), from kidnapping by an Indian, and after that he and the movie really get around. (The subtropical pampas of the north and the Andes Mountains are among the locales.) Now known as Valverde, Martin organizes his fellow gauchos against a railroad being built on the pampas, which puts Salinas back on his trail. But Teresa, too, returns, and when they fall in love and conceive a child, Martin is forced to reconsider his revolutionary activities.

Fujiwara notes the film’s evocative imagery, including my favorite scene, where Teresa, languishing in the grass, awakes to observe Martin standing bolt upright on his horse, scanning the landscape. The movie is at its best when no one is speaking, or when composer Sol Kaplan is supplying this very outdoorsy production a score that heightens locations that are both serene and intimidating. In part this is due to a star imbalance; good as he is with the physical demands of his role, Calhoun lacks the presence of Tierney and Boone (at the start of his underrated career) and doesn’t hold the screen as the enigmatic Martin, whose politics are left vague. (The exposition and appeals to conscience are sensibly left to his allies, Everett Sloane and Hugh Marlowe, who were pros at delivering them.) Though it has a few rousing passages, most of the film is unusually contemplative, as when the lovers look for a church that will marry them (the movie only narrowly skirts the standards of its time) and attempt to flee into Chile, but are stopped by the awesome terrain.

Fox Cinema Archives has been panned for marketing subpar transfers but, for a film that hasn’t been remastered, Way of a Gaucho is in decent shape, and the occasional thickness of the usually attractive Technicolor image may be attributed to the shooting conditions. (According to the IMDb, the crew and cameras were used to film Eva Perón’s funeral in July of 1952.) That a more obscure Tourneur credit is now less anonymous for viewers is a good thing.

Robert Cashill, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, is a Cineaste Associate and the Film Editor of Popdose.com.

To purchase Way of a Gaucho, click here.

Copyright © 2012 by Cineaste Magazine