Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Arthur Kennedy Films
- Edgar Ulmer Films
- Thieves and Criminals
Edgar Ulmer — best known for directing the B-level 1945 thriller Detour — made a handful of cult films throughout his career, including this effective little western set in Mexico. Taking place on oddly isolated terrain (likely a function of its low budget), the story focuses directly on the effects an “outsider” (Kennedy) has on the humble, seemingly happy marriage of two hardworking peasants, Manuel (Iglesias) and Maria (St. John).
Manuel was previously content to simply work his land and plan for a family with his beautiful wife — but once Santiago (Kennedy) unwittingly involves him in a bout of theft and violence against a fence (Roy Engel), Manuel finds himself lusting after the money Santiago seems to obtain so easily.
Meanwhile, Maria — who, it turns out, was essentially purchased by Manuel, along with the land they live on — is smitten by the idea of freedom with Santiago, and longs to leave with him.
Santiago (wonderfully played by Kennedy) is a most fascinating central character: a violent but even-handed bandit, his motivations stem from cynicism over failed revolutionary promises to provide land to all who fought for freedom. He shows genuine compassion when ministering to his dying partner (Tony Martinez) during the movie’s opening scene:
… and never intends to disrupt Manuel and Maria’s lives the way he ultimately does; indeed, Santiago is more of a catalyst than anything — an “innocent” spark who taps into both Manuel’s baser, greedy instincts, and Maria’s deeply rooted unhappiness.
His reactions to their sudden revelations are refreshingly uncliched, and help to turn this modest little western into a most enjoyable “menage a trois”.
P.S. Truffaut famously noted that this film was an inspiration for his Jules and Jim (1962), but don’t look for literal similarities.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Arthur Kennedy as Santiago
- An intriguing storyline
Yes, as one of Ulmer’s most enjoyable B-movies. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.