Way of a Gaucho (1952)
There is no denying the fact that Gene Tierney looks stunning in technicolor. She’s just that in this Jacques Tourneur film under the 20th Century Fox banner that sees the one time Laura playing opposite rising star Rory Calhoun in the leading role.
Filmed in Argentina, Gaucho is really a western tale that sees Rory at the start of the film running afoul of the laws being brought upon the Argentinian frontiers. After killing a man in a duel he’s assigned to the military and spared a rope thanks to the influence of his brother Hugh Marlowe. While Rory is a wild untamed man of the pampas, Marlowe represents the future and civilization.
“A soldier like a horse needs breaking before he can be useful.”
A quote from military leader Richard Boone who finds Rory transferred to his frontier command. The two will be odds from the moment they meet. Boone expects obedience but Rory won’t be giving it. When Boone orders ten lashes to be dealt upon our leading man’s back it won’t be long before he deserts Boone’s command and his newfound friend Everett Sloane. It’s while on the run in the untamed regions of Argentina that Rory will save a kidnapped Miss Tierney from marauding Indians. He wants nothing to do with her but upon finding out she is in the territory to visit his brother he makes it his mission to return her to safety.
It’s a long journey and there’s a hint of sexual longing under the moonlight between the pair. Boone is no fool and has men stationed around Marlowe’s estate assuming Rory would turn up eventually. Rather than putting him to death, Boone would prefer to break Rory. Torture begins as punishment. All this does is harden Rory and give cause to Sloane and a few others under Boone’s command to free Rory and desert themselves. The men will head for the mountain regions and their freedom.
Rory is to become a legendary outlaw who Boone wants recaptured. With troops under his command he’ll make it his personal vendetta to bring the outlaw to justice. While Boone wants his vengeance Tierney wants nothing more than to renew her interest in Rory. She’ll do just that and the pair will become lovers seeking to wed which might possibly be Calhoun’s undoing.
Never far from one’s thoughts watching Calhoun and Tierney as they attempt to stay ahead of Boone is the sense that tragedy awaits them. Boone for his part isn’t a villain as he’s been on many occasion. He’s a proud officer looking to stay the course of military protocol. Boone again takes charge on the screen playing a man of authority as he did on occasion versus the low down vermin he could also excel at when the role called for it. Either way he’s always a credit to most any film or TV show he ever appeared in.
Thanks to a DVD release by Fox’s Cinema Archives division, I’ve finally had a chance to see this “western” that offers superior photography of both Argentina’s plains and the Andes even if they are undone occasionally by some shoddy F/X. Alongside the beautiful backdrop (and Gene Tierney) caught on film is a rousing score when it needs to be from Sol Kaplan yet haunting as well when the scene calls for it.
Having made a steady stream of films since 1940 including Laura (1944), Leave Her To Heaven (1945) and Night and The City (1950), Miss Tierney was only three years from the end of her run as a leading lady when she’d star opposite Bogart in The Left Hand of God. She’d return to the screen in a few films in the early 1960’s ultimately ending her acting career in a 1980 miniseries on television. Calhoun was quickly finding a home in the western and aside from a few titles like the popular How To Marry a Millionaire would be best remembered wearing a cowboy hat sitting atop a horse as the years passed.
I’ve always felt the director Jacques Tourneur never really gets his due as a first rate craftsman. This despite helming some films that are still fondly remembered by classic film fans while representing new discoveries for younger fans. Among his many titles are the Noir go to Out of The Past made in 1947 and his work with producer Val Lewton including cult faves I Walked With a Zombie and Cat People.
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, the film was scripted by Philip Dunne. Dunne had previously written Tierney’s popular The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Zanuck had originally intended to assign Henry King as director but those duties eventually fell to Tourneur. For more on the film and other titles of Tourneur I’d recommend Chris Fujiwara’s book, The Cinema of Nightfall from McFarland.
As for Gaucho, a first time viewing proved to be an enjoyable ninety minutes thanks to the participation of a trio of stars who have always captured my interest from a young age discovering films. The director’s name only added to my wanting to place a checkmark beside this one. Finally.