Movies I Need To See Before I Die: Douglas Fairbanks in THE GAUCHO (1927)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

I know, I know!  I just reviewed a Douglas Fairbanks movie last week, but after watching THE MARK OF ZORRO, I began to look up more information about him.  I’m definitely starting a phase here.  I think he’s pretty awesome, and I just want to see everything he’s ever done now.   But that’s the type of person I am.  If I like an actor or director, I tend to seek out everything they’ve done.  So just be prepared to find some more films of his coming up on this column.  Now, while I’ve heard of ZORRO, I never heard of THE GAUCHO.  It sounded fun, so I decided to check it out.

This adventure film is surprisingly underlined by a religious theme.  Fairbanks plays a notorious outlaw only known as the Gaucho.  Once he arrives to a town, everyone scatters to hide.  He is most feared.  But….. he’s actually a nice outlaw.  Always smiling and looking for a good time.  The movie starts off with him arriving at a small town where he meets a feisty girl played by Lupe Velez.  She has always admired him, keeping a wanted poster of him in her room, and now she wants to join his gang.  He laughs at first, but he ends up dragging her along.  Meanwhile, in a holy town, a ruthless regime headed by Ruiz is taking over.  It’s a very spiritual place as there is a “miracle woman” who heals the sick and gives gold to the poor.  Ruiz bans all religion and imprisons many of the poor people.  The Gaucho arrives and defeats Ruiz’s men, but he still doesn’t really know the importance of the town.  He doesn’t believe in God.  But the more he spends in the town and because of certain circumstances that happen to him, he begins to have faith.  But Ruiz isn’t done yet, he has gotten more men and plan to take over the town and it’s up to the Gaucho to defend it.

Actually, there was more plot in this than I expected.  I just thought it was going to be a “spirited” adventure.  But instead it ends up being a “spiritual” adventure.  Now, I’m not a real religious person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a religious film.  Unfortunately, most religious films that I have seen just aren’t very good.  And yes, I am talking about THE TEN COMMANDMENTS with Charlton Heston.  That sucks!  But… this is a good one.  It did catch me off guard at first.  The very first scene shows how the miracle woman got her powers.  She falls off of a mountain while herding some sheep, she then sees a vision of the virgin Mary (Mary Pickford in a cameo) and from then on she has the healing power of God.  It’s actually a really well done scene with some impressive effects, especially for 1927.

Then the adventure stuff.  That’s all super fun.  The first half is as rousing as any of other Fairbanks’ films.  And, he’s pretty amazing again.  Really starting to love this guy.  Again, he’s playing a different type, with his dark skin and thin mustache, he completely embodies the character.  He does some nice subtle physical things like the way he likes a cigarette: always popping it into his mouth, and then with one hand, lights his match between his fingers.  That’s some smooth shit!  The first portion when he meets Velez is full of energy.  There’s a lively dance number too.  One of my favorite moments in the entire film is when Valez refuses to leave home until she finishes her supper.  He jokes and says, “Do you want me to take the whole house with us?”  And then he thinks about it, and then gets all of his horses, ties some rope to the house and actually takes it with him.  It was pretty impressive and very funny.  The sets were awe-inspiring, especially the Holy Town.  It was massive!

Lupe Valez is very good here.  She’s just a firecracker full of piss and vinegar.  She’s just as tough as one of the boys, and I love the chemistry between her and Fairbanks.  They’re constantly hitting each other and fighting, but it’s because they love each together.  None of it feels mean-spirited.  It’s kind of cute.  Strike that! It’s very cute.  But their romance is more in the background as the religious story is more of the central focus, at least in the second half.

This is where I was worried it was going to lose me.  I will admit, that it does get pretty heavy-handed and when the story switches focus to the Miracle Woman, the tone dramatically switches and the pace starts to dwindle a bit.  Those that don’t like to be preached at may find some of this hard to sit though, but I didn’t find it to be all that bad.  It’s done rather tastefully and even though it’s a tad melodramatic, it’s still well crafted.  And Fairbanks gets to show off his dramatic chops during these moments and he proves himself admirably.  But don’t worry.  There’s still some adventure in the last reel, including some unbelievable stunts by Fairbanks as he climbs extremely high trees, and jumping from vine to vine in the jungle.  Some of it was breathtaking.

While I can’t say this was his best film,  it’s still right up there.  It may get too bogged down with religious themes during the second half, but that doesn’t keep it from being a likable, rousing adventure, featuring a fantastic performance from Fairbanks.  ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Not rated but has some action, peril, and heavy thematic themes.  Probably would be PG.  And because are MPAA are pussies, they would also rate it PG for smoking.

– Running time: 1hr 35min.


Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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