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Sep 22 16 6:54 PM
Dec 30 16 8:35 AM
The Mexican Film
Bulletin Vol. 22 Number 4 (October-December 2016):
Obituaries: Mario Almada, Martha Roth, Lupita Tovar, Gonzalo Vega,
Diana Herrera, Michèle Morgan, Carlota Bilbao, Adriana Rosique, León Serment,
Pedro Plascencia Ramírez, Renato López, Luis González de Alba; Reviews:
Mario Almada Films—Los doce malditos,
Cabalgando con la muerte, Juan Nadie, Los jinetes de la bruja, El pistolero del
Diablo, El extraño hijo del sheriff, Cazador de asesinos, Siete en la mira, La
viuda negra, Para usted jefa, Ay Chihuahua no te rajes! Martha Roth and the
Bad Boys: No me quieras tanto, Ventarrón,
La ciudad perdida; Gonzalo Vega: Nocaut;
Michèle Morgan: Los orgullosos.
For this group, there are 3 fantasy-Western films: Los jinetes de la bruja, El pistolero del
Diablo, El extraño hijo del sheriff,
Dec 31 16 5:59 PM
Jan 2 17 11:10 PM
Jan 31 17 11:46 AM
Lucky Johnny Born in
Productions, 1970) Exec Prod: Tony
Fuentes, Carlo Reale; Prod: Juan
Abusaíd Ríos; Dir: José Antonio
Bolaños; Scr: José Antonio Bolaños,
Pedro Miret; Dialog Collab: Tony
Monaco; Photo: Alex Phillips [Sr.]; Music: Luchi de Jesús; Asst Dir: Manuel Muñoz; Film Ed: Nino Baragli, Bob Wyman; Asst Ed: Michael Wells, Mauricio
Mangosi; Sets: Jesús Durán; Special FX: Laurencio Cordero; Makeup: Tom Burbam [Thomas Burman?],
Dolores Camarillo; Camera Op: Hugo
Velasco; Lighting: Luis Medina; Second Unit Photo: Manuel Santaella; Special Makeup: Thomas Burman, Bob
Westmoreland; Sound (Rome): Manuel
Topete; Sound (Mexico): Rafael
Esparza; Panavision; Deluxe Color
title: Arde baby arde [Burn, Baby,
Burn]; DVD title: Dead Aim
Cast: Venetia Vianello (María St.
John), Glen Lee (Johnny),
Evaristo Márquez (Lucius), Virgil
Frye (Jack Poggin), James Westerfield
(John Appleby), George [Jorge] Russek
(district commissioner), Granville
Van Dusen (Sonny), Tony Monaco (wagon driver), Billy De Roucke (prisoner), Eduardo Bonada (townsman); cut from final print:
Carlos East (Deek), Bárbara Angely (Sara), Marcela López Rey, Paul Frenett,
Joanne East, Linda Vickinson, Billy Joe, Ivor, Pancho Córdova, Arturo Álvarez
Notes: the directorial career of José
Antonio Bolaños can best be described as "unlucky." Not a single one of the movies he made had a
simple, easy path to the screen. Born in
1935, Bolaños worked on several films in production and writing capacities in
the 1950s, and was poised to direct his first feature, La soldadera, in 1960.
Shooting was cancelled at the last minute due to government disapproval
of the script, and Bolaños had to wait until 1966 to make the movie. He spent a considerable amount of time
writing a screen adaptation of the novel "Johnny Got His Gun," only
to learn the movie rights were unavailable.
Bolaños then made Lucky Johnny
Born in America in 1970, but the picture's lukewarm reception at the 1971
Venice Film Festival prompted revisions, re-shooting, and re-editing, delaying
its release (in Mexico) until 1975 (I am unable to find any record of
theatrical release in the USA). Bolaños
directed a three-hour version of Pedro
Páramo in 1976 (despite the fact that Juan Rulfo's novel had been adapted
to the screen only a decade before), but saw his work cut down to 90 minutes by
the distributor. Finally, Bolaños
collaborated with Irma Serrano on Naná
(1979), but the star and director quarreled and--since Serrano was also the
producer--it was Bolaños who left the project, replaced by an uncredited Rafael Baledón.
Although he lived until 1994, Bolaños never made another film.
Johnny Born in America is currently available on DVD (as Dead Aim) in the USA on several labels
(possibly unauthorized), including a double-feature from East-West with Burt
Kennedy's The Deserter, the version
reviewed here. Cut to 87 minutes,
sourced from a videotape, full-screen, with faded color, this battered copy is
certainly not the optimum way to see the picture (to add insult to injury, the
DVD case refers to the director as "José Antonio Basanos" and
credits James Westerfield as James "Masterfield"). Nonetheless, enough remains of the original
to appreciate Bolaños' idiosyncratic take on the spaghetti Western.
In the Old West, a young woman leaves her
husband for her lover, taking their baby with her. In the desert, the husband confronts the
lover and they kill each other; the mother eventually dies of thirst. Her baby is nearly bitten by a rattlesnake,
but the infant is rescued by itinerant undertaker John Appleby, who adopts the boy and names him
"Johnny." Time passes. The Civil War rages. Appleby and Johnny travel through the West,
burying bodies and receiving "vouchers" in exchange, to be later redeemed
by the territorial government. Appleby
has a dream of accumulating enough wealth to move back East and open a funeral
parlor and cemetary.
Meanwhile, outlaw Jack Poggin and his girlfriend María are living in a
squalid desert cabin. A former New
Orleans prostitute, María came West with Poggin with dreams of wealth, but
pickings have been slim and the couple bickers constantly. Johnny, in search of water, spies on them and
later steals a wanted poster with María's portrait on it. He dreams of her.
María as bait to slow down an armored coach carrying a shipment of Union
gold. The plan goes awry--María is
wounded and the wagon (its driver shot to death) gallops off, with Jack in
pursuit. Poggin catches up to the
wrecked wagon but cannot open it. Maria,
left alone, returns to their cabin on foot.
She meets black soldier Lucius, a deserter from the Union army, and he
befriends her. He leaves for town to buy
supplies, but is caught and arrested by the sleazy district commissioner. Placed in a prison wagon, Lucius kills the
other occupant, a racist outlaw, in self defense. Johnny and Appleby cross paths with the
wagon, and when the commissioner refuses to hand over the dead prisoner's
corpse for burial, Johnny shoots the official and his driver. "Too bad we couldn't get the
commissioner to sign a receipt for his own burial," Appleby remarks. Johnny releases Lucius from the locked wagon.
Appleby and Johnny find a fortune in gold in the gun belt of a man who
tried to steal their horses (and was shot by Johnny). Appleby believes this will allow them to move
back East and build his cemetary, but Johnny cannot forget María, and he
abandons his foster father. Lucius and
Johnny meet again at María's cabin, but it is empty. They ride off in search of her.
Poggin has finally recovered the gold
from the wrecked wagon (using dynamite to open the door) and
it is he who finds María first. She
spurns his offer of a reconciliation, saying "I want a man better than
you," and Poggin kills her. Johnny
and Lucius arrive: Johnny and Poggin have a showdown and mortally wound each
other. Lucius is the only survivor, but
the wagonload of gold coins is useless to him, since he can't explain where it
came from and--as he had told María earlier--black people aren't expected to
have more than "five dollars," so he would be unable to spend it.
Lucky Johnny Born in America, in its
earlier incarnations, apparently contained additional sub-plots and characters,
as well as some surrealistic touches (publicity photos exist of a crucified
Venetia Vianello, possibly from a dream sequence). The current version is reasonably coherent
and self-contained, without significant loose ends, and none of the footage
seems mismatched, despite the re-shooting which occurred. The various plot threads work their way
neatly together at the conclusion--Johnny never really meets María (he
only spies on her once, and dreams of her later); Lucius ties the two plots
together, although in a casual manner. There
are some amusing moments and sharp dialogue in the script, courtesy of the
gallery of eccentric characters assembled by Bolaños and co-scripter Pedro F.
Miret. Fortunately, the allegorical
aspects--useless slaughter in the Civil War (in one scene, Appleby and Johnny
find a huge stack of naked corpses of soldiers; Appleby sees them as a treasure
trove of "vouchers," but
Johnny says "no one will pay to bury dead soldiers"), racial
injustice, greed, etc.--are not stressed to the point where they become
The performances are all adequate. Venetia Vianello, the director's wife, has a
thick accent but handles her role effectively (she later appeared in Zona roja and Pedro Páramo); Evaristo Márquez, a Colombian who had previously
appeared opposite Marlon Brando in Burn!
(he was also in Cumbia and Mulato, 1972) is fine. The three gringo
actors--James Westerfield, Glen Lee, and Virgil Frye--are satisfactory. Lee strongly resembles Peter Fonda and Clint
Eastwood at times, and emulates their laconic style, while Westerfield and Frye
turn in quirky, amusing performances.
The major Mexican presence in the cast is Jorge Russek (although others
were cut from the film).
Although the Dead Aim DVD is in poor condition, viewers can get an idea of the
excellent Alex Phillips' photography, for which he won a "Heraldo"
award (presented by the newspaper of the same name). The music score varies in effectiveness, with
some truly nice themes alternating with awkward '70s "wakka-chikka"
instrumentation, and a sappy final ballad over the end credits.
Perhaps a better, more complete version
of Lucky Johnny Born in America will
surface someday and allow a re-evaluation of this work.
Feb 1 17 1:33 AM
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