Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sierra Baron

FXM Retro is showing the movie Sierra Baron this afternoon at 1:35 PM, with a repeat tomorrow morning at 9:05 AM. (Note the time change overnight.) It's worth a viewing if you haven't seen it before.

The scene is California around 1848. That's just after Mexico lost the territory to the United States, but before the land became a US state, with all of the legal niceties being a state as opposed to a US territory would mean. It's also around the time of that gold rush that brought a lot of Anglos from the east. Rick Jason, who would go on to star in the TV series Combat!, plays Miguel Delmonte, the current head of one of those Mexican families that several generations before had received a large land grant from the Spanish government in California, something like 5,000 acres. If you remember the film The Baron of Arizona (which I thought I had done a full-length post on but apparently haven't), you'll recall that the treaties ceding land from Mexico to the United States upheld the land titles, so the Delmonte family should have been secure in keeping those 5,000 acres. The Americans pouring in from the east, of course, didn't feel that way, and Delmonte returns from a sojourn down to the southern part of California to find that there are people hunting on his land, and even having set up a small town! This must not stand, and Miguel is confident that he's got the law on his side. The Anglos, however, have the guns.

Rufus Bynham (Steve Brodie) established the town, and he's obviously got a stake in making certain this town stays right where it is. So he plans to drive the Delmontes off their land, through the use of force if necessary. To that end, he hired gunman Jack McCracken (Brian Keith) to deal with Delmonte. Of course, things don't go quite as planned. Jack seems to have his own agenda, and that agenda gets even more complex when he sees Miguel's lovely sister Felicia (Rita Gam). He falls in love with her although he doesn't want to admit it to anybody.

That's not the only thing making the situation more complicated. Into all of this walks not just the gunman, but an entire group of settlers who were planning to farm land someplace futher west, is found crossing their land. (To be honest, 5,000 acres is a lot, but at just under eight square miles, I don't think it's big enough for all the locations in this film.) The leader of the pioneers says they were attacked by Indians on the way west, and that combined with bad weather means they've been dipping into their seed crop to eat and survive. Could kind SeƱor Delmonte please let these pioneers farm some of the land for just one season? This poses a problem, because if Delmonte lets them do so, the gold-miner types are going to have a bit more legitimacy in saying they should have a stake in the land, too. But Miguel is moved by a young widow named Sue (Mala Powers). Just as McCracken fell in love with Felicia, Migeul starts to fall for Sue.

There's a lot in Sierra Baron that's fairly predictable for the western genre, and you can see some of the themes here winding up on later TV series like The Big Valley. But it's all entertaining enough, if nothing special. The only real problem I had with the movie is that the last time FXM Retro showed it, they showed a panned-and scanned print. (Well, it was in the proper aspect ratio for the opening credits, and then switched to 4:3, which is even more irritating.) That's a shame because the movie looks like it would have some lovely location photography in the proper Cinemascope ratio. I don't think the movie has ever been released to DVD either, so this is all we're going to get of it.

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