Thursday, September 15, 2011

Que Serra Serra

A movie looking at a period of history that never got much attention from Hollywood is showing up tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel: Seven Cities of Gold.

The scene is Mexico in the middle of the 18th century. There's a legend of gold deposits to the north and west, in what would now be Baja California and the US state of California. (The movie is set some time before the Zorro movies.) A group of Spanish soldiers led by Captain de Portola (Anthony Quinn) is sent out as part of the various expeditions to find that gold. With them for religious reasons is Fr. Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie). They don't find any cities of gold, but Serra insists that they set up a fort which will allow him to do the missionary work that is his real mission.

At this point Seven Cities of Gold becomes a bit formulaic. You know that there are going to be the cultural clashes between the white men and the natives just as there would be in any western; one of the white men (Richard Egan) falling for a native woman (Rita Moreno), which you know will cause serious problems; and the fort coming under serious threats from the natives.

Seven Cities of Gold has a fair bit going for it, notably the fact that it's set in a lesser-seen era. There are the Zorro movies, and a lot of movies about the colonial US or the English colonies in the Caribbean (these latter movies because they allowed for pirates and swashbuckling), but little about the Spanish expeditions to the US southwest. Also well-presented is the Richard Egan subplot. As for the word "well-presented", the movie is greatly helped by its use of Technicolor and Cinemascope, making it look much prettier than earlier period movies. On the bad side of the ledger is the fact that Quinn and Rennie's characters aren't that much worth caring about and the previously-mentioned point that the movie more or less hews to a formula.

Still, Seven Cities of Gold is one that's quite rarely seen, and like most movies, deserves one viewing at least.

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