Saturday, February 28, 2009

Somewhere in Sonora

Somewhere in Sonora posterSomewhere in Sonora (1933) stars John Wayne who rescues a man caught in the clutches of the Brotherhood of Death, a band of American outlaws operating in Mexico. Wayne plays a cowboy named John Bishop who is framed during a carriage race at the start of the film. A couple of crooks sabotage the wheel of his opponent, so when the wheel flies off mid-race and leaves its drivers injured, Bishop is instantly blamed and tossed in jail. A kindly gentleman named Bob Leadly helps him to escape, and he tells Bishop that his son Burt was also wrongly accused, which forced him to flee to Mexico and join up with the deadly Monty Black and his gang. Even though Bishop’s name is cleared the following day when the real crooks are found, he resolves to test the adage that no one leaves the so-called Brotherhood of Death alive, and gallops southward with his two buffoon sidekicks to retrieve Burt Leadly.

In a Mexican cantina, Bishop encounters Mary Burton and Patsy Ellis, who having been onlookers at the carriage race vehemently reject his company and call him a murderous outlaw. This is significantly overheard by Monty Black. Shortly thereafter, Bishop rescues Burton and Ellis from their runaway carriage, and accompanies them to the town of Paloma, home of Burton’s father the silver miner Mexicali Burton. They clear up the misunderstanding that Bishop sabotaged his opponent, which removes the moral qualms that were keeping Burton from being smitten by the cowboy’s suave advances. Meanwhile, Bishop overhears her father and General Ramirez of the Mexican federal army preparing to vanquish the Monty Black gang which threatens to raid his silver stockpiles. Bishop knows that he has to act fast to save Leadly, otherwise the army will attack the gang while he is still among them.

Bishop rides into where the Brotherhood of Death are hiding out and is approached by Black himself, who thinking that Bishop is an escaped criminal, invites him to join his rag-tag band of American outlaws. Bishop proves himself to be flawless in knife throwing, quick drawing and knife fighting and they allow him to participate in the raid on Paloma. En route Bishop secretly explains to Leadly that he was found to be innocent and that Bishop is here to retrieve him, but the young man reaffirms that no one leaves the Brotherhood of Death alive. As the gang enters Paloma, the filmmakers set in motion the classic save-the-day formula that will be acceptable to John Wayne fans, but preposterous to everyone else. Bishop releases Duke, his highly intelligent white steed, who gallops to the warning bell installed by Mexicali Burton and rings it so that the town is alerted to the infiltrators. Monty Black realizes that he has been double crossed, so Bishop and Leadly flee on horseback with the gang in pursuit. The pair hides in a canyon and a shootout occurs, but they are outmanned and captured by the gang. Black is seconds away from shooting Bishop when Duke leads the sidekicks, Mary Burton and the Mexican federal army to that very spot. This leads into a feel-good ending of justice being served to Black and love triumphing as Bishop and Burton embrace.

Somewhere in Sonora is a true crowd pleaser; it has a dashing hero, comical buffoons, a delightful love sub-plot, exciting action scenes and a noble animal sidekick. However, the film is also an explicit exposé on the merits of Mexico as a place for American investors and holidaymakers. The exposé begins in the cantina. The sidekicks see that the Mexican bartender is too lazy to sell his own liquour, so one hops over the counter and pours outrageous quantities for the cantina’s occupants. Bishop tosses the panicking bartender five bucks, not knowing exactly how much the liquor is worth, which thrills him because he can afford a nice fat cow with the extra money. This scene shows how far the American dollar goes in Mexico; a mere five dollars can buy liquor and livestock. Soon Mexicali Burton is introduced, the poster boy of American investment in Mexico. Burton is profiting from Mexican mineral resources and the Mexican federal army is committed to protecting his investments, even if they need American help to do it. It is noteworthy that the threat in Somewhere in Sonora comes from American outlaws and not Mexican banditos. Mexico is so safe that Burton gets his daughter to drive her own horse-drawn cart down to meet him! As well as being profitable and secure for investment, Mexico is portrayed as pulse-quickening and romantic, with the girls swooning in the moonlight-bathed hacienda to the Spanish guitar. Made in 1933, this film markets Mexico as a place where Americans can do profitable business with a compliant government and have a cheap holiday with abundant liquor and romantic settings, much like how Mexico is marketed today.

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