A zippy Budd Boetticher Western down in old Mexico
1953, the Western vintage we have been looking at, was, yes, a year of outstanding Western movies, but it also produced a goodly number of (shall we say) second rank pictures. That doesn’t mean they were bad. Wings of the Hawk, released in August, could not compare with Shane four months before but it was still quite fun.
Van Heflin was in both. It also featured the beautiful Julie Adams (she starred in eight straight Westerns 1952/53), as well as the slightly less beautiful Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (unforgettable as the henpecked hotelier in Rio Bravo), Rodolfo Acosta and the excellent Noah Beery Jr. Not bad. And, lesser picture or no, it was directed by Budd Boetticher, one of three he did that year (The Man from the Alamo and Seminole being the others – click the links for our reviews).
Universal brought it out in 3D, which was all the rage in ’53, and it was shot by Clifford Stine, who photographed a good many Audie Murphy oaters, which were always visually attractive. However, an article in Variety said that the film was offered in 2D as well after just one month of release because 3D was already on the way out.
There’s Frank Skinner music.
So all in all it was no ultra-low-budget quickie.
It’s the old gringo-in-the-Mexican-revolution plot. This time it’s not Bob Mitchum down there, as it usually was, but Van the Man. He’s ‘Irish’ Gallager, a mine owner in 1911 whose goldmine is seized from him by evil Diazista Colonel (pronounced col-o-nel, obviously) Paco Ruiz, who runs the unnamed northern Mexican province (presumably Chihuahua) with a grip of iron. Shooting women hostages is all in an afternoon’s work for Ruiz. He is played by George Dolenz, an Austro-Hungarian, but then for Hollywood one foreigner is much like another so he’ll do for a Mexican.
It was all shot in California, though, not Mexico, in the Simi Hills and on the back lot at Universal Studios and Corriganville.
Irish falls in with some ‘insurrectors’, as they are always termed (odd word) and of course among them is a glamorous revolucionaria, Raquel (no, not la Welch as in Rio Conchos, but Julie Adams). Naturally Raquel and Irish get it on. The revolutionaries are led by Rodolfo Acosta, who has lost his nerve and is soon usurped by Van. Acosta tries to ally with Ruiz, in revenge. Big mistake.
But best of these Mexicanos is Noah Beery (he’d dropped the Jr in the billing by ’53, fair enough) as Pascual Orozco. It makes a change to have Orozco as a bandido/revolutionary rather than the usual Pancho Villa.
Orozco was, as you probably know, an anti-Diaz Maderista who, however, fell out with Madero and joined Huerta, earning the undying enmity of erstwhile ally Villa. When Huerta fell, he and Orozco campaigned against the new Carranza administration, raising money and men in the USA and settling in El Paso, but Orozco was killed near High Lonesome in the Van Horn Mountains in an obscure incident involving horse stealing. So much for the history.
Noah, in his short part, endows the character of the revolutionary leader with charm and zip. He needs Acosta’s support to capture Juarez and topple Diaz (that part sounds more like Villa but never mind). Beery had played Mexicans before (e.g. The Light of Western Stars) and was rather good at it. In fact he’d started right back in 1934 on Viva Villa! with his Uncle Wallace though his scenes were deleted in modern versions.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, Van Heflin. Well, there’s a lot of Boetticheresque action and rushing hither and yon, to the accompaniment of lively music which would have graced a Zorro film, which in some ways Wings of the Hawk resembles.
Excellent as a member of the revolutionary band is Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez. It was his debut: he had gained national prominence as a contestant on the Groucho Marx TV quiz show You Bet Your Life. He provides the comic relief and is cheerful throughout. His mamma is one of those machine-gunned as a hostage by wicked Ruiz but that only depresses Pedro’s spirits for half a reel or so, then he is back to making music and dancing, I theenk. Yes, I fear that some of the Mexicans are rather stereotypical.
There’s an obligatory worthy priest who aids the revolucionarios, played by Antonio Moreno. Abbe Lane, also in her debut, is Julie Adams’s sister and she’s married to evil Colonel Ruiz, so that complicates things.
It all comes to a head as Van sacrifices his mine to save the Revolution and get the girl. Hope I haven’t given too much away here, amigos.
I never got the title. There are no hawks or wings or anything.
It was another Aaron Rosenberg production, one of three Westerns he did in ’53. He’d done some classy stuff hitherto, Coroner Creek, Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, to name a few.
Howard Thompson in The New York Times was a bit dismissive (as he often was of Westerns), saying that the picture was “nothing to write home about or leave home to see.” He said, “A handful of earnest performances and the picturesque proximity, in three dimensions, of Technicolor exteriors fail to surmount the standard ingredients of Wings of the Hawk, the new Universal-International melodrama at Loew’s State.” He did, though, grudgingly admit that “on a standard, superficial level, Wings of the Hawk, whatever that means, can be deemed at least feasible. The scenery is good, rugged and, apparently Mexican, and fairly abounds in Latin countenances.”
Don’t expect too much from this oater down in old Mehico but if you like the idea of Van Heflin, always solid, in a Budd Boetticher Western, you won’t be disappointed. And the Federales have rather dashing yellow bonnets.
There’s a 3D Blu Ray if you’re into that.