The ending was a bit different anyway
Last time on this blog we reviewed a 1954 Lippert Western starring Dane Clark, Thunder Pass. After that, Dane did a crime drama or two and then in 1956 another Western, Massacre.
In many ways Massacre was simply another version of Thunder Pass: its central plot idea was a brave military man thwarting a wicked scheme to sell guns to the Indians, and that’s what happens in Massacre too.
However, things were a bit different now. The Silver Star in 1955 was Bob Lippert’s last Western as independent producer/distributor. He went to work for Fox. Spyros Skouras, at the time Fox studio boss, wanted low-budget program fillers, and he turned to his cigar-chomping golfing buddy, Lippert. Together they set up Regal Films (click for our look at them), a notionally independent company, to make unglamorous but they hoped money-making pictures, fodder for provincial movie houses, and for a couple of years in the mid-50s Lippert was back to his old game of churning out cheap oaters. Massacre was one of these.
There was another difference. Though it was directed by and starred Americans, it was shot in Mexico, with mostly Mexican cast and crew. A plan to shoot in Guatemala was dropped for cost reasons. So this time Dane wasn’t a US Cavalry officer bravely saving the day, but a Rurales captain.
And they roped in another actor who had done Westerns but was at a point in his career at which things weren’t exactly going swimmingly, James Craig, as the captain’s lieutenant and second-in-command.
Craig had made it reasonably big at MGM, as a kind of second-string Clark Gable, going on to lead in a few Westerns for RKO and Eagle-Lion, but in the mid-1950s he declined somewhat to low-budget fare, or should I say returned to that, because he had made a lot of B-oaters with the likes of Bill Elliott, Charles Starrett and Johnny Mack Brown back in the early 40s. Personally, I never thought him quite suited to the genre for some reason but he did quite a few.
Massacre was directed by Louis King, Henry’s bro, who was also not exactly at the apex of his career. He’d helmed Fox’s Powder River in 1953 and RKO’s Dangerous Mission in ’54, but by 1956 was reduced to mostly TV work. Massacre is directed efficiently enough, I suppose, though is hardly earth-shaking. The modest budget probably didn’t help.
Having said that, another difference between Thunder and Massacre was that the latter was in color. Such extravagance! Ansocolor was a process preferred by the less glossy studios because it was cheaper. But Massacre doesn’t look too bad, actually, though the review in Variety said that “the uneven Ansco tints do not always do the photography justice.”
Working titles of the film were Charge of the Rurales and The Violent Land, and it was released in Mexico City in March 1956 under the title La Carga de los Rurales. Unfortunately, the film closed in New York after a nine-hour run, which may be why some people have never heard of it.
The leading lady of Massacre, as the character Angélica Chávez, was Martha Roth, an Italian living in Mexico. She drew the short straw a bit because her character is positively loathsome, a manipulative, money-grabbing and faithless woman who will countenance any cruelty (including blinding children) to get what she wants. There’s no hint, as there was in Thunder Pass, of the heroic Captain Ramón (Clark) fancying her. He’d have to be loony.
That doesn’t stop Lt Ezparza (Craig) from falling for her wiles. In no time she has him wrapped round her little finger, doing her nefarious bidding, doh. It will be the undoing of the officer.
It’s Angélica Chávez’s husband, Miguel Chávez (Mexican actor Miguel Torruco) who’s running those rifles to the Yaqui. Capitán Ramón is particularly annoyed about this because his whole family was wiped out by Yaqui with guns, so he has a personal axe to grind. He will stop at naught to find Chávez and those Winchesters.
Of course the appalling treatment of the Yaqui by the Mexican authorities, especially during the Diaz years (the government repeatedly provoked them to rebellion in order to seize their land and thousands of Yaqui were sold at 60 pesos a head to the owners of sugar cane and tobacco plantations) is not alluded to at all. In this one the Rurales are all-out goodies while the Yaqui are a savage and pitiless enemy to be annihilated pronto.
The ending is quite unusual and bleak.
The producer of Massacre was Bob’s son Robert Lippert Jr. The writing was by ultra-experienced DD Beauchamp, from a red Freiberger/William Tunberg story.
Variety at the time thought that the “Mexico-lensed outdoor actioner is an extremely lightweight lowercase programmer that will have to depend mostly on a product scarcity to get playdates.” Ouch. The Variety review also said, justly, I think, that “Clark and Craig aren’t very convincing as Mexicans and the real Latins in the cast are difficult to understand.” They all speak English. Sorta.
There’s a nice song sung in the camp one evening by Vincent, one of the Rurales (José Ángel Espinosa aka Ferrusquilla).
Mildly interesting here and there, on balance this one is skippable. Phil Hardy in The Encyclopedia of Western Movies calls it “a routine Western, its chilling ending notwithstanding” and that’s about right.