14 September 2016 | Wuchakk
American Western about the early years of Joaquin Murrieta, starring Ricardo Montalban
Released theatrically in Mexico in 1969 (and on TV in America in 1971) and directed by Earl Bellamy, "The Desperate Mission" is an American Western released to TV starring Ricardo Montalban as Joaquin Murrieta, the real-life 'Mexican Robin Hood' who was the inspiration for Johnston McCulley's Zorro. The movie focuses on Murrieta just after losing his land, his wife and everything else. Disillusioned, he joins a dubious band of Americans hired by a wealthy man (Anthony Caruso) to escort his beautiful wife (Ina Balin) away from the lawless countryside to safety in San Francisco, but more's going on than meets the eye. Earl Holliman, Jim McMullan, Slim Pickens and Roosevelt Grier play members of the gang whereas Miriam Colon plays a spiritual senorita who's along for the ride.
Depending on one's point of view, Murrieta was either an infamous bandit or a Mexican hero. So many tales have been birthed around him that it is hard to disentangle the fantastical from the factual. Some evidence suggests that he wasn't one man, but rather three to five, whose exploits were combined. Coinciding with "The Desperate Mission," there's a general consensus that gringos drove Murrieta from a lucrative California mining claim in the mid-1800s and, in succession, his wife was ravished, his sibling lynched, and Juaquin himself horsewhipped. From there, the story that the movie conveys is pretty much fictional or, at best, speculative.
The history of "The Desperate Mission"—shot in Mexico and released theatrically there—shows that it's not some ordinary TV Western. It may not be a big-budget Western like the contemporaneous "The Wild Bunch," but it ain't no cheapo TV flick either. In any case, Ricardo shines as the protagonist and easily carries the movie. Despite Murrieta's embittered disillusionment you can tell he's a noble man underneath and definitely doesn't fit in with trash like Shad Clay (Holliman). Speaking of Clay, you know he's a snake from the get-go, albeit a snake with charm. They're easy to spot if you know what to look for. Likable Rosey Grier has an interesting peripheral role. In fact, the supporting characters in general are well-defined and performed adeptly by the actors. The story is engaging because it's about finding yourself after being momentarily lost, not to mention the courage to stand up for what's right, and then follow through.
The movie runs 96 minutes and was shot in Durango, Mexico.