Cavalry Command (1963)
Director: Eddie Romero.
Starring: John Agar (Sgt. Judd Norcutt), Richard Arlen (Sgt. Jim Heisler), Myron Healey (Lt. Worth), William Phipps (Pvt. Steve Haines), Alicia Vergel (Laura), Pancho Magalona (Captain Magno Maxalla), Eddie Infante (San Pascual's Priest), Cielito Legaspi (Clara), Roy Planas (Tibo Maxalla).
after the war's end, in 1902 an American cavalry brigade is sent to quell guerilla resistance in the Philippines
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Northern Luzon, Philippines, 1902. "After 300 years of Spanish rule, the United States Army moved in to restore order. The day of the trumpet. We live by the trumpet, fight by it and bury our dead to its Taps. What's left of the Philippine rebel army has for the past two years continued to offer resistance to the occupational forces, believing that we are here only to replace the Spaniards as their masters. Adding to our difficulties, renegade bands of hill people, the Egerots (?), roam the land fighting anyone and everyone who tried to bring about order. As we entered the town of San Pasqual, we are told that the insurrectional forces here consist of hardly more than a one man army -- an ex-captain, Magon Maxalla, a vain and stubborn, hard-headed man, but nevertheless a patriot."
As the US Army comes into town the streets become deserted as people run and hide. Quite a few run into the church. Someone up in the tower of the church fires a weapon at them. The Americans return fire. It turns out to be just a small boy. The Catholic priest asks Sgt. Norcutt what is he going to do with the boy? Ever since the boy's brother took off for the hills to lead the Resistance the boy has been a bit wild. His brother is Magno Maxalla.
Lt. Worth comes up to meet the priest. The priest brings the lieutenant into the church. Lt. Worth tells the congregation that the American soldiers are here only for their protection. The Americans start handing out food to the townspeople. They bed down in one of the buildings. Private Steve Haines is sick. He asks Sgt. Judd to take care of him and Judd says he will. The Sergeant goes to speak with his commanding officer. He says the people are so afraid of them that it's going to be difficult for him to set up a good civil government. The Lieutenant just tells the Sergeant to keep on working on the people until he gains their trust.
The little boy escapes and Judd has to chase him down. The boy runs into a house and the young woman there, named Laura, comes out with a sword to keep the soldiers out. Judd comes up and acts extremely calm, just leaning against the side of the house. The woman thinks they are holding the boy as a prisoner. Judd starts playing his harmonica which smoothes things a bit. The woman says Judd cannot have the boy. Judd says that's alright as long as she takes care of the boy. She is shocked that the boy is not a prisoner.
The priest prepares a concoction used by the Filipinos to treat the illness that Private Steve has. He has Steve drink it. A pretty Filipino woman watches over Steve.
With the army's interpreter Judd goes to see Miss Laura. Laura says she will come down to see him. She calls him Judge instead of Judd. Laura wants to know what he wants now. Judd tells her that he would like her to be the new school teacher for the school. She asks why should she help the Americans? They come and take her country. Judd says the Americans don't need her. She would be doing this for her own people. They are interrupted by the arrival of an Egerot man. The man seems to be saying that one group of hill people attacked another group. Judd refers to them as insurrectionists, but Laura and the interpreter say there is only one insurrectionist in the mountains and that's Magno Maxalla, who has no men with him. The cavalry saddles up and heads for the site of the trouble.
In the mountains it appears that the fight is of the natives versus Magno. Magno is killing a lot of his opponents. The cavalry arrives. They sneak up behind Magno. The natives run away from the cavalry and Magno laughs because he thinks they are running from him. He fires his pistol until it is empty and starts to reload it. It's then that he realizes that men are standing behind him. Magno picks up two big rocks and tells the Americans they will not take him alive. The Americans say that nobody wants to shoot him. Laura arrives. A soldier lassos Magno and he is taken into custody. Laura runs to speak to Magno.
Magno is brought back draped over a horse. The villagers think he is dead, but Magno suddenly tells his little brother to shut up. Speaking to a group of Filipinos through the translator, Lt. Worth tells them that although the Americans have a right to shoot Magno, they will not do this for the sake of good relations between the Americans and the Filipinos. Instead, the Filipinos will decide what to do with him. Lt. Worth waits for some response from the audience, but everyone stays silent. He goes out amongst the Filipinos and asks a few of them directly what they want done with the Captain. They says he should be punished. Lt. Worth is disgusted and just leaves.
Magno's brother fires rocks from his sling shot at the guards watching over his brother. Sgt. Jim Heisler confiscates the boy's weapon. Judd goes to speak with Magno, who expects to be shot. The Sergeant has to tell him the bad news that one man does not constitute a rebellion. There is only one charge against him: disturbing the peace. This irritates Magno. Judd says the army knows better than to waste a man as talented as he in leadership abilities. Magno interprets that as saying they want to make him a puppet. He goes so far as to insist that the Americans shoot him. Magno starts to get under the Sergeant's skin, but Judd is stopped by the arrival of Laura and Magno's little brother. This goes no smoother with Magno who aaccuses Laura of bringing in poison food to him and of being a spy for the Americans. Laura is so angry she throws her basket at Magno and then tries to throw a stool at him, but she is stopped by Judd, who tells her to calm down. Judd says he will walk her home, but Magno says that no decent woman would be seen with an American at this time of night. Laura says she will go wherever she wants to and takes Judd's arm.
Pvt. Steve is feeling much better. When the pretty woman comes in, he smiles at her and says he wasn't just dreaming after all. She doesn't speak English. She just feeds him the medical concoction that tastes terrible. Then she gives him a sponge bath. Steve likes the attention he's getting. He kisses her, but this only frightens her away.
Judd says that the Americans brought in sanitary facilities, a water system and a school. The people start becoming more friendly with the soldiers. The kids start learning how to play baseball and how to speak English. The Americans also provide medical help for the townspeople. Steve goes fishing with the troublesome little brother and he sees his nurse Clara washing clothes. He goes over and starts talking to her, but she ignores him. He tells her that he hopes that she is not mad at him. He is so clumsy and shy in his speech that the other women laugh. Hs nurse gets embarrassed and runs away. Steve gathers her clothes together and goes after her. He falls down. She turns around and laughs. Now that she is alone with him she lets him kiss her.
News arrives. The cavalry is to pull out first thing in the morning. Three men will be left behind: Sgts. Judd and Jim and Pvt. Steve. Judd has some trepidations about staying behind. He and Jim have not stayed here long enough and Steve has been here a little too long. Steve goes to see Clara, but the priest stops him to talk to him. He says that he told Clara to stay in the convent. He says in a way he is her guardian and he wants Steve to stop seeing her. Steve asks why and is told that Clara comes from a very poor people. The Private says that doesn't matter, but the priest says yes it does. He takes Steve to see something. He takes Steve to the poor village outside of town. These people are looked down upon and rejected by the townspeople. Steve meets Clara's mother and then her father and the six other members of the family all living in a shack. The grandmother is very ill and coughs continuously. Steve sees that part of their diet is eating the insects they find. He gets so shook up that he leaves, saying sorry to the priest.
Judd comes in to tell Magno that his time is up, so it's time for him to leave. He has a lot of friends waiting for him outside. Judd goes outside to see the crowd. A man comes by yelling something and the crowd just vanishes. Judd goes to see what's the problem. It's not a problem. Jim has struck water and the people are very pleased with him. Laura waits for Magno outside, but he refuses to speak to her. A hill tribes person tries to shoot Magno with a rifle, but misses. Magno accuses the Americans of trying to kill him. Laura denies this, but he tells her she is as blind as everyone else in the town. He calls them a bunch of "boot lickers". Jim tells Magno to get out of town. He leaves, but Judd knows they will see him again.
Magno recruits men to arrest the three Americans and take over the town. The village holds a celebration in honor of Jim. Steve walks around moping. Judd and Laura walk together. A dance group perform for the crowd. Laura kisses Judd. He says he is sorry. Judd tells Laura to forget her pride and go back to Magno before she louses everything up between the two of them. Laura tells him he thinks too much. He will do anything to make Magno into a peaceful citizen, including wrapping her as a present to give to Magno. Judd walks away.
Judd is arrested by order of Captain Magno. Then Jim and Steve are arrested. Magno's little brother runs over to tell Laura what is happening. She rushes out to where all the people are gathering. Magno struts around like a peacock saying he has taken their masters without even firing a single shot. Laura speaks up and calls him a fool: "You have endangered all of us just to prove what a great hero you are." Magno basically calls her a collaborator with the imperialists. He says now he will have to give his people some tough medicine to cure them of their slavery. The Captain gives an order to burn the school. Judd says Magno is out of his mind! Magno has made himself into a one man military dictatorship. He tells his little brother to burn the school, but the young boy refuses. Magno takes the torch from him and starts to bust the door open. When his brother tries to stop him, Magno gives him a vicious slap across the face knocking him to the ground. Judd wants to attack the Captain but a guard stops him. The people are shocked at Magnio's behavior. He throws the torch into the school. Then he slaps Judd a couple of times. Judd says that was real brave of him. Is that how Magno got all those medals?
Magno has Judd's hands untied and he fights Judd. Judd defeats him. The men with the rifles throw them on the ground around Magno. Judd lets Magno just walk away. Everyone else leaves.
Steve is still moping around. He looks out the window and sees Clara below. He jumps back from the window to hide. He gets up his nerve and looks out the window again, but now she has gone.
Magno's one soldier refuses to help him attack the Americans again. So Magno pulls out his pistol and threatens him, but not even possible death will make him fight for Magno. The Captain thinks about killing him, but doesn't.
Laura rides out to the Americans troops bringing supplies to town to warn them that the Egerots are going to attack the town. The troopers and Laura start riding back to the town. They, however, are riding into an Egerot ambush. The soldiers dismount and run for cover amid the many rocks. The Egerot are going to blow up the bridge. Magno decides to oppose the Egerot and starts killing them coming up on them from their rear. The Egerot set the top of the bridge on fire, while the fuse of the dynamite is lit below. The supply wagons try to make it over the bridge before it is destroyed. They all get over, including Magno. The dynamite goes off, but the bridge still stands. The Captain demands that the Americans help him put out the fire to save the life-line to their town. Magno grabs a branch or two off a tree standing nearby and starts putting out the fire with it. Soon everyone joins in to put out the fire. Magno falls down from smoke inhalation. One of the wagons too close to the fire is moved, but it falls over revealing many boxes labeled "Medical Supplies". To this Laura tells Magno he was wrong about the Americans and wrong about her. He tries to go back to fight the fire but he is too weak.
It starts to rain. Magno starts to laugh and soon everyone is laughing. The supply train moves on and Laura goes back with Magno.
Nice movie. Enjoyed watching it. Don't the Americans wish things could have been as easy in Vietnam and Iraq as in the Philippines? That's the American myth about itself. Americans seem to always think they are the good guys just trying to help the world fight the bad guys. And Americans can demonstrate their good intentions by building a few schools and providing clean water and this will just naturally so impress the natives that they fall in love with the Americans. The only trouble is that Americans are not always the good guys. We were in Vietnam to stop the further spread of communism not to improve the everyday lives of the Vietnamese people. Supposedly we invaded Iraq and occupied the country because of the threat of their weapons of mass destruction (which never existed).
Anyway, the movie is a feel-good one about the American period of imperialism in the Philippines. And it does accomplish that (if you check your cynicism at the door for awhile). Any racism in the decision not to develop the two possible love relations between whites and Filipino women? I suspect there is.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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