Director: Felipe Cazals.
Starring: Damián Alcázar (Chicogrande), Juan Manuel Bernal (Médico Gringo), Bruno Bichir (Ursulo), Alejandro Calva (Francisco Villa), Pablo Fulgueira (Soldado Telegrama), Johnny Gerland (Gringo Leporino - Douglas), Iván Rafael González (Guánzaras), Tenoch Huerta (Doctor Terán), Daniel Martinez (Butch Fenton), Alejandro Navarrete (Coronel carrancista), Lisa Owen (Janice), Patricia Reyes Spíndola (La Sandoval), Carlos Saravia (Soldado de butch 3), Carlos Manuel Saravia (Soldado de butch 3), Jorge Zárate (Viejoresendez).
U.S. Army tries to catch Pancho Villa
"On March 19th, 1916 at dawn, Pancho Villa's troops intrepidly raid the town of Columbus, New Mexico. The United States' response is immediate. President Woodrow Wilson invades Mexico with more than 5,000 men at the command of General Pershing. The regiments penetrate the state of Chihuahua up to 600 km in search of the ringleader. The 'Punitive Expedition' begins."
Military communiqué from the headquarters of Ciudad Guerrero, Chihuahua dated April 1916, and addressed to Venustiano Carranza: "I have the honor of reporting to you that according to all the accounts I have obtained and which I consider to be completely veridical Villa is at this moment in all places and none." Gaudencio Miranda F., Colonel of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
A lone rider named Chicogrande comes to a small house to report to Pancho Villa that they caught Ramiro Rezendes. And the gringos are here, mountains of them.
At the American camp, they are whipping a Mexican man's back with a bullwhip, as an American, Major Butch Fenton, asks repeatedly: "Where is Villa?" Another American soldier says that's enough, but the interrogator tells the man to go to hell. The whipping continues. They whip the man until he's dead.
Two Mexican soldiers working with the Americans tell Fenton that Villa is in the mountains. Fenton tells the men: "I came for Villa's head and I'm going to get it." One of the Mexicans tells Fenton" "Be of use from now on. Be a real soldier. Final warning."
Villa has been wounded and has to have rest. He tells Chicogrande about that kid Guanzaras. The kid's still green and he wants Chicogrande to look after him. Chicogrande says the boy's like a son to him.
Villa says that the Americans are going to make a lot of very poor people pay for the Columbus raid. Chicogrande says he will handle the problem.
Fenton with three soldiers comes to an isolated farm. A widow runs the place with her two small children. She has one ranch hand. Fenton says it's his duty to protect all American citizens in this territory until the capture of Villa. The widow doesn't want anything to do with the major. She feels as though Fenton is trying to intimidate her and she doesn't like it, and she tells him the American cavalry is not welcome at the Arco Iris ranch.
An American military doctor writes a letter to his grandfather saying how disillusioned he is. He says that this is not a war here in Mexico, but butchery disguised as a hunt. "We've invaded Mexico and now we're lost in this country." The people of the towns avoid the soldiers.
A Mexican named Ciro Rezendes tells Fenton that he has important news. But instead of giving Fenton any news, Rezendes asks the major where is Pancho Villa and what is he going to do? Rezendes says he thinks Villa is hurt, because if he is healthy, the man is always on the move, and there is news about Villa. But now there hasn't been any news for quite a while. He adds that he must be in the Towhi Mountains. Furthermore, Villa's men have scattered and are waiting for their leader to heal up. His men don't know where he is. And Villa will only have three men, the best men, with him. And two of the three men will be in the area, but you won't know who they are, until they decide to reveal themselves.
The army doctor visits the local Mexican doctor. The Mexican is mad because he knows the Americans have been torturing their captives.
The Americans are setting up bear traps to catch the rebels. Chicogrande and Guanzaras are trying to get to the Mexican doctor for help. Chicogrande tells the young fellow that if the Americans capture him, he will be tortured. He won't have his tongue anymore, won't have any teeth left and he will be castrated. Guanzaras says he will die fighting and will take 20 gringos with him.
Today the army is going out on a mission, while Chicogrande and Guanzaras are just coming into town. Guanzaras goes to see the doctor as just another patient.
Fenton hates the Mexicans and he shows it too much to the Mexican officer with him.
Chicogrande meets up with the doctor at a designated place in the mountains. The doctor says back in town they are holding his wife and son as hostages. The doctor has a machete with him and says he will use it if he has to defend himself. He also tells Chicogrande that the both of them are on the same side in this war. The doctor goes ahead and Chicogrande and the young fellow wait to see if anyone is following them. The two Indian scouts with the army are following the doctor. The Mexicans let the scouts pass by them.
The Mexican officer tells Fenton: "Your position in Mexican territory is unsustainable. Name a reasonable deadline." Fenton defends his presence here, but the Mexican officer says he wants the army out of Mexican territory in 24 hours.
Fenton gets a message from the Chief of Staff saying that they want assurances that Fenton is making progress toward finding Villa. The army is to proceed without compunction to force the civilian population to cooperate.
A woman selling Mexican food to the public tells Villa's two men that old man Rezendes told the gringos that there are two of Villa's men around. She adds: "Look for him." Furthermore, they have to get out of the area because the army is going to start questioning everybody.
Chicogrande tells Guanzaras to get out of town and wait for him. He will stay in town alone for awhile. Chicogrande goes up to see Rezendes. Rezendes knows the visitor is a Villa man. Chicogrande asks him why he snitched? Rezendes asks him where are his three sons? Chicogrande doesn't know. Rezendes sats if the gringos could get rid of Villa, then his sons could come back home. Now Chicogrande takes Rezendes outside into the woods. He stabs the man to death and then pulls him deeper in the woods. Chicogrande, however, steps on one of the bear traps and the gringos grab him.
And now Chicogrande will probably be whipped to death. He is whipped but not dead yet. The doctor treats the man's wounds, while he protests that the major doesn't want information. Rather he wants to mutilate and kill and do it slowly. Fenton is not affected by the doctor's condemnation.
The doctor writes his grandfather saying that they have become a band of savages. "We have imposed barbarism." Then he tears up the letter.
The cavalry catches Guanzaras. They drag him down the main street of the town. At night, the townspeople show up with lit torches to protest the torture going on at headquarters. The Mexican officer tells his aide to arm all the personnel, for tomorrow the gringos are going back to their side of the border, whether they like it or not.
The Mexican colonel who despises Fenton tells how he was in charge of hanging 20 Villista men. He did it on command from General Murguia. He admits is was hard for him to hang the 20 men.
Chicogrande and Guanzaras are reunited after being whipped. Fenton starts re-questioning Guanzaras. Chicogrande, fearing that Guanzaras might talk, kills him with a pitchfork. Fenton shoots Chicogrande in the back.
Fenton gives the order that the troops will move out at 0600 hours. Chicogrande is still alive. He drags himself over to Guanzaras, but the man is definitely dead. The doctor comes to see the damage and Chicogrande forces the man to give him his pistol. Chicogrande says the doctor will cooperate or he will die right here.
Fenton goes to the tavern and the prostitutes. The three dwarf prostitutes have been given a message to "take care" of Fenton.
Virtually the whole town surrounds Chicogrande and the doctor. They escort them away from headquarters. Then a man brings a horse for Chicogrande and another for the doctor.
The woman who sells Mexican food finds a drunken American soldier and kills him with a heavy rock. She then stabs him in the back with her knife.
The Americans start leaving the town and the people celebrate the occasion with fireworks and music. The three dwarf prostitutes cut up Fenton's hair and part of his beard. He looks a real mess. The three dwarf prostitutes are now hanged.
The Americans continue heading north, but Fenton takes a small group with him and heads back south.
Chicogrande is trying to take the doctor to see Villa, but the Mexican is so weak that he keeps falling off his horse. The doctor says he won't make it and neither will he. Chicogrande tells him that they will make it. A little later, the Mexican falls off his horse in a wheat field.
The two scouts track the two men.
The doctor rigs up a back support for Chicogrande and then ties the Mexican and the back support into place on his horse. Then they start moving again. They make it to the hideout, but by that time Chicogrande is dead. The doctor alone goes to treat Villa.
Fenton and his men see Chicogrande on his horse up ahead of them. They pursue the man. The horse suddenly just stops. The horse turns around. The Americans discover that Chicogrande is already dead.
"Three months later, General Francisco Villa at the head of the newly reassembled 400-man 'Division del Norte' army occupied the plaza of Rio Florido taking prisoner its military chief, Hortencio Cancino. Cancino was hanged on the 4th of July of 1916, chosen for being the anniversary of the United State's independence."
What makes this version of the Pancho Villa legend important is the Mexican stress that the Americans were torturing their Mexican captives. This point appears a lot in the film. The American commander is portrayed as a sadist who enjoys inflicting pain on his fellow human beings. Of course, Villa himself often used hangings to eliminate the enemy. There was at least one time where he hanged hundreds of men fighting for Caranza. He probably used some torture, but just how much is not known. There is a quote from Viila: "The time you spend torturing a man is time you could spend dancing and making love." I will try to keep my eyes open for more information on the use of torture by the two sides.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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