Under Strange Flags (1937)
Director: Irvin Willat.
Starring: Tom Keene (Tom Kenyon), Luana Walters (Dolores de Vargas), Budd Buster (Tequilla), Maurice Black (General Pancho Villa), Roy D'Arcy (Captain Morales), Paul Sutton (General Barranca), Paul Barrett (Denny de Vargas), Jane Wolfe (Mrs. Kenyon), Chris-Pin Martin (Lopez), Donald Reed (Garcia).
Pancho Villa prevents some Americans from getting their mined-in-Mexico silver
1914. "Mexico in the throes of the people's revolution. In the mining districts of Sonora, lonely pack trains proceed with caution between the retreating armies of General Barranca and the advancing hordes of Pancho Villa."
Tom Kenyon is transporting silver from the La Paloma Mine and is very worried that General Barranca and his men might try to rob the silver.
At an estate the master is a big supporter of General Barranca and the government of Mexico. At the home the master takes care of his sister. He says he is going to Casa Grande. Sister is concerned because Casa Grande is the headquarters of General Barranca and Tom Kenyon says that's dangerous. Brother says that Tom may be running the La Paloma Mine, but he isn't running sister's big brother. He says he's tired of always hearing about what Tom says and what Tom does.
An older woman arrives to tell Dolores that Pancho Villa's men have been spotted in the valley. And the talk is that Pancho Villa himself stayed overnight at El Rancho Grande.
Tom Kenyon and his assistant Tequila are leading the pack train carrying the silver from the La Paloma Mine. A federale patrol under an officer sees the pack train coming and sets up an ambush. Tom sees a soldier up in the rocks so he borrows Tequila's huge sombrero and sticks it on a dummy and starts the horse with the dummy tied to it down the road. The soldiers shoot the hat off the dummy and Tom knows its an ambush. He takes two of his men and goes up into the rocks. There they see the soldiers and start firing on them. One of the men quickly drops after being hit by a bullet.
Tequila retrieves his treasured sombrero. After he retrieves it, he sees Villa's officer, Lopez, and his men riding toward the sound of the firing. He goes up into the rocks to warn Tom that Villa's men are on their way. Tom goes to try and hide the pack train. The firing continues, but then the officer in charge sees Lopez coming too. He and his men run to their horses and try to get out of the area before Villa's men get them, but they run right into Lopez and his men.
The officer barely makes it back to Barranca's camp. He says most of his men are dead or wounded and he only got away because he jumped down and then off the cliff. Sitting on Barranca's right is Denny in a military uniform. Denny figures that Tom must have turned back and Barranca thinks this means that the silver is still at La Paloma.
Alone, Tom and Tequila throw the silver down into an abandoned well.
Tom comes to the Vargas house. Tom and Dolores kiss. A little later Tom tells his girl that Barranca must have been tipped off about the shipment, because his men set up and ambush of the pack train, but he and Tequila managed to save the gold anyway. And now he tells Dolores that he is getting her and his mother back across the northern border into the USA. And Denny is also going with the women.
Denny arrives and is determined not to leave Mexico. Tom is mad seeing Denny in the government uniform. He says if Villa catches Denny in that uniform, he'll put Denny up before a firing squad. Denny says that Barranca is the only true patriot left in Mexico. He goes to leave the estate, but Tom says he's not going to leave. Denny pulls out his pistol to make sure he gets past Tom, but Tom takes the pistol from him. The pistol fires when the men fight for the pistol. That brings the government troops onto the patio to see what is going on. They ask the captain if he needs any help, but Denny says no. He takes the pistol back from Tom and he and the soldiers march away from the estate.
Mother Kenyon comes to investigate the noise. She asks Tom what did those soldiers want? Tom says it looks like Denny is headed for trouble.
Lopez investigates the silver mine and finds it closed. He tells his men let's go, but they quickly run right into a federale patrol. Lopez captures Denny. Tom says he and Tequila will go see Villa and get Denny back.
Lopez takes Denny and three federales to headquarters and throws them in jail.
Villa is in his ornate office with his feet up on his desk. He calls out for Morales, a federale soldier, who is a double-spy. Lopez comes into Villa's office and says that he caught four prisoners. And one of the four is a captain. Just then the telephone rings. Morales picks up the phone and Barranca is put on the phone with Morales. He says Villa can execute the three soldier captives, but the captain must be saved. A little later Morales tells Villa that he can't kill the captain, because he promised President Madera to give all officers the benefit of a court marshal. Villa consents to the court marshal.
Tom and Tequila arrive. Tom asks the two guards to see General Villa. They let Tom go see him, but say Tequila has to remain outside. Tom runs into Morales and tells him he wants to see Denny de Vargas. Morales lets Denny out of his jail cell. He tells Denny there's a horse for him just outside wall and lets him go. Denny is glad to be free again.
Now Morales tricks Tom into stepping into the jail cell to see Denny. Morales shoves Tom deep into the cell and quickly locks the cell door. One of the soldiers asks if Tom is a friend of the captain. Tom says the captain is more like a brother than a friend. The prisoner says that Barranca has not told the captain, but the general wants to get the sliver from the La Paloma Mine first. Then he will have his soldiers destroy the mine so Villa's men cannot work it. The miners who did work the mines will be made soldiers and their women will become soldierettes. And when Barranca gets everything he wants, they will shoot Captain de Vargas.
Tom and the three federales are called in before Villa and all are accused of working for Barranca. Tom tells the General that he is not guilty. There's been a mistake. Villa condemns him to death. Tom gets angry and says that this is an outrage. He demands that he be allowed to speak with the American consul. That falls on deaf ears, so Tom pulls out his pistol and says he has something to say to Villa and Morales before he gets put to death. The problem is that Tom's pistol is empty of bullets and Villa knows it. He has his guard grab hold of Tom. Villa now says Tom surely will die because he threatened the life of Pancho Villa. Tom and the three federales are taken back to the jail cell.
Mother Kenyon comes to see Pancho Villa. She pleads for Villa to let Tom go. Villa at first says he doesn't have Tom, but she sees Tom's watch on Villa's desk. Villa tells her to go away or maybe Morales can help her. Mother Kenyon insists that only Pancho Villa can save her innocent son. She says she has the right to plead for the life of her son. She keeps pleading, gets frustrated with Villa and now she says Villa is nothing but a butcher. A soldier takes Mother Kenyon away.
Villa is upset at being called a butcher. So he sends a soldier to tell Morales to bring the Americano to him. Morales comes in quickly to talk Villa out of this irregular action. Villa asks him who is running this army, Morales or him? Morales has to back down and Tom is sent in to speak with General Villa.
Villa says Tom's mother came to plead for his life, but he can't just let Tom ride out of here. Tom gives Villa his word of honor that if Villa lets Tom go, he will return whenever Villa calls him to come back. Villa laughs at this, but he wants Mother Kenyon to know that he permitted her son to visit her. But Tom will have to return if Villa calls for him and, then, he will see if Tom actually keeps his word of honor and returns. He wants to see if Tom is as good as his mother claims him to be. Villa tells Tom to be back here tomorrow at 4 o'clock. Tom leaves.
Morales is outraged and wants to know why Villa let the man go? Villa says because the man gave him his word of honor. Morales says Villa has made a big mistake and this Americano is going to cause Villa a lot of problems. Villa gets mad at Morales again. After Morales leaves, Villa yells: "Anyway, I like him!"
Morales telephones Barranca telling him that he must kill this Tom Kenyon because he knows too much about both sides in this Mexican Civil War. Tom makes it back to see his mother and she is absolutely delighted. Tequila is also very happy to see Tom.
Tom and Tequila come to see Dolores. He surprises her and she is surprised. She tells him that now that she has gotten Tom back, they must leaves for the USA. Tom asks what about Denny? She says Denny has made his own choice. Denny and his federales come to the ranch. With Denny is Barranca himself. Denny tells Tom that they have to know where that shipment of silver is. Tom tries to get away, but he is surrounded by federales.
At headquarters Tom tells Denny that once Barranca gets his hands on the silver, Denny's life won't be worth anything. Barranca and Denny leave and the soldiers take Tom out to an ant hill, take off his shirt and tie him in place on top of the ant hill. Tequila gets some fireworks and ties them to a rope that he secures around the neck of his pet goat. He sets the long string of firecrackers on fire and when the firecrackers go off the goat runs around the area trying to get away from the explosions. This scares the soldiers away and Tequila can now untie Tom from the ropes.
Tom puts his shirt on, tells Tequila that he must go warn Denny and tell Dolores to watch out because Barranca will be out for vengeance. Now Tom gets on Tequila's horse and rides out.
Barranca is very angry when his men tell him that Tom got away. And he's had enough of the soft-hearted Denny. He tells his men to remove Denny's uniform off him and take away his gun.
Barranca telephones Morales and says if Tom Kenyon ever gets to Villa, it will be Morales who will face a firing squad.
Tom arrives when Villa and Lopez are out riding. Morales seizes the opportunity to shoot Tom dead by firing squad. Just before the men are to fire, Morales says to Tom that he can escape death if he tells Morales where the silver is hidden. Tom says he didn't tell Barranca, so why should he tell Morales? So the execution will resume.
Villa hurries back as it's four o'clock and he wants to see if Kenyon has returned like he promised. The guard at the gate says the execution of Kenyon is taking place right now. Villa rides his horse hard into the compound and stops the execution. He asks Morales by whose authority is he executing the Americano? Morales doesn't answer so Tom answers for him. Morales is doing this by the authority of his friend Barranca. Villa orders Lopez to use the firing squad to execute Morales. Villa walks with Tom and talks about his pet rooster. Shots are heard from the execution yard.
Tom asks Villa for his help. Barranca and his men are getting ready to destroy La Paloma and then the town. Villa is very happy to help.
At La Paloma Mine, Barranca's men are tying Tequila to the framework for the water bucket on the well where the silver is hidden. Barranca demands to know where the silver is hidden. Tequila says Barranca is just wasting his time asking him question. So Barranca is about to shoot Tequila, when Kenyon and Villa's men arrive firing as they ride. Barranca is hit with a bullet. Tequila has also been shot, but he will live. Now Villa asks if Tom remembers where the silver is? Tom tells Villa to come with him. They walk the few steps over to the abandoned well and Tom takes off the wood covering part of the well. He reaches inside the well and takes out a silver ingot. Both Kenyon and Villa have a good laugh about the silver being right under their feet.
This is a simple B western of an hour in length. But it is set in Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution (aka Mexican Civil War) that lasted from 1910 to 1920. The dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz had been overthrown by the liberals. The liberals forming the government did not want to carry out land reforms that would have helped the peasants. So the more liberal faction took up arms against the liberal government. For the more liberal forces, Pancho Villa was the leader of the northern army and Emiliano Zapata was the leader of the southern army. The United States ultimately chose to support the government forces and put an end to the dreams of a fairer, more equal democracy for Mexico.
Pancho Villa is a great hero of liberal forces in Mexico. In this movie they make Villa look very fair and decent. He helps out an Americano named Tom Kenyon to oppose a wicked government general named Barranca who is out to steal the silver from Kenyon's and de Vargas' La Paloma Mine. Kenyon is set to marry Dolores de Vargas when Barranca starts causing trouble for Tom. Tom has to get Villa to trust him, so Villa will help him fight Barranca.
The film is black and white and is not easy to watch. The voices are hard to hear and the production of the film is of low quality. I especially liked the acting work of Tom Keene (as Tom Kenyon), Budd Buster (Tequilla, ) and Maurice Black (as General Pancho Villa).
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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