Walker (1987)

 

 

 

Director:    Alex Cox

Starring:     Ed Harris (William Walker), Richard Masur (Ephraim Squier), Ren Assa (Doctor), Rene Auberjonois (Maj. Siegfried Hennington), Keith Szarabajka (Timothy Crocker), Sy Richardson (Capt. Hornsby), Xander Berkeley (Byron Cole), John Diehl (Stebbins), Peter Boyle (Cornelius Vanderbilt), Marlee Matlin (Ellen Martin), Alfonso Arau (Raousset), Pedro Armendriz Jr. (MuZoz), Roberto Lpez Espinoza (Mayorga), Gerrit Graham (Norvell Walker), Helene Farber (Streetwalker).

Poor picture.  Ed Harris as William Walker, an American soldier of fortune, who, with the help of the robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, becomes president of Nicaragua.  

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1853.  Sonora, Mexico.  The American William Walker is commanding his private army in a so-called attempt to free Mexico from dictatorship.  He is involved in a battle and is losing a lot of his men.  He is informed that there will be no reinforcements coming and there is no water or food.  In fact, he is trapped.  He prays for a miracle and gets a small one in a dust storm.  He is able escape with the help of the dust. 

Back in the United States, Walker is tried, but is found not guilty.  His deaf girlfriend wants him to settle down so they can start a family.  She is a great opponent of slavery and does not like Walker's associates.  Walker travels to see the robber baron Commodore Vanderbilt.  The rich man wants to control all transportation in Nicaragua and thinks Walker will be the man to take over in that country.  A civil war rages there and it should be easy pickings.  When he gets back to his girl friend, however, she is dead of cholera. 

Walker gathers together 58 men called Walker's Immortals.  They go by boat from San Francisco to Nicaragua.  In the new country they are wait for support from the Liberal Party and from two generals in particular, but they get little help.  Walker tells his men that they all honored guests and must behave well while in Nicaragua.  The men, however, go wild.  Walker responds by executing several of his men by firing squad. 

Walker decides to march on Rivas.  He tells his men that their cause is a righteous one.  In the small town, however, he and his men are ambushed and many of the Americans are killed.  There is mass confusion in the attacking army and they have to retreat to San Juan del Sur.  There Walker receives the news that the enemy forces have been so damaged that they have abandoned Rivas.  "You've won."  A great cheer goes up and the army decides to march to and take the town of Grenada. 

They take Grenada.  While Walker speaks to an assembled throng, someone shoots him in the left shoulder.  But he is saved by a packet of letters he carries in his coat pocket.  Walker decides to make himself the the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nicaragua, while he lets the Nicaraguan General Corral be the president.  In an attempt to influence and perhaps control Walker, the General's wife has sex with him. 

Walker constructs a theatre in town and starts an English newspaper.  Walker's two brothers arrive, but he is not happy to see them.  At night, Walker cries for his deceased girlfriend.  During the day, he dispenses a lot of public whippings of native Nicaraguans and members of his own forces. 

Walker learns that a call has gone out for all the peoples of Latin America to unite against the invasion by the Gringos.  He arrests General Corral and has him shot by a firing squad.  Walker then makes himself dictator.  Many guerilla wars begin, but Walker does not even bother to stop them.  He says it would take too many men and would be too discouraging.  

Another company wants to make a deal with Walker to force Vanderbilt out of Nicaragua.  The company representatives tell the dictator that Vanderbilt is exploiting him.  He is being paid too little for what he has done and is doing.  Walker's advisers try to tell him it is suicide, but he has a childish outburst of anger which silences them.  Walker revokes Vanderbilt's charter. 

When Vanderbilt learns of the double-cross, he diverts all the resources from Nicaragua to Panama.  Things in Nicaragua become very bad and the men are on the verge of mutiny.  Walker tells his men he has found a solution to their problems: slavery.  When his black supporters hear this, they abandon Walker. 

June 29, 1855.  Battle of Rivas.  Mrs. Corral comes in to see Walker to try to get him to behave better.  But it is of no use.  So she decides to shoot Walker instead.  Luckily for the dictator, the woman is a terrible shot and he escapes death.  The assassin leaves and Walker gives the command to burn down the town.  The men set the town afire.  The villagers fight back and kill more of Walker's men. 

Having taken many casualties, Walker shouts that it is the destiny of the United States to be in Nicaragua, so they better get used to it.  We'll be back time and time again.  We will never abandon the cause of Nicaragua. 

Political satire enters the movie.  A helicopter lands in the village and American troops jump out to secure the village.  They put only the Americans on the chopper.  Walker refuses the offer to take him out of Nicaragua. 

The next scene is Walker being executed by a firing squad on a beach. 

 

The movie is somewhat of a farce.  They paint Walker as so incompetent and stubborn that he ruins everything he touches.  But the jackass refuses to recognize just how disastrous a leader he is.  He is so bad that the movie is almost funny at times.  My wife thought the whole thing was just a joke, but I told her the story is based on the life of a real man. 

The use of the helicopter at the end and modern American troops emphasizes the continued abuse of Latin America and South America by the United States of America.  American policy is all about protecting American interests.  They do all in their power to make sure all leftist movements and governments are destroyed.  For their purposes, it is much better to have a right-wing dictator in power than to take a chance on the natives trying to build a more just nation and in the process threaten the economic interests of the United States.  The name of the game in the western hemisphere is still imperialism.    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1824  --  birth of William Walker in Nashville, Tennessee. 

1838  --  at age 14, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Nashville.

He traveled through Europe, studying medicine at the universities of Edinburgh and Heidelberg.

1843  --  at age 19, he received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  He practiced medicine for a while, but then headed for New Orleans, this time to study law.

He practiced law, but as with medicine, for only a while.  He became co-owner and editor of the New Orleans Crescent.  

1849  --  he moved to San Francisco, California, and worked as a journalist.  In San Francisco he fought three duels and was wounded in two of them. 

Walker then thought up the crazy idea of conquering vast regions of Latin America.  The states he would create would be run by white English settlers. 

1853 (October 15)  --  with 45 men, Walker decided to start out by conquering the Mexican territories of Baja California and Sonora.  He actually was able to capture the capital La Paz.  He declared himself president of his new state, the Republic of Lower California.  The Mexican government, however, forced Walker to retreat back to California.

Walker was put on trial for conducting an illegal war, but the Manifest Destiny jury acquitted him. 

So, Walker looked around for some other place to conquer.  At the time, a civil war raged in Nicaragua.  He got himself hired as a mercenary for the rebel faction. 

1855 (May 4)  --  with 57 men he said for Nicaragua. 

1855 (September 1)  --  Walker was able to defeat the Nicaraguan national army at La Virgen.

1855 (November)  --  he conquered the capital of Granada and took control of the country.  He set up a puppet president Patricio Rivas. 

1856 (May 20)  --  the whole thing was illegal, but that did not stop U.S. President Franklin Pierce from recognizing Walker's regime.

Walker's next plan was to conquer Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.  He actually was able to recruit one thousand American mercenaries for the project.  Because he saw great opportunities for riches in Nicaragua, the wealthy tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt transported the men for free.  But then Walker stupidly offered sweet heart deals to rivals of Vanderbilt.  The rich man then successfully pressured the U.S. government to withdraw its recognition of Walker's regime.  And Vanderbilt did many other things to stop any further Walker successes. 

1856 (July)  --  Walker set himself up as Nicaragua's president.  Losing support, Walker suddenly made an appeal to US southerners by declaring slavery legal in Nicaragua.  A New Orleans politician Pierre Soul raised some support in the South for Walker's war.

1857 (May 1)  --  his army decimated by cholera and massive defections, Walker surrendered to Commander Charles H. Davis of the U.S. Navy.

Back in New Orleans, Walker was greeted as a hero. 

In six months, he set off on another expedition, but was arrested by U.S. Navy under Commodore Hiram Paulding. 

1860  --  Walker published War in Nicaragua about his Central American campaign. 

Never to be discouraged, Walker landed in the city of Trujillo, Honduras.  But he now fell into the custody of the Navy, this time the British Navy. The British thought Walker a real menace and so they turned him over to the Honduran authorities.

1860 (September 12)  --  at age 36, Walker was executed by firing squad and buried in Trujillo.

 

 

Back To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)