For this latest Western Night gathering, Johnny D. Boggs brought THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ, a little seen film when it was released in 1983, but one that still resonates forty years later.
It opens with a pursuit underway. Gregorio Cortez (Edward James Olmos), scared and on horseback, uses every skill and resource he knows to escape capture by a determined posse closing in. The reason for this chase is revealed “Rashomon”-style with posse members telling a reporter riding with them how a sheriff went to arrest Cortez for horse stealing and Cortez shot him to death. Different perspectives and different interpretations, very subtle, result in a devastating and tragic turn of events.
The acting is strong throughout. In particular, Olmos as Cortez conveys anguish and doubt over his actions and their consequences to himself and others.
The script by Victor Villaseñor and Robert M. Young, who also directed, is based on a true Texas manhunt and the book, WITH HIS PISTOL IN HIS HAND, by Américo Paredes. Young brings a documentary feel to film (he started out making documentaries), and there is a certain immediacy to much of the proceedings, though a few different editing choices might have helped in reducing some redundancy. Also, the filmmakers take the bold step of not using subtitles for the Spanish spoken in the film, but it’s an effective choice as it conveys part of the mystery and misunderstanding that drives the story.
Originally shot on 16mm, it has been digitally restored and the images are as sharp as the landscape where it was filmed, including old towns and scrub-covered vistas in Texas and New Mexico.
With a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes, THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ is available on DVD, Blu-ray and freevee but with ads.
Along with Johnny, record nine-time Spur Award-winning author and Owen Wister Award winner (take a look at his A THOUSAND TEXAS LONGHORNS), our group includes Kirk Ellis, Emmy-winning screenwriter and producer of HBO’s JOHN ADAMS and TNT’s INTO THE WEST, Kirk’s wife, Sheila, David Morrell, award-winning author and New York Times best-selling author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that introduced the character Rambo, and Robert Nott, award-winning journalist and author of several books on Western films, including his most recent THE FILMS OF BUDD BOETTICHER