South of the Rio Grande
Tom Lea's novel on which "The Wonderful Country" is quite possibly a fantastic read, I don't know but I am sure it is a lot more interesting than this disjointed western. Here we have a story of American who fled to Mexico having killed his father's murderer but when he accidentally is forced to stay North of the border for a couple of months feels he has a chance to start a new back where he belongs rather than returning to being a gunman for the Castro family. And to be honest whilst this story has a familiarity about it with a redemption aspect how it plays out is painful and dull as various elements from romantic relations to battles are cut down to below the minimum to make them work. Now some may enjoy this, the requirement to read between the lines and come up with their own depth but for me it didn't work and felt unfinished.
After murdering the man who murdered his father Martin Brady (Robert Mitchum - Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison) headed south across the Rio Grande to Mexico where he became a hired gun for the Castro family, adopting a Mexican accent and choosing to stay looking dirty as he tries to fit in. But when a short trip back across the Rio Grande to transport guns leaves Brady with a broken leg and stuck in the town of Puerto it gives him chance to ponder whether he can start life afresh North of the border especially as the military and the Texas Rangers are not interested in him for murder but for his expertise and connections down South. But things become more complicated when he and Maj. Colton's wife Helen (Julie London - Saddle the Wind) begin to flirt and he ends up killing a man in self defence forcing him once more to flee south of the Rio Grande.
Because I really was disappointed with "The Wonderful Country" I searched out some other opinions on the movie to see if I had missed something and found a surprising amount of love for this movie with in depth analysis on the deeper meaning of the movie with some of this analysis sounding like a psychiatrists report on a patient rather than a movie review. I guess I must have watched a very different movie to these people who found such depth because what I got was a simple redemption movie. Here we have Martin Brady who having done one bad thing became a bad man for the Castro family in Mexico yet an accident whilst he is north of the Rio Grande gives him an opportunity to start over except trouble seems to come his way making it not so simple. It's a familiar and simple storyline which sees Martin basically feeling like he has no real place south of the border but equally no place North of it because of how he perceives his reputation.
But this simple storyline seems to have been edited to bits making it feel like various elements such as Martin's relationship with Helen underdone. What we get is a suggestion of fondness via a lot of looks and a scene shortly before Martin commits murder again that he fears that she could jeopardize his chance to start afresh, yet later on there is a suggestion that there was more going on. Now I know I became bored whilst watching this but I am sure I didn't miss something as important as something more between Martin and Helen. And it is the same throughout with everything seemingly condensed to a few lines and looks leaving us to make up our own mind to what these lines really mean and what may have happened. It's not for me and is why there is so much analysis in some reviews of the deeper context.
A knock on effect of this is that "The Wonderful Country" becomes a one man show because whilst the cast includes Julie London, Gary Merrill and Pedro Armendáriz there characters suffer from being underwritten. So what we have is Robert Mitchum playing close to a solitary man who keeps his thoughts and emotions hidden whilst making us know through the simple way he stares that he is dangerous. Considering the hack job on the story it is a good performance from Mitchum keeping the Mexican accent under control so that it doesn't become comical.
What this all boils down to is that "The Wonderful Country" ended up disappointing because whether intentional or not the fact it becomes disjointed and bitty makes it extremely dull with a feeling of being released before being completed.