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"Filmed in the wilds of Brazil!" was the draw for Robert Stillman's production of The Americano. Stillman had begun as an assistant director and production manager, and after working with Stanley Kramer on the socially conscious Home of the Brave, produced the notorious blacklist magnet The Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me! In 1952 Stillman put together an upscale production with big star Glenn Ford. It was to be filmed in Brazil - not in Rio but in the Northern city of Sao Paulo and deep in the interior plains of the Matto Grasso. Included in the deal was director Budd Boetticher and Spanish star Sarita Montiel, who would make her American debut. 1 Filming was halted in just a few weeks by bad weather, disagreeable shooting conditions and a hold-up in crew pay. The re-start only happened quite a bit later, when all the parties involved decided that finishing it would be better than suing each other. After a break Robert Stillman moved into Television work, with much better luck.
RKO was Stillman's main producing partner, and the film was released in 1955 in glowing Technicolor prints. But it wasn't quite the same movie as had been envisioned three years earlier. Director Boetticher had reportedly gotten only about ten minutes of film in the can, and very little of it remains in the movie. The balance of the picture was filmed in "the wilds" of Corona, California, just 65 miles East of Los Angeles. Sexy star Sarita Montiel was long gone, and replaced by German actress Ursula Theiss, who had made pictures for United Artists, Universal and Columbia. She may have been tapped for The Americano on the recommendation of William Castle, who replaced Boetticher as director.
The script by Guy Trosper and Leslie T. White shows signs of simplification between production attempts. Texan Sam Dent (Glenn Ford) contracts to deliver three blooded Brahma bulls to a wealthy rancher deep in the interior of Brazil who wants to improve his stock. After a long train ride, Dent is told by the colorful Brazilian cowboy Manuel Silvera (Cesar Romero) that his client is dead. Silvera offers to help him escort the bulls to the ranch. When he arrives Dent is told that Manuel is a bandit with a price on his head. His client's successor Bento Hermany (Frank Lovejoy) then tries to hire him to run his vast ranch. Dent declines but he's robbed of his fee and must stay to get it back. That's when rival rancher Marianna (Ursula Theiss) tells him that Bento is a murderer intent on grabbing all the land, and killing all the farmers that try to homestead. Dent wants no part of the conflict but has little choice -- Bento has arranged it so that he is charged with the murder of Marianna's ranch foreman.
The Americano is an odd production. We expect to see an exotic adventure in a different place, a precursor of Quigley Down Under in which a Yank cowpoke deals out justice and spreads goodwill in a foreign land. Movies had been made about Argentine gauchos, but Americans had little idea of what a Brazilian cowboy looked like. The answer is that only someone as naturally self confident as Cesar Romero could wear the costume and not look foolish.
As it turns out, there's little of Brazil and almost no Brazilian flavor in this show. If we see real scenes in the Matto Grasso, most everything looks like Southern California anyway. Cuban-American Romero's bandit is the only supporting role that seems remotely foreign. Frank Lovejoy is a Yankee through and through, and Ursula Theiss is as Brazilian as Schnitzel und Strudel. She makes almost no impression, and wouldn't do much better in the next year's Bandido for UA. She dresses in clean white dresses, despite living in the Brazilian equivalent of a native hut. Mexican-American actors play rural policemen. We know the secondary baddie, Cristino (Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr.) is a bad egg, as he has a big scar on his face.
Glenn Ford literally holds the picture together with his easygoing manner and natural charm. His Sam Dent tries to stay neutral when the glad-handing Bento pulls all kinds of underhanded tricks; he intervenes only to stop Cristino's men from raping a woman. Sam takes good care of the Brahma bulls, while Manuel shows him how to distract the deadly Piranha fish so they can cross a stream. Grinning cutthroat Manuel turns out to be the most honorable man on the plains, no, Pampas, oops, Matto Grasso.
To get some real Brazilian flavor into The Americano, Stillman and RKO hired Cuban-Spaniard Xavier Cugat to come up with some appropriate songs. They're sung by the bandleader's wife Abbe Lane, a Latin from Brooklyn famous for out-doing Cugat's other love interests in the sex department. Howard Hughes surely approved of the way Ms. Lane flirts with cleavage in her two hip-shaking dance sequences. The disinterest with which Hollywood treats South America is reflected in the fact that Ms. Lane's Teresa is supposed to be an earthy Brazilian local, yet the song she sings is in Spanish, without explanation.
It seems possible that when Sarita Montiel left the movie, her role was split between two characters, Theiss and Lane. Montiel excelled at playing sophisticated women, but was also a terrific dancer (not to mention comedienne). This would explain why Theiss's Marianna lives in a hovel, while Abbe Lane's Teresa does the sexy dancing. Teresa is established as Manuel's girlfriend -- was there originally to be a rivalry between the two men over the Montiel character?
William Castle keeps things clear enough around the ranch houses, but out in the "jungle" the movie loses its feeling of place. We see herds of cattle only in a couple of long shots. Castle does well with a subplot about a little Brazilian boy befriended by Sam Dent -- the sentiment further establishes Dent as a decent guy. The requisite number of betrayals and killings occur to tidy up the story conflict, but the supporting cast is just dropped at the conclusion. Manuel simply walks off screen. Sam Dent tosses his gun away, High Noon- style and exits as well. He's already told Marianna that he was just passing through, even though he apparently spent the night with her: "I never promised you anything."
More disturbing is the film's attitude toward problem solving among South Americans. When that no-account murderer Cristino won't talk, Sam literally suspends him over a couple of hungry alligators (Caimans?) until his tongue loosens up. Maybe The Americano is more honest about U.S. / Latin American relations after all.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of The Americano is an attractive HD transfer of a color element in great shape. Hues are always bright and the grain on view seems a natural quality of early Eastmancolor. Cameraman William Snyder had filmed a number of real Technicolor pictures in the 1940s.
A full discussion of The Americano appears in Peter Ford's biography about his movie-star father, Glenn Ford: A Life. The aborted filming expedition to Brazil took a lot of time out of Glenn Ford's busy schedule. Before resuming production Ford filmed two entire other movies, The Big Heat and The Violent Men. According to son Peter, his father's decision to make the movie was partly an effort to heal his marriage with Eleanor Powell. Peter can be seen briefly playing a boy in one scene.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Americano Blu-ray rates:
1. As an actress Montiel did the rounds of he-man '50s directors. She made her American debut for Robert Aldrich in Vera Cruz, worked for Sam Fuller in Run of the Arrow and was married to director Anthony Mann for four years.
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