The Young Land (May 1, 1959)
Released May 1, 1959: Just after the Mexian American war An American shoots down a Mexican in the street, and the question is one of justice - different people see it in different ways.
Directed by Ted Tetzlaff
Written by John Reese and Norman S. Hall.
The Actors: Patrick Wayne (Sheriff Jim Ellison), Yvonne Craig (Elena de la Madrid), Dennis Hopper (Hatfield Carnes), Dan O'Herlihy (Judge Millard Isham), Roberto De La Madrid (Don Roberto de la Madrid), Cliff Ketchum (Deputy Marshal Ben Stroud), Ken Curtis (Lee Hearn), Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (Deputy Santiago), Ed Sweeney (Sully / Kelly), John Michael Quijada (Vaquero), Miguel Camacho (Miguel), Tim Tiner (Charlie Higgins, court clerk), Carlos Romero (Francisco Quiroga), Eddie Juaregui (drifter), Los Reyes De Chapala (Mariachis), Mario Arteaga (Mario a Vaquero), Charles Heard (tough guy), Cliff Lyons (Reynolds, the jury foreman), Randy Sparks (singer).
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Is a full color cowboy tale still a good western for the lover of old movies? I mean, the best old cowboy movies are in black and white, with gun-toting tough guys that shoot first and ask questions later. This is a 1959 movie that bravely tackles the racial divisions between the white man American and the Mexican American. In 1959 America was just beginning it's hard look at the differences between white Americans and African Americans. It was just two years earlier that President Eisenhower sent national troops to escort the first African American teens into an all white high scool. This movie airs some of the bigotry present in all of us, and instead of a story about African Americans vs white Americans, they chose to tell a tale about southern California just after the Mexican-American war, in the new young state.
As the movie opens, a young Dennis Hopper, playing Hatfield Carnes, is forcing a Mexican out into the street and challenging him to draw his gun. Hatfield is pretty good with a gun, and quickly shoots the Mexican down, and then for good measure pumps another two shots into him. John Wayne's son Patrick (Sheriff Jim Ellison) walks over to him and demands that Hatfield surrender his gun to him, and escorts him to jail. Hatfield complains that he didn't do anything wrong, he just needed to kill a Mexican. Next we see a dignified judge arrive on horseback to hold the trial.
In this border town, made up of white Americans and Mexican Americans, will there be a fair trial? Can you define 'fair'? It's tougher than one might think, especially in young America. When you put 12 men in a room to decide the fate of Hatfield, what will they decide? And of the 12 jurors, some of them are Mexican Americans. This happens about a third of the way into the movie, and for much of the movie, as the jury deliberates, we learn more about this divided town and it's characters. I won't tell you what happens when the jury returns, but trust me, you will stop eating your popcorn and watch with rapt attention as the story reaches it's excellent apex.
It was fun watching very young tough guy Dennis Hopper, but Wayne? Duke's son is only 18 years old when he starred in his first major motion picture, but he appears to be about 15, with his soft-spoken teenage voice and quiet mannerisms. Certainly not the tough image that papa had when he was 18. If you love the rough and tough John Wayne cowboy, you may not like his son's performance, but keep watching, and see if the young kid doesn't do his papa proud in the blockbuster cowboy man-to-man ending.
Okay, you can start eating your popcorn again . . .