I prolonged my 1947 viewing a bit to be able to see this long unavailable film which was just released on DVD March 17. It was certainly worth the wait!
Tough guy ‘Lucky Gagin’ arrives in San Pablo, Mexico with two aims. One is to collect blackmail money from Frank Hugo (Fred Clark) for an incriminating check in his possession and the other is to kill Hugo, who had his friend Shorty bumped off when Shorty tried the same stunt. Gagin is clearly tougher than he is smart and ‘Lucky’ may be quite the misnomer. On arrival, he acts like the personification of the Ugly American, disrespecting all the Mexicans he meets while lavishly tipping in compensation.
Despite his ill treatment, naive teenage villager Pila spots Gagin as a sure murder victim and persists in sticking to him like glue. Gagin also finds an ally in Pancho (Thomas Gomez), who runs the merry-go-round at the fiesta then taking place. (It is from the wooden horses that the film gets its title.)
It takes Gagin a while to catch up with Hugo. In the meantime, he runs into a U.S. government agent who is anxious to get his hands on the check as evidence. After he does locate his man, Gagin winds up bleeding for most of the rest of the story while being ministered to by Pilar and hidden by Poncho.
The plot does not bear 5 minutes of serious scrutiny but the whole thing is so stylishly done that I didn’t mind a bit. Russell Metty’s lighting and the caustic dialogue carried me along oblivious to the many lapses in logic. My one complaint is that the story had a perfect natural ending but continued for another few minutes so we could all go home happier.
Thomas Gomez was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Ride the Pink Horse.
Trailer – does not reflect the beautiful restoration on the just-released DVD