El Tres de Copas (The Cards of Luck, Love and Death) (1986)  





Director:     .

Starring:     Humberto Zurita (Damian), Alejandro Camacho (Pedro), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Cipriano), Enrique Lucero (Ponciano), Gabriela Roel (Casilda), José Carlos Ruiz (Narrator), Maya Zapata.

love triangle set against the Reform War in Mexico (1857-1861), one of the episodes of the long struggle between Liberal and Conservative forces in 19th century Mexico




Spoiler Warning:

This is the story of Damian and Pedro.  A sheep shepherd says:  "Don Ponciano knew the story very well."   The speaker lives in Nochistlan.  [Nochistlan is a very small and rural town in Zacatecas, Mexico, that is often referred to as, “La tierra de los musicos” or “The land of the musicians”.]  The two men were born there, in Zacatecas.  They say their parents were English or gringos.  Now Damian's father used to run around with Santana, and he even saved Santana's life in a battle.  Quinceunas himself presented him with some lands in Nochistlan.  Damian's father built his house on that land. 

Now Pedro's father was hung in the capital during one of the many riots at the time.  Damian's father then took Pedro into his home and treated him like an eldest son.  The two boys had a strong bond between them.

The two cowboys, Damian McGregor and Pedro O'Rilley, sign a pay document.  The boys now get paid.  Pedro says:  "An ounce for the dead Frenchman."  The Colonel responds:  "This might be your best pay."  Damian tells the Colonel that they were in service for six years.  The Colonel knows that.  He says the two men fought off Frenchmen, traitorous Mexicans, Belgians, Austrians, Yankees and Confederates in defense of the homeland.  He goes on to say that their independence and freedom is the men's real pay.  The Colonel now calls in Dionisio.  The two brothers leave the office. 

The narrator says that Don Ponciano said the brothers joined Nicolas Romero's guerrillas, known as "The Mountain Lion".  But, anyway, by that time, the brother were already rogues. 

The two brothers decide to go to Nochistlan.    

The narrator says that those were very dire, distrustful times.  When the brothers arrive a veteran of the recent way asks for some money, saying that he fought alongside Regalado in Aviles' hacienda. They go into a bar for something to drink.  In playing cards, Pedro was the Knight of Cups.  The Knight of Coins, Damian, always accompanied him.  Pedro blew his money on the pretty barmaid.  The narrator comments that years later, Casilda told Don Ponciano that Damian knew he had went up against a real card shark. Damian knew he lost because he got the three of cups, the love triangle.  This is the card that heralds ill-formed passions. 

The brothers go to another bar.  Damian plays cards and Pedro spends his time with a prostitute.  The woman who was at the bar all night with Damian at the other bar, now shows up here at their second bar.  This time, she walks away from Damian.  The next time Damian sees the woman, she is with Pedro.  They go upstairs.  Damian looks a little miffed. 

Pedro and the woman start to have sex (brief nudity), but she soon says that she already has a man.  So Pedro and Damian with the woman go over to see the card shark of the other night.  They throw a money purse at him, but the card shark says he won't sell the woman at any price.  The fellow says let the cards settle the matter, but the woman says the card shark will cheat.  Damian decides to let the cards decide, but he brings a new deck to the game. 

Damian wins the match.  The card shark tells him:  "Maybe you lost by winning, but you don't know it yet."  The brothers ride out, with the woman sitting behind Pedro in the saddle. 

The narrator comments:  "Her name was Casilda, and she was trouble from the get-go." 

Pedro tells Damian that they need a wagon.  And he's been thinking they've been on the road for far too long.  It would be good to settle down.  Damian doesn't say anything.  He figures that Casilda will leave them one day and things will go back to normal. 

The trio comes into Nochistlan.  The first person to see them is Rosendo Sanchez, the son of Don Feliciano.  Agapita came out to see them.  Pedro was her first love, but now she has a husband, Atanasio, and two children. The narrator says he never met any of these people, except he did meet Don Ponciano Mendez. 

Ponciano comes out to welcome the riders to town.  He tells them that Meliton passed away about a year after the brothers left.  He was killed in a battle with the traitors by Cuesta del Moral.   He tells Pedro that the town has kept up their house for them.  Now he hands the house key to Pedro.  The brothers and Casilda go to the house.  Watching Casilda, Damian is sexually attracted to her.  And she does not discourage him.  And from that time forward, Damian couldn't sleep well at night. 

The brothers open a general store.  It wasn't a big success but it provided them with enough to get by.  Pedro was very content, but Damian was not.  Gradually Damian stopped working at the store and he became a regular at the local cantina.  He would drink and gamble until dawn.

Damian keeps thinking about Casilda and keeps watching her.  One day Pedro notices that his brother and Casilda seem interested in each other and that makes Pedro a bit uneasy.

One day Damian reached his limit with being fed up with the sedentary way of live.  He left the place and figured he would never return.  He is also determined to forget Casilda.  The narrator laughs about Damian, because he came back home after only nine days of being gone.  But, when he returned, he brought with him a young woman. Casilda looks a little jealous.  The new woman also noticed how Damian and Casilda would watch each other. 

The new woman kneels naked on Damian's bed, but Damian only tells her to leave. He says he doesn't love her anymore.  The narrator says that one day the woman just left, as easily as she had arrived.  And now things went back to the way they were, with Damian drinking and gambling all day.  One of the town's elderly women tells Pedro that Damian is acting strange and she thinks it's because Damian is in love.  Pedro doesn't comment on her remarks.  He then hears the woman talking with two other elderly women.  They say that the three of the trio are living in sin.  "That woman is treacherous, and God will punish her, because those two are gonna kill each other, you'll see."

One day playing cards with Rosendo Sanchez, Damian too learns about the town gossip.  Damian wins again and Rosendo says:  "I should desire someone else's woman, to see if Lady Luck has pity on me."  Damian takes offense at this remark.  The two men start fighting each other with long knives.  Damian lands a blow to the side of the neck and Rosendo dies.  Now Ponciano tells Damian to take his brother and get out of town right now. 

Feliciano Sanchez and his sons are coming for the two brothers.  Pedro tells Damian to get the horses ready.  Meanwhile, Casilda took the money and left.  Pedro looks for the money, and doesn't like it when the money is gone.  He thinks Damian probably took it. 

Feliciano comes with five men.  He tells the damn Englishman to come out and fight, if he's man enough.  He then tells Pedro to stay out of this.  Pedro tells Feliciano to leave.  "Don't cause any more deaths in your family."  Pedro shoots down four of the men.  The other two ride off.  Now the two brothers ride out of town. 

When the brothers are away from the town, Damian asks Pedro about Casilda's leaving.  Pedro says there are women all over everywhere. 

The brothers stop to take a break.  That's when they are captured by four men.   They are members of Cipriano Melquisidor's gang.  The brothers rode with the gang for about a year.  The narrator says that although Cipriano was ruthless, he never killed anybody who wore the red bandanna of the Juaristas.  [Followers of President of Mexico Benito Juarez.]  Cipriano comments about the brothers:  "So you fought with Chief Romero.  These two fought with Lancero's Fifth.  Gabino and I fought with General Escobedo, and we are really proud to have been part of the storming of the Convento de la Cruz, which they now claim surrendered on its own."  He adds:  ". . . we executed Maximiliano [the French Emperor of Mexico]."  Continuing on, he says:  "I learned a lot from General Escobedo, and from Chief Regules, and this other guy, General Arteaga, and Salazar, all of whom were executed by the traitor Mendez in '65.  And Major Gonzalez."

The gang robs a stage coach.  After that, they split up their take.  He tells the new guys that he is going to make them all rich.  And he knows where he can get his hands on over 100 brand new Gringo repeating rifles.   

The gang goes and gets the rifles.  They then go to a brothel.  And who should they meet there, but Casilda. Cipriano found the girl hiding.  He asks her why was she hiding?  Pedro speaks up saying the woman owes him.  She takes off all her jewelry and gives it to Pedro, but he just pushes the jewelry off the table.  She responds:  "If you forgive me, I swear to God you won't regret it."   Pedro tells his brother to go with Casilda to get the rest of what she owes them. 

Upstairs Casilda pleads with Damian to help her, to protect her and she will do anything for him.  Damian starts making love with Casilda. 

Later Damian and Casilda go downstairs.  Damian puts the little jewelry box in front of Pedro, but Pedro says that is Damian's share of the store.  Damian goes over to Casilda sitting at a table and puts the box in front of her.  Then he sits down with her at the table.  Now Cipriano wants to have sex with Casilda.  Casilda grabs a bottle and when Cipriano comes over to her she hits him over the head with the bottle.  Cipriano threatens to stab her to give her a souvenir to remind her of him, but Damian gets in between the two people.  Cipriano stabs Damian and then Pedro shoots Cipriano in the left eye. The narrator says that shortly after this incident, his gang members left him.  They took the rifles themselves and dumped Cipriano along the way, badly injured.

Casilda takes the bag of coins again and runs off.  But this time, both brothers were awake when she did it.  Pedro comes after her and hold outs his hand for Casilda to give him the bag of coins.  He then tells the girl to leave.  She leaves. Damian asks where is Casilda?  She left.

The narrator says that after that the brothers were never the same again.  They're back on the road again.  They blow passed Cipriano walking on the path.  The narrator says Pedro never smiled again and Damian was still scarred on the inside.  Pedro never fell for another woman. 

One day the brothers come upon the site of a shoot-out.  Cipriano caught up with his former gang with the repeating rifles and killed them all.  In the process, however, he himself was killed.   Now the brothers have the rifles.  By this time, says the narrator, the brother weren't really speaking to each other, except to argue.  The brothers return to Nochistlan with the rifles.  They want to sell their house and everything else and go their separate ways. 

At the house they find Casilda again.  She comes over and asks Damian to go with her.  He does so.  Ponciano appears and tells Pedro that the woman has been here for three or four months already.  She reopened the store and is doing alright. 

Casilda shows the store to Damian.  Then Damian and she start making love again. 

Ponciano tells Pedro that after the gun fight Atanasio miraculously saved himself. Torcuato also survived.  The surviving family has sworn vengeance on the brothers. 

The narrator comments that 40 years after these events he's talked about had happened, he went to war with General Natera, after he and some other revolutionaries had hanged Don Ponciano in June of 1913 for being the political head of the dictatorship, and the richest and most powerful man in town.  Ponciano started getting rich after buying the house of the two brothers.

The brothers take the money with them when they start to leave the town.  Casilda tells them:  "Don't leave me with nothing, you bastards."  The brothers sit down at a table to divide the money.  Casilda sits right there.  She lies to Damian saying that Pedro chased her away by threatening to use his knife on her.  The lie doesn't work. 

The guys get into a fight over Casilda.  Then Pedro takes out his pistol.  Casilda sees this and tells Pedro to kill his brother, but Pedro shoots her instead.  Pedro now leaves.  Damian walks right passed Casilda on the floor.  She asks him to help her, but Damian just gets on his horse and leaves.

The brothers reunite saying there are women everywhere.  Just then the brothers are shot off their horses by the family seeking vengeance.  Pedro is killed.  Damian shoots the four assassins, but lets the 14 year old boy live.  He brings the dead body of his brother back into town.  In town Damian is attacked by his former love.  She finishes him off with a number of blows with her scissors to Damian's body. 

Don Ponciano paid for all the funeral expenses.  He marries Casilda, who survived her leg wound, but with a permanent limp.  The narrator adds that Casilda died filthy rich.  Her two sons became very powerful during the Maximato Callista. 


Good western, but only references to various Generals and other who fought during the Reform War.  Most of the men are not mentioned in Wikipedia.  I would have to get a book on the Reform War to makes sense of the numerous references to fighting during the war.  But getting such a book is not going to be easy.   So the many historical references are not very helpful.  The film story was pretty good and has a bit of a twist at the end, but as an historical film it leaves a lot to be desired. 


Historical Background: 

1810-1821 --  War of Independence.

1821-1823  --  Mexican Empire.

1823-1824  --  Provisional Government.

1823-1835  --  First Federal Republic. 

1835-1846  --   Centralist Republic.

1846-1863  --  Second Federal Republic.  Presidents recognized by the Conservatives during the Reform War.

spring of 1846 to the fall of 1847  --  Mexican-American War. 

1855-1876  --  Reform Era of Mexican history; divided between Liberals and Conservatives. 

1850s  -- the Liberal factions gained political control under leaders such as Benito Juárez, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Juan Álvarez and others. This ascendancy came after the loss of about half of Mexico’s colonial territory to the United States in the Mexican-American War. Liberals believed that the Church and the military were the source of most of Mexico’s problems.

1857  --  1857 Constitution.  This led to a take over of Mexico City by Conservative forces

1858  --  Conservative forces make President, General Félix María Zuloaga, whose supporters closed Congress and arrested liberal politicians.  Benito Júarez was recognized as the Liberals' interim president. The Liberal government located in the city of Veracruz from 1858 to 1861.

1858-1861  -  war between Liberal and Conservative forces became known as the Reform War.

1860  -- twice conservative forces under General Miguel Miramón tried to take Veracruz but failed.  Liberal forces got aid from the USA. 

1861  --  Liberal forces reoccupied the capital on 1 January with Benito Juárez joining them a week later.

The liberals eventually won, just in time to defend the nation from another French invasion.


Nicolás Romero --upon the outbreak of the Reform War in 1858, he joined the Liberal forces under Aureliano Rivera.  When Napoleonic France invaded in 1861, he engaged the invaders in guerrilla warfare, fighting in the states of México, Guerrero, Querétaro and Michoacán under Gen. Vicente Riva Palacio; there, his exploits earned him the nom de guerre León de la Montaña ("mountain lion"). He was captured by the enemy in Papazindán, Michoacán, from where he was taken to Mexico City and executed.

Mariano Escobedo  --  he and his friend Lieutenant Mariselo Quevedo took part in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 (the Cinco de Mayo) of 1862, in Puebla, where thanks to his value he was promoted to colonel of cavalry. Later, he was promoted to general and organized an Army Corps which fought against the French invading troops, defeating them and capturing emperor Maximilian I in Querétaro (1867).  During the presidency of Benito Juárez (1858-1872) Mariano Escobedo was named commander-in-chief of the northern zone and after the restoration of the Mexican republic, he was governor of several states and military secretary in 1875, in addition to being president of the Supreme Court of Military Justice.



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