Kings of the Sun (1963)  




Director:     J. Lee Thompson. 

Starring:     Yul Brynner (Chief Black Eagle),  George Chakiris (Balam),  Shirley Anne Field (Ixchel),  Richard Basehart (Ah Min),  Brad Dexter (Ah Haleb),  Barry Morse (Ah Zok),  Armando Silvestre (Isatai),  Leo Gordon (Hunac Kell),  Victoria Vetri (Ixzubin),  Rudy Solari (Pitz),  Ford Rainey (The chief).

Mayans pursued by Toltec invaders


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Mayan civilization had burst into full flower.  They built roads, pyramids, temples and charted the heavens, but in their worship of their gods they remained primitive.  Human sacrifice was "the keystone" of their religion.  To die in this way was considered a great honor.  At the moment of sacrifice he himself becomes a god.  The man is laid on an altar slab and the priest plunges a knife into his heart.  Before them all the people of the village are lined up in neat rows and columns filling the immense dirt courtyard.   

The crowd shouts:  "Balam, the jaguar, eight times king!"  And then:  "Balam, the Prince!" 

Then came the people from the west with metal swords that were much superior to those of the Mayans.  One by one the Toltecs swallowed up the little kingdoms until the last, the final stronghold, Chichen Itza.  Their leader is Hunac Kell who felt himself as powerful as a god. 

The Toltecs attack the Mayans at Chicen Itza.  Some of the high officials barricade themselves within their temple.    The king dies and the Prince becomes the King.  The chant goes up:  "Balam the jaguar, nine times king."  The high priest Ah Min tells the King that he must flee and preserve his life.  The new king does not want to leave.  He won't be a coward.  But Ah Min tells him that his life is not his to lose.  He is a king.  The head of the warriors An Haleb says they should disperse their forces and then rejoin when they are strong again.  But the King says:  "No we must not disperse.  There is a fishing village on the coast, we will leave from there." 

After the Toltecs slaughter many of the native Mayans, they rush up the temple steps to get to the king.  They bust open the door and start looking for a hidden passageway.   Meanwhile, the Mayans sneak out a small exit gate.  They then close the gate.  They push through the jungle to the coast.  The King speaks to a pretty woman on the beach.  She tells him where her village is located.  The King and his men start walking to the village. 

At the village the King says to the chief that they will have to take their boats and head north.  The chief shows no deference to the King.  He says he wants to be paid for the boats.  The King tells him that his people are coming with them.  The Chief still proves difficult and the King threatens him.   The woman from the beach intervenes.  It turns out that she is the chief's daughter, Ixchel.  This gives the chief an idea.  He will let the King have the boats if Ixchel will be his queen.  The King says he will pick his own queen. 

Hunac Kell is less than a league away.  The people start going to the boats.  The chief remains stubborn, still driving a hard bargain.  The king will get the boats only if he swears he will make his daughter his queen in the new world.  The king has to swear to it and he does so.  Now Hunac Kell and his braves are very close.  Everyone finishes getting on the boats and shove off.  The Toltecs are right behind them.  Hunac Kell shouts to Balam:  "Wherever you go, I will find you!" 

The boats leave the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula.  Ixchel is still mad at the King for wanting to kill her father.  Ah min tells her:  "When a man must think of many, it's not easy to think of one."  On the boats the feeling of mutiny develops.  Many want to turn back.  But then Ixchel sees some birds.  And then land is spotted.  They land somewhere north of the Rio Grande River and west of what became New Orleans. 

The Mayans land.  Balam tells his people it is as though they were reborn.  He then says he keeps his word and wants to have the marriage ceremony performed.  Ixchel, however, speaks up and says that she will no longer hold him to his promise.  She releases him from his vow.  The King is perturbed by being rejected in such a public matter.  He feels a bit humiliated. 

The Mayans start building various structures.  The buildings have thatch roofs.  A native American finds one of the boats of the Mayans that drifted away.  He figures there are invaders in the area.  The man is named Black Eagle and he is the chief of his people, who live in teepees.  Istai is his aide.  Black Eagle tells Istai that they will capture one of the invaders.

Ixchel is working hard on building the new temple.  Ah Min comes to talk with her.  He says she should be the queen of her people.  He goes on to say that being king is a lonely job.  Ixchel tells the priest:  "If he is lonely, why doesn't he tell me himself?"

Black Eagle finds the palisaded area of the invaders.  He goes up to the fence to look inside.  He sees a very busy group of builders. 

Ah Min speaks to Balam telling him to go to Ixchel.  He objects:  "To degrade me again?"  He tells the priest that he wants to build a dam to irrigate their crops.  Ah Min says that they first must make a sacrifice to the gods.  But the King insists that the temple must wait.  They have to plant first.  Black Eagle watches them from a tree overhead.  When the priest starts walking away from Balam, Black Eagle jumps from the tree to bring Balam to the ground.  Black Eagle then shouts to the high priest:  "Tell your people that Black Eagle has taken your chief and my warriors will destroy the rest of you."  Balam starts fighting with Black Eagle.  Black Eagle wins the fight, but by now the Mayan warriors start arriving.  They take Black Eagle prisoner.  The high priest says:  "We have our offering to the god of waters."  The King sends runners out to find Black Eagle's people. 

Everyone returns to the village.  They have Black Eagle as their prisoner.  Black Eagle fights all the way.  That is  until a warrior sticks the chief with his spear.  Black Eagle goes unconscious.  The priest refers to the chief as the "barbarian".  The report comes in that while the chief suffered a killing wound, he seems too strong to die.  Ixchel binds up the King's wounds.  He tells her that he is grateful to her and her people for their hard work.  Ixchel says she will tell them. 

No one can tend to Black Eagle because he just keeps fighting against their efforts.  When Ixchel learns this she tells them that she will wait on him.  She finds the chief staked to the ground.  She tries to hold him down in order to tend to him but he keeps on bucking her off.  She then decides to cut him loose.  He is very weak.  He touches her hair gently, but then lets go as he goes to sleep. 

Ixchel speaks to one of the priests about the chief.  She says:  "He is acting like a wild animal because he is being treated like one."  She adds that he has been chosen for sacrifice and should be properly honored.  Ixchel goes back to care for the chief.  When he awakens he tells her that he was in a dream-like state and thought he was dead.  But when he touched her he knew he was alive.  He asks her:  "Why are you healing me?"  She can't tell him.  Instead, Ixchel brings him some water. 

Istai speaks to the people of his tribe.  Figuring that Black Eagle is dead, he urges his people to avenge their chief.

The construction of the dam is finished.  Some rocks are removed to let the water flow into irrigation ditches. 

The King speaks to Ixchel about the chief in the place of imprisonment.  He says:  "Because of you I understand he will live."  Black Eagle responds:  "I will."  He asks the King why are his people here.  They have driven many invaders from their land before.  The Mayans will be no different.  The Chief then tells Balam that his woman is beautiful.  Balam leaves.  Ixchel asks the Chief:  "Why did you call me his woman?"   He tells her that Balam is a fool if she is not his woman.  He adds:  "And it would be good to fight for that, too." 

The King tells Ah Min that he has no love for human sacrifice and asks why Black Eagle must die.  The high priest answers that as king, he must do many things he does not like. 

The high officials tell Ixchel to get the chief to put on the ceremonial clothes for the sacrifice.  But, of course, Black Eagle wants to know why.  Why is he being given this outfit?  She answers:  "To honor you."  The Chief says that it is for a ceremony.  Her king has decided to let him return to his people.  He tells Ixchel that when he leaves he wants her to come with him for he has come to love her.  Ixchel leaves crying. 

The King visits with the other high officials.  They go into talk to Black Eagle.  The high priest says that he has been chosen to bear their words to their gods.  The man so honored becomes a god himself.  Black Eagle starts to figure it out and obviously doesn't like it.  He tells the King:  "You knew and Ixchel, she knew."  The ceremony is set for the next day.  He can have any of their maidens for his bride.  Black Eagle chooses Ixchel and asks them to send her to him.  This choice upsets the King.

When it comes time to unite Black Eagle with Ixchel the King decides he will not permit it.  Ixchel comes in.  The King says that Black Eagle has summoned her.  Yes, she knows.  Balam says:  "You must be very honored."  She only answers:  "Deeply honored."  This makes the King mad and he shouts:  "Then go."  She leaves.  Ixchel tells one of her friends that if he had just said one word, a single word.  The King says virtually the same thing to Ah Min.  The priest asks:  "You did not try to stop her?"  The answer is no.  The priest congratulates him saying that he is a king.   

When Ixchel goes to see Black Eagle, he tells her:  "You came here as my bride but not the way I asked."  He then turns his anger on the ceremony.  He says: "Honor?"  He does not believe that.  Slaughtered is a better word and slaughtered for superstition.  This upsets Ixchel and she replies:  "It is being honored.  It's our religion."  The Chief says:  "It's not the dying.  It's the matter of it.  You rob me of a warrior's death."  He is also very mad at her.  She asks him:  "Then why did you ask for me?"  Black Eagle responds:  "I wanted you to feel my hate, as I once wanted you to feel my love."  Ixchel cries and leaves. 

The priest asks Black Eagle:  "You sent her away?"  Yes, he says.  "I want nothing from any of you." 

The next morning Black Eagle sees the altar being hauled up to the top of the temple in preparation for the sacrifice.  He refuses to wear the ceremonial clothes "befitting a god."  The King goes up to the top of the temple.  Ixchel does the same.  Then Black Eagle walks up.  Up on top he turns his anger on the officials.  He scoffs at their religion.  He says his people have always enjoyed the blessings of the earth, but they have never had any human sacrifice.  He will never submit to the sacrifice.  The King steps forward and says:  "You will carry our message, but not to our gods, but to your people.   We want peace.   I give you your freedom.  Take it."  The high priest is scandalized.  He says the gods must have a life.  The gods cannot be cheated.  So he stabs himself with the ceremonial knife and dies.  Descending the temple stairs, Black Eagle looks back at the dead priest.

At this time Black Eagle's people arrive.  The Chief walks out to his people.  The King tells Ixchel:  "There was something in what he said that made me trust him."    The tribe rushes to Black Eagle to greet him.  They surround him completely.  Black Eagle says that the other people's chief wants peace.  Istai says:  "Then they must be cowards."  The Chief says that these people are different.  They have skills and knowledge.  They can learn from these people.  Istai still speaks for war.  Black Eagle tells everyone that they may chose a new chief, if they so desire.  The circle opens up fully. 

The Mayans prepare for an attack.  But Black Eagle comes to the forefront.  He shouts for Balam.  Balam goes outside the gate to talk with the Chief.  Black Eagle sticks his spear in the earth.  Balam sticks his sword in the earth.  The choice is peace. 

To celebrate peace the native Americans strip the palisade of its wood and make a great bonfire.  Now Black Eagle goes into the Mayan village as a guest.  A messenger comes in to say that the crops are growing in this new land.  It seems like everyone rushes out to see the plants growing.  Ixchel is in Black Eagle's tribe looking at the children.  Black Eagle comes over and they smile at each other.  At the crops the king tells his people that this crop grows without any human sacrifice.   This disturbs the other priest.  He tells those around him that the King denies their religion.  He goes on:  "If he does not stop, he will bring destruction on all of us."  The King sees Ixchel with Black Eagle and is not happy. 

At night the native Americans hold a dance around the bonfire.  Black Eagle gives a buffalo robe to Ixchel.  He tells her:  "I look upon you as one of us, as one of our people."  He then asks her to be his bride.  They are about to kiss when Balam screams:  "Go to him!  Be his woman!  Bear his sons!  Before when he summoned you, you went to him willingly and now I know it was not for the first time."  Balam starts to leave.  Black Eagle tries to stop him in order to speak with him, but Balam shoves him to the ground.  Black Eagle jumps up and fights with Balam.  He knocks him down and then grabs a spear to kill him.  Ixchel stops him.  Black Eagle can see by the look in her eyes that she loves her king.  He throws the spear down.  He tells the King:  "Our people cannot live together.  There is a wall between us."  Balam leaves. 

Black Eagle's people leave the next day.  Black Eagle is alone with Ixchel.  He tells her:  "I take my people to where we belong."   She tells him that she knew what she felt when she thought Balam was going to die.  The King's earlier words were the first words he ever used to tell her that he loved her.   Black Eagle turns and leaves.  Ixchel goes back to her village. 

A conch shell is blown.  Hunac Kell has arrived.  Black Eagle also sees the enemy's arrival.  He says the enemy will destroy Balam.  He decides to help him. 

The priest speaks of rebellion to one of the lead warriors.  He says that the king is the root of all their problems.  "If Balam were dead, you could lead us and make peace with Hunac Kell."  The guy gets his bow and arrow ready to kill Balam.  But he kills the priest instead. 

The enemy lands on the beach.  The village looks deserted.  Hunac Kell shouts that he will save the lives of the villagers if Balam will give himself up.  If he doesn't, he will have all the villagers killed.  In answer to his challenge, the village warriors suddenly appear and make a front against their enemy.  They will fight.  As Kell's force approaches them, they light a fire wall to stop Kell's progress.  Some of the enemy break through the wall but are on fire and are easily killed.  Balam's archers start shooting through the fire to kill more of the enemy.  As the fire gets lower the enemy breaks through the fire wall.  The fight is on.  The enemy pushes the people back and back.  Soon they are fighting each other on the temple steps. 

Suddenly Black Eagle and his people attack the enemy.  Kell pushes his way forward to kill Balam at the top of the temple.  Black Eagle sees him and starts to fight his way up the steps to stop Kell.  He cannot get there to stop Kell, so he throws a metal sword to Balam.  It, however, falls short.  Balam has to jump down the steps to get the sword.  Balam and Kell fight it out while Ixchel watches from her hiding place supervising the children.  Balam is able to kill Kell.  The enemy is defeated. 

Following the battle, the native Americans carry Black Eagle to the top of the temple.  Ixchel follows.  They stop by the King's side and set Black Eagle on the ground.  Ixchel goes to his side.  He tells her:  "Not even you can heal this."  He urges the King to speak to his people.    The King does so saying:  "The way to our homeland is now open."  But here they have been blessed and this without any human sacrifice.  The gods are satisfied with just the efforts of the people.  "The test of a people is in the living, not the dying."  He tells his people that he will remain here.  They may also remain or leave.  But if they stay it will be without the sacrificial altar. 

After the speech, Black Eagle tells Balam:  "Don't be a food for the rest of your life, Balam.  Ixchel is your woman.  She has always been and now, more so than ever."  He dies. 

Ixchel and the King stand together. 


Not a great movie, but o.k.   But oh, those Hollywood movies.  The heroine Ixchel is very noticeably whiter than virtually everyone else.  They should have picked a more Mayan looking actress or at least an Hispanic woman with brown skin.  There also isn't a lot of history in the movie.  There is a bit about the culture of the Mayans, especially their religion.  But we learn nothing about the Toltecs.  And in the Mayans new world, we do not learn the identity of the native Americans.  (And I never heard of a Mayan village in Texas.)  The love story was interesting though.  But the movie does what a lot of love story movies do.  They never let you celebrate the uniting of the two people who love each other.  Can't we always at least get a hug and a kiss in a love story? 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


600 A.D.  --  Chichen Itza rises to prominence towards the end of the Early Classic period. 

around 900  --  Chichen Itza became a major regional capital. 

around 987  --  a Toltec king named Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl arrives with his army from central Mexico.  He made Chichen Itza his capital.

1000  --  Chichen Itza falls.  (According to Maya chronicles, in the 13th century, Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapan, conquered Chichen Itza.  But the fall of Chichen Itza came two centuries before the rise of Mayapan.)


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