Savage Pampas (1966)
Director: Hugo Fregonese.
Starring:Robert Taylor (Captain Martín), Ron Randell (Padrón), Marc Lawrence (Sargent Barril), Ty Hardin (Miguel Carreras), Rosenda Monteros (Rucu), Ángel del Pozo (Lt. Del Río), Felicia Roc (Camila Ometio), Charles Fawcett (El Gato, Private), Enrique Ávila (Petizo), José Jaspe (Luis, Private), Julio Peña (Chicha, Private), Laya Raki (Mimi), Laura Granados (Carmen), Ingrid Ohlenschläger (The Old Woman), José Nieto (Gen. Chávez), Willie Ellie (Chief Winkon).
a "western" set in the grasslands of the Pampas of Argentina
The Argentine Pampas at the end of the last century, 1890s.
Two Argentine soldiers are surrounded by Indians. They throw their weapons down and are taken by the Indians to their village. The fellow known as Padrón has brought women and gifts to the Indian chief Winkon. One of the soldiers is Petizo. The soldiers wanted to get caught. They wanted to get a chance with the prostitutes. Petizo picks out a woman, but she is already promised to a large Indian brave. Petizo fights with larger man and isn't doing too badly considering his size. Petizo kills the brave with his knife. Petizo gets his woman. Padrón says Petizo is now one of his gang and he will do want Padrón tells him.
Captain Martin and his men are pursuing the deserters. The captain chases on of the banditos with Padrón's gang and brings him down with a bola. The guy tries to kill the captain with his knife, but the captain turns the man's own knife on him and kills the bandit. Another bandit, actually Padrón himself, throws a rope around the captain and drags him behind his horse. Padrón is stopped when a soldier kills Padrón's horse from under him. They tie Padrón up and take him with them.
The men return to their fort. A black soldier named Pedro plays his guitar and sings for the men. The bandit leader is staked out on the ground and the leather restraints wetted down. General Chávez speaks with the captain. He introduces Lt. Del Rio to the captain. Del Rio says he heard lots of tales about the famous captain.
Winko has been defeating the army. The army has lost half its strength to Padrón and his prostitutes.
Captain Martin is in the Argentine army at one of the small forts built in the Pampas (grasslands). Morale is low among the soldiers in the fort who are tired of only dealing with Indians and bandits. The worst fellow on the plains is a man referred to as Padrón. Soldiers are sent out against Padrón, but he often lures the men over to his side by saying he will pay the men off not with money, but with prostitutes captured by the bandits.
Captain Martin learns of this and asks his superior officer if he can stop the desertion of his soldiers over to the bandits, by bringing prostitutes out to the fort. Nine prostitutes are released from jail and Captain Martin will escort them back to the fort. This is not going to be an easy task as the journey is a long and perilous one.
One of the guards wants to go with Padrón and frees the bandit leader. One of them kills the other guard. Another soldier holds extra horses for the two escapees. They get away. Padrón buries the body of his brother killed by the captain. He swears that he will get the captain for killing his brother.
Captain Martin and his men go to get the prostitutes. The men say they want to go to "San Pedro for some fun. The captain asks them why when by just going over the next hill they will be getting a bunch of women. The men are jubilant about this.
The locomotive arrives at the train station. A non-prostitute, Camila, is going to go with the prostitutes. Her brother is wanted by the authorities, but she won't tell where they can find his brother. That's why they are exiling her to the Pampas. The soldiers are really happy to see the prostitutes. The sergeant tells the women to get into the two wagons, five women per wagon. The women just laugh at the sergeant, until the captain slaps one of the women across the face. Then they all get into the wagons.
Carreras is added to the group. The captain is told that this Miguel Carreras is one of those wild anarchists. Carreras is put on one of the wagons with the women. He tells the women that he is a journalist. Non-prostitute Camila asks him why he is a prisoner? Carreras says he is a revolutionary.
One of the young soldiers takes a liking to Mimi. The women talks about the men that they are attracted to. Private Chicha gives one of the women a drink of his liquor. Captain Martin tells the men to stay on their side of the fire away from the women. One woman, Camila, goes down to the river and a soldier follows her. The sergeant tells the soldier to get away from the woman. The soldier provokes the sergeant and they start fighting with knives. The captain intervenes and balls the men out. He then tells Camilla to back with the other women.
Indians spy on the little caravan. The soldiers chase them away.
At a stop the women go down to the river and go wading to cool off and get a little cleaner. The captain gives the order to get the women out of the water.
One of the girls, Lucy, gets sick. It turns out that the woman is pregnant. So everyone takes a break.
Now Carreras tells Camilla that her brother is dead. He was there when her brother was wounded. Four days later he died. The captain wants to sent Lucy back, but soldier Louis tells the captain that he wants to marry the woman.
One of the Indian spies tells Padron that the captain has with him 10 women.
The soldiers arrive at a tavern. The men and women can relax, but the captain doesn't want them having sex. They can do that when they get back to the fort.
A woman cook/waitress named Rucu is very pretty and the captain takes notice of her.
Lt. Del Rio takes a liking to one of the women too. He gets her a room all by herself. Some of the soldiers dance on the tables for the women. The captain gives a toast to his soldiers and the women. He tells the men and women that he has decided to let them do whatever they want with each other.
What really throws a monkey wrench into the works is that the soldiers start falling in love with the women and nine pairs are created from this. Naturally, since there are not enough women for each one of the soldiers, fights develop between the men over the women. One fight leads to a soldier, Santiago, being shot and killed by the lieutenant.
The captain grabs Rucu and takes her with him. He then wants to take her with him to the fort. He leave behind an older prostitute for the tavern owner, who had expressed an interest in her.
Indian start approaching the caravan. There's a lot more Indians than soldiers. The captain shots some of the Indian and then he and the two men with him have to make a run for their lives. All of a sudden the Indians turn around and ride the other way. One of the coaches in which the women ride turns over. The soldier use it for cover to fight off the Indians. A group of gauchos come to their rescue. They chase the Indians away. The pregnant woman is killed by the Indians. The soldiers bury her and some other that were killed in the fight with the Indians. Services are held for the dead.
and can't be fixed. So now the women have to ride sitting in an old buck wagon with no covering to fend off the direct rays of the sun.
And yet, more problems. A scout following the soldiers tells Padrón that the army is transporting prostitutes to the fort. This really excites Padrón who now wants to take the women away from Captain Martin. Padrón starts to figure out how he might snatch the women from the Captain. He gets some help from the indigenous people who are not happy about the whites taking their lands.
A very large group of bandits and Indians sets out to take over the little wagon train and take the women. They give chase to the wagon train, but they start losing too many warriors and decide to try another tactic. Meanwhile, the wagon train pushes on to a little town dominated by a large church. The soldiers takes up positions to defend the fort against an attack. Captain Martin wants to move on to the fort, but the men are not interested in leaving the town. They are going to stay put. They don't want to take their women to the fort where other soldiers might try to steal them away from the soldiers.
Captain Martin is beaten. He asks the men if at least it's okay if he and another man pay a visit to the fort to check on its present status. He could also bring back help to the surrounded soldiers. Martin, however, can't get any volunteers. And then the anarchist Carreras, says he will go with the Captain. The two men don't get far, however, as they are way-laid by Padrón and his men. The anarchist is badly wounded. Martin is wounded in the shoulder. Padrón has his bandits tie the Captain's hands and feet to four with rope to four stakes. So now Martin is flat on his bag in the hot sun with all his limbs tied to stakes. In other words, he's been staked out. Now Padrón pours water over the ropes holding the Captain down. As the sun dries out the wet ropes, Martin's body is pulled in four different directions.Padrón and the bandits leave Martin behind and go after the wagon train.
The soldiers and the people of the town wait for something to happen. One morning they look out at the horizon and see a seemingly endless line of bandits and Indians stretching across the horizon. Now they are extremely worried about their fates. The soldiers prepare for an onslaught. The attack comes and the soldiers are able to kill quite a few of the Indians, but it's just not enough. They have to get everyone left alive into the large cathedral with its thick walls. The soldiers, the women, the towns people and the priest all gather together to put up a last stand.
Things look bleak for the Captain, but he hears someone or something slowly pulling their body along in the dirt. Martin looks and sees the anarchist man still has a little bit of life left in him. He starts rooting for the anarchist to make it over to him, but a short distance away from the stake out, the journalist dies. And now what chance does the Captain have?
The Indian woman Rucu with the wagon train has come to like the Captain. When she saw the captain and the journalist take off, she started worrying about them. She rides out after the two men. The woman arrives and frees Martin's hands and feet. He is very grateful to the maiden and tries in some inadequate way to thank her for saving his life. But now he has to get to the fort for help. He makes it to the fort.
The cathedral is attacked by the white bandits and the Indians. More soldiers are killed. The bandits set fire to all the building in town. They also set fire to the roof of the cathedral. The roof is thatch and parts and pieces of it start falling onto the people in the church. The people put their backs up against the church walls to avoid being killed by the falling, burning pieces of thatch.
The Indians soon call off the attack. Their leader is the one who canceled the attack. The warriors will not go back to fighting until their leader tells them to do so.
Meanwhile, Martin has survived and brings the soldiers from the fort to the outskirts of the little village. The soldiers are worried about facing such a large group of Indians and bandits. So Martin tells his superior officer that he thinks he can stop the attack by the Indians. He asks for some time before the soldiers head into the village. Martin thinks that if can kill the leader, the attack will be called off. So Martin starts his slow journey at night into the Indian camp. He is able to get by the sentries guarding the tent.
During the night the sentries finally check on the leader's tent. They are aghast at seeing what's inside the tent. They start shouting about something having happened to their leader. More light is thrown on the area and now they all can see the head of their decapitated leader stuck on the end of a stick and planted where everyone could easily see the head.
With the Indians not willing to fight, the soldiers waiting to come into the village advance. So now the soldiers face off with the Indians and bandits. It is decided to let Captain Martin fight Padrón to the death to see who stays and who goes. Padrón is the larger man so it is not surprising that he gets the upper hand. Martin does a great deal to ensure that he stays alive, but finally he pulls out his pistol from its holster and starts blasting away at Padrón. It takes many shots before the big bear of a man hits the dirt. Shortly after the death of the big bear man, Captain Martin succumbs to his wounds.
The Indians and bandits leave. The soldiers bury Captain Martin and hold a funeral/burial ceremony for him.
I only saw the last part of this film on the Western channel on television late at night. Then months later, I saw the beginning of the film. I enjoyed what I saw of the film. The summary is not complete, but I did get a lot of information down on paper at least. The interesting thing to me is that through reading about the Indian situation in Argentina, I learned that their Pampas Indians were much like our (American) plains Indians. I guess I had never really thought of it. I really liked seeing a "western" set in Argentina (although the film was made in Spain). An earlier version in Spanish had already been done by the director. But now he was in Hollywood and saw the chance to make an Argentinean western film. I'm glad he did.
Quiet a few reviewers fixate on the fact that Robert Taylor was now at the end of his career and it showed in this film. I thought Taylor looked older and more worn-out, but, frankly, I thought that just made him look a little more authentic. And I thought Taylor did a good job. Of course, I wasn't comparing him to his younger self. I also like the man's voice. He seemed to catch the essence of a good officer trapped in a small fort in the middle of nowhere (the Pampas) completely frustrated with being ignored by the higher ups and with a falling morale leading to considerable desertions by the soldiers.
Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.
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