Seven Cities of Gold (1955)




Director:     Robert D. Webb.

Starring:     Richard Egan (Jose Mendoza), Anthony Quinn (Capt. Gaspar de Portola), Michael Rennie (Father Junipero Serra), Jeffrey Hunter (Matuwir), Rita Moreno (Ula), Eduardo Noriega (Sergeant), Leslie Bradley (Galves), John Doucette (Juan Coronel), Victor Junces (Lt. Faces).

Portola's expedition to California in 1769 in search of fabled wealthy cities and Father Junipero Serra and the founding of the California missions.


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

This story is about the conquest of California.  It is also about the search for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold.  Furthermore it deals with the work of Father Junipero Serra.

New Spain. 1769.  On the road to Mexico City a stage coach races along escorted by a small group of lancers.  They go through a small village and hit an Indian woman.  The coach stops and Capt. Gaspar de Portola and Lt. Jose Mendoza get out to check on the accident.  Father Serra tells them that the woman is already dead.  One of the lancers leaves his horse for Father Serra' use. 

An expedition is being sent to search for the Seven Cities of Gold and the establishment of missions in California.  They will occupy the territory on the South Bay and on the North Bay.  They will stay in California for at least a year.  Captain Portolo will be leading the main part of the expedition.  Captain Rivera will first land by ship.  Perez will bring supplies. 

Lt. Mendoza speaks with others about Cortes getting lots of gold and slaves on his expedition.  He mentions that his father fought in the Battle of Chalula.  Father Serra knows the story of the battle and he doesn't like it and doesn't want this expedition to follow in the spirit of Cortes because it would be too costly for the native peoples of California.  This upsets Mendoza and he talks to the priest about it.  Mendoza is further upset when he learns that Father Serra will be going on the expedition as spiritual director.  He will also found missions along the way.  Mendoza and Portolo are concerned because Father Serra has a bad leg and limps a bit.  Father Serra assures the men that he will not be a burden to them. 

Portolo scolds Father Serra for wanting to take so many gifts for the natives, but the priest explains that these items are essential for his religious mission.  He says he does not want the Indians turned into a race of slaves as before.  And he believes that Portolo is starting out the same way as Cortes.  He still takes a lot of gifts. 

The father gives the blessing for the expedition.  He burns his chest with a lighted torch to emphasize that he is burning the lesson of the purpose of the expedition into himself. 

Portolo now shouts:  "Forward!"  Lt. Mendoza tells Portolo that the priest is going to give them trouble.  The expedition climbs into the mountains.  They suddenly hear the noises of what sounds like a large group of crows cawing.  Then there is an avalanche of stones that comes down onto the road.  Once the dust settles, the men see that six Indians stand in their way.  Portolo orders his men to bring him a bunch of loaded muskets.  Father Serra objects.  He will go parlay with the native people.  The priest takes with him some of his gifts and he gives these to the Indians.  Violence, at least for now, is avoided. 

Mendoza asks the padre to sit down with him.  He tells the priest that he shouldn't push his luck with these Indians.  Father Serra asks Mendoza where he came from?  He came from Sevilla, Spain.  The priests speaks of the great beauty of the cliffs of Majorca from where he came.  The camp is very quiet and a guitarist plays a tune.  All of a sudden the guitarist is hit in the back with an arrow.  The men run over to the guitarist and get ready to do battle, but there is no further violence. 

Portolo asks to see the priest's leg because he thinks the priest's limp is gradually becoming worse and worse.  Serra shows him his leg and it is badly swollen with an abscess.  Father Serra says there is no need for the men to be concerned about his capabilities.  After all, he says, he has waited for four years for this chance.  Portolo won't listen and tells him that he will be leaving the expedition in the morning. 

Father Serra has no intention of leaving the expedition.  He speaks with the mule keeper and asks him to treat him just as he would treat one of his animals that had a bad leg.  The fellow tells the father that he uses a poultice of hot pitch and turpentine on the legs of his animals.  Father Serra orders him to apply the poultice to his abscess.   The priest handles the pain of the application very well.  In the morning, the priest feels better.  Portolo comes to tell him goodbye, but the priest shows him his leg.  The abscess is gone.  Father Serra says he is going on to California. 

One day father is out collecting new plant samples for a botanist friend.  He is gone so long that Lt. Mendoza has to come for him to get him back to the expedition which is moving on.  As they move downhill, at least a hundred Indians pop up behind them with their weapons in their hands.  When Mendoza turns his head a little he spots them.  Both men are surprised at this development.  Mendoza sees a big bird in the sky and he quickly shoots it down with his musket.  This scares the native people and they run away. 

The men's horses ran with all the whooping of the Indians, so the two men have to walk to catch up with the expedition column.  They walk through a terrible dust storm.  Luckily they run into an isolated house.  Inside there is an old man and a young woman with a baby.  She serves food to the men.  It doesn't take long before Mendoza's head drops onto the table as he goes into a deep sleep.

Mendoza awakens under a tree with the priest next to him.  He tells Serra that he had a crazy dream about finding a house in the dust storm where an old man and a young woman with a baby gave them some food.  Father Serra says it wasn't a dream.  The men star walking again.  They run into a part of the column and are quickly reabsorbed into the expedition. 

The expedition reaches the South Bay.  They are very pleased when they see that the ships are already there anchored in the bay.  They go down to Rivera's camp.  As they come in Dr. Pratt warns them that the group had been devastated by scurvy and typhus.  And they haven't had any rain for six months.  Sixty men are dead, including their spiritual director.  In fact, they are al under quarantine. 

Portolo plans to go on to Monterey Bay, but he will maintain the settlement at South Bay as a permanent base of command.   Mendoza is very angry that he has to stay at South Bay.  Father Serra reminds Mendoza that this base is going to be a mission too. 

One day Serra puts up a church bell on a tree limb.  When the bell is nicely situated, he rings it.  The rain starts coming down.  Later a ship arrives.  Portolo and his men leave the base now.  Once Portolo is gone, the Indians launch an attack on the settlement.  While the fighting continues, Father Serra helps run the hospital.  The fighting finally stops when a cannon blasts wipes out quite a few of the Indians and the rest run away.

Matuwir, the son of the chief, is captured by Mendoza.  The chief's son has a bad arm wound.  He comments:  "This is the whit man's torture."  Father Serra assures the son that he will make his arm better.  After it's clear that Matuwir is much better, Father Serra lets him go.  Mendoza is furious with Serra.  He is upset that the father let the prisoner go.  Mendoza stresses that Father Serra must let him make these types of decisions. 

Father Serra gets on his mule and rides over to the Indian village.  The people are very suspicious of him now and it looks like they want to kill him.  Father Serra tells everyone that he has come to see chief Mescomi.  Matuwir comes out to say the the chief believes that the white men have come to steal their sun.  Father Serra, of course, denies that.  He gives a pair of scissors to Matuwir who uses them to cut some items.  He then shows it to his father the chief.  The chief really enjoys them but he tells Matuwir to tell Father Serrano that the chief does not like the scissors, but he will keep them. 

Father Serra gets permission from the chief that the white men "may stay by the great waters."   Serra starts handing out beautiful ribbons to the women.  The women are shooed away.  Father Serra asks Matuwir to come and see him at the base.  Matuwir says he will come, but he will not choose the father's God. 

Matuwir has a very attractive sister named Ula.  He asks the father about her and learns her name.  The drums start beating and all the native people run back to their village.  Mesomi has died.  Father Serra says he will come to the funeral.  Matuwir tells him to do his magic and they will come to the church. 

Matuwir wants to marry three women.  One is a widow and the other two are sisters.  Father Serra has to refuse his request to marry.  He says:  "It's not our way, Matuwir."  There can only be one husband with one wife.  Matuwir is upset and gets rid of the widow.  Now he wants to marry the two sisters.  Father Serra will not permit this.  So Matuwir decides to select Kokura.  Now the priest is happy and he says he will marry the two of them tomorrow.

Mendoza watches Ula play with her friends along the beach.  He goes down to talk with her.  She wonders how he knows her name.  Then she quickly says that she knows that his name is Jose.  Ula then asks:  "How many wives have you?"    Mendoza says "none" and Ula says "good".  They kiss.

The building of the Mission House has been completed. 

An exhausted Portolo and his tired crew return to the base.  Portolo says it was worse than what Serra or Mendoza could imagine.  They have five dead.  Two deaths were by starvation.  Portolo orders that the guard around the food supply be doubled.  Then Portolo says there is no Bay of Monterey.  It's all parched land, dead hills and savages.  He announces:  "We start back for Mexico tomorrow."   Father Serra does not want to leave.  Mendoza tells Portolo that father has not baptized a single Indian in nine months.  Father Serra tells Portolo that the supply ship will come.  The men are told they are heading back to Mexico and they are very happy about it.

Ula and Mendoza have developed a very close relationship.  She tells him that if the soldiers are leaving, then he must be going back to Mexico City too.  Ula tells him that she will go with him.  Mendoza tells her that it's impossible.  She is the daughter of a chief.  She insists that she wants to go with Mendoza.  She will go ask her brother. 

Father Serra pleads to Portolo to wait to leave at least until St. Joseph's day, which is nine days away at the time of the novena. 

Ula comes back to Mendoza telling him that it is all arranged.  She can leave her tribe.  Ula told her brother that she is the woman of Mendoza and he agreed to let her go. 

Father Serra speaks with Matuwir and his bride-to-be about what they need to know about their upcoming marriage ceremony.  Matuwir sees Menoza and Ula talking up on the ridge.  He tells Father Serra that it looks like he will have to perform two marriages.

Mendoza tells Ula that she wouldn't get along with "my" people.  He tells her to go back to her tribe.  Ula gets extremely upset and yells:  "You don't want me."  She starts running to the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean.  Mendoza runs after her saying it's not that way.  Ula stops right at the edge of the cliff and turns around to look at Mendoza.  In her anger and excitement she looses her footing and slips off the cliff.

Matuwir is shocked and infuriated at Mendoza.  He and Kokura leave.

Mendoza comes to speak with Father Serra.  He complains:  "You all think I killed her."  "You think I'm a murderer."  He defends himself by saying he has no quilt, nor shame about what happened. 

The drums sound again.  But this time they are war drums.  Portolo says they cannot successfully defend this garrison.  No, someone says, but he can publicly punish the offender.

Matuwir and four other Indians come to talk with Portolo.  He tells Father Serra that he has come for Mendoza.  Mendoza insists that though she is dead, he had nothing to do with it.  Father Serra tries to explain why they can't just turn over Mendoza to them.  Matuwir gives a sign meaning goodbye to a friend.  The Indians leave the garrison.  A lit arrow slams into the flag pole and the pole starts burning.  Father Serra tells Mendoza to go to the church and stay there. 

At night an Indian kills a guard.  He then slashes all the skins which carry the water supply. 

In the morning the garrison realizes that there is no water now except for a keg full of holy water.  Portolo says there are 30 skins of water on the San Carlos.  He is going to send some men out to the ship to get the water.  But when Portolo looks again at the ship, he sees that is has been set on fire.  Father Serra reminds Portolo that they have twelve more hours before the novena. 

A group of soldiers come to Father Serra demanding that he turn Mendoza over to them.  They, in turn, will turn Mendoza over to the Indians.  But Father Serra insists that he will now allow the soldiers to take Mendoza.  Father says the spokesman is a sick child.  He adds:  "Now go to bed."  The men leave.

Portolo comes to Father Serra and asks him to give the men communion before they go into battle.  Father Serra says he will. 

Mendoza watches the men take communion.  He comes out of the church and kneels down and prays:  "God, I'm sorry for having offended you."  He confesses his sins, will do penance and amend his life.  Then he walks out of the fort and over to the Indians. 

Mendoza's body is brought back.  The Indians cut out his heart. 

The expedition is all ready to start on the return trip.  Even Father Serra is leaving with them.  He leaves the church bell behind.  As they leave, they see the supply ship San Antonio coming in.  The men turn around and head back to the base. 

In the off-loading, Portolo tells his men to unload the gifts for the Indians first and the gun powder last.  Father Serra is pleased by this action.  He sees a rack of church bells being brought his way.  He rings one of the bells.  He then tells Portolo that they will find the Bay of Monterey.  He mentions they will speak with a clear voice and loud and he will teach the Indians to love.  He then says:  "I can hear them coming!  I can hear them coming!"


Interesting and engaging film.  There's quite a bit of action in the film.  But if you want to know more about the role of the major historical figures, you have to do a little historical reading.  (See below.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1713  --  Miguel Josep Serra i Ferrer born in Petro, Majorca.

He entered the Order of Friars Minor.

He received a doctorate in theology from Lullian University in Palma.  He taught philosophy there.

1749  -- he went to Mexico City, where he taught at the College of San Fernando.

He transferred to the Sierra Gorda Mission where he stayed for nine years.

1767 – King Charles III orders the Jesuits expelled from "New Spain". The Jesuits had established a chain of fifteen missions in Baja California.

1767-1770 – Gaspar de Portolŕ i Rovira (1716–1784) is governor of Baja and Alta California.  He was the founder of San Diego and Monterey.

1768 – Visitador General José de Gálvez engaged the Franciscans, under the leadership of Fray Junípero Serra, to take charge of the former Jesuit outposts.

1768 (March 12)  --  Father Serra sailed to the Californias. He founded the only mission in all of Baja California and the nearby Visita de la Presentación.

1769-1823 – the Spanish missions in California are established by the Spanish members of the Franciscan Order. They were both religious and military outposts. The missions provided the Spanish a toehold in California.

1769  --  he travels to San Diego where he founds a mission there. At Monterey he founded another mission.  He became the Father President of Alta California. 

1771  --  Serra relocates the Monterey mission to Carmel.  It became known as Mission Carmel.  He went on to found many other missions. 

1773  --  Serra travels to Mexico City to get Pedro Fages removed as the Governor of Nueva California.  

1774  --  Fages removed from office.

1782  --  Serra founded the Mission San Juan Capistrano (believed to be the oldest standing building in California). 

1784  --  Father Serra died at Mission Carmel and was buried under the sanctuary floor. 

1830s –   the government of Mexico shuts down the missions.

The missions established in California (north to south):

San Francisco Solano de Sonoma

San Rafael Arcangel

San Francisco de Asis

San Jose

Santa Clara

Santa Cruz

San Juan Bautista

San Carlos

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

San Antonio de Padua

San Miguel Arcangel

San Luis Obispo

Purisma Concepcion

Santa Ines

Santa Barbara

San Buenaventura

San Fernando

San Gabriel Arcangel

San Juan Capistrano

San Luis Rey de Francia

San Diego



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