“And I’ve got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico, so I’ll ride like the wind…”—Christopher Cross
Difference amongst humans is a positive thing. When you mix different individuals together, you have a buffet of contrasting different ideals and ideas. It’s a good thing, if you see the pros of the group dynamics rather than the cons. Every day, we see the results of turmoil between groups that are steadfast in their beliefs and refuse to take the time to appreciate their differences. These differences are explored and learning to understand your fellow man is showcased in today’s western feature, The Undefeated (1969).
The American Civil War comes to an end as General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse. Union Colonel John Henry Thomas, John Wayne of Rio Bravo (1958) and company, attack Confederate soldiers in a bloody skirmish. After the Confederates retreat and the battle grows quiet, both sides are briefed the war had ended three days prior. Meanwhile, former Confederate Colonel James Langdon, Rock Hudson of Winchester ’73 (1950), leads his old outfit and family on a cross country journey from Louisiana to Mexico in search for better opportunities by forming an alliance with Emperor Maximilian. Thomas, also has big plans of his own, and leads his adopted Indian son Blue Boy, NFL Quarterback Roman Gabriel, and his old, loyal Union outfit across the country driving a herd of 3,000 horses to be sold in Mexico.
On the journey, Blue Boy discovers the tracks of road bandits planning an ambush on travelers. Thomas warns Langdon and his party of the impending danger which lies ahead. The Union and Confederates put their differences aside and fight off the bandits when they’re attacked. North and South realize they have more in common than originally believed and realize the war blinded them of the fact each side had some admirable men who were loyal to their sides cause and through time, they could even be friends. Hilarity, drunken brawls, and a “boys will be boys” mentality ensue as the two bands celebrate the Fourth of July before returning to the road.
Langdon and company arrive in Mexico to much fanfare and celebration before realizing this was a trap, and they are held hostage in trade for Thomas’s horses. Thomas and company decide that Yankee or Rebel, it doesn’t matter, they are Americans and they have to help their new friends from the hands of a corrupt Mexican Army.
The Undefeated was directed by Andrew V. McLagen of McLintock (1963) with a screenplay by James Lee Barrett of Smokey and the Bandit (1977), novel by Lewis B. Patten of The Killer from Yuma (1971). The Undefeated was loosely based on the French occupation in Mexico and Confederate Calvary General Joseph Shelby’s drive to Mexico to join forces with Maximillian. The Undefeated was the biggest production of Wayne’s since his ill received The Alamo (1960) and was his next appearance after the successful True Grit (1969). The Undefeated has a slew of stars from Hollywood’s past such as Lee Meriwether of Batman: The Movie (1966), Merlin Olsen of Little House on the Prairie (1974), Jan-Michael Vincent of Airwolf (1984), Ben Johnson of Terror Train (1980), Richard Mulligan of Soap (1977), and Harry Carey Jr. of Gremlins (1984).
Filmed entirely in Louisiana and Durango, Mexico, The Undefeated, which feels very much like a John Ford (The Searchers ) western, was met with mixed reviews upon its release. At the time of its release, the focus of American cinema was changing due to the counterculture producing new names with new ideas leaving Wayne’s movies left behind to be considered old hat. Though Wayne was considered to be old, weak, and a symbol of the conservative authority by new Hollywood–Wayne filmed the movie with torn ligaments and broken ribs. Not too shabby for Wayne who was 62 years of age at the time.
The Undefeated was beautifully shot and the landscape is nothing but short of extraordinary, as some of the natural backdrops were still untouched by man at the time of filming. Overall this is a fun, typical Wayne western and you know what you’re getting even if this is your first viewing. Wayne’s western formula works again focusing on the hero doing the right thing even when facing the odds and winning over evil. With that being said, in a world of constant uncertainty, Wayne’s westerns are like a comfort food that one can find solace in. The Undefeated is a “G” rated flick and a complete 180 from Leone’s spaghetti westerns released a few years earlier and the groundbreaking, uberviolent The Wild Bunch (1969), directed by Hollywood outcast, Sam Peckinpah.
So, if you are fan of westerns, Wayne, and or post-Civil War commentary, then check out The Undefeated. If anything else it might teach you rather than fighting with others due to their difference, take the time to embrace others and appreciate that difference as strength and not an obstacle. When you fail to take the time to learn about what you don’t understand…you come across as being naïve and ignorant. Sorry for the candor, but the world is big place. Take the time to educate yourself about it. Remember what “The Duke” shared, “Life is hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org