Monday, September 24, 2012

Cheesy Riders: 1000 MILES TO THE SOUTH (1978)

In the '70s there were a few uniquely American film trends. You had plenty of car movies, but the sub-genre of the car movie that really screamed America is the road movie. Films like VANISHING POINT (1971), TWO LANE BLACK TOP (1971), DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY (1974), and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974) epitomize the vastness of this country and the subsequent love affair with the vehicles that can traverse it. Because of the massive miles that America contains, there are few other countries that embrace the road movie, the exception being our brethren from a different methren, Australia. Their love affair with cars, roads and uncharted territory is on par with ours. So how the hell did the Mexicans get involved?

Opening with a shot of a hearse driving up U.S. Route 54 near Ft. Bliss, Texas, you know director and co-writer Rodolfo de Anda has his heart in the right place. Even more so when we get to a nearby State Penn where Dany Montero (Hugo Stiglitz) is getting the shit kicked out of him by a bald giant in a bloody boxing tournament that is so brutal that hearses are parked out side of the packed infirmity waiting to take the corpses of the biggest losers. Why not an ambulance to take them to the local morgue? Hush up you! We're not going to have much of a movie if you keep asking questions like that. Montero appearing to be unconscious is taken to the infirmary where the over-worked doctors examine him noting that both of his retinas are partially detached and he is lucky that he's not blind... yet. As soon as the docs move on to another case, Montero switches himself with a corpse and gets a free ride out of the slams on his way back to Mexico.

Unfortunately for Montero all the cops know exactly where he is headed since the hearse was for a Mexican stiff. Fortunately for Montero, he is also Mexican, so he (presumably) has his pops keep an eye on the traffic so he can ram the first hearse he sees off the road. After salvaging his son from the wreck, dad offers him a beater with a massive V8 and a pistol. Montero turns down the pistol and hits the road without looking back. At the same time the Mexican police are trying to figure out why an inmate would make such a risky escape when he only has three months left on his lease. As it turns out, Montero, an ace counterfeiter, has had his son kidnapped by a ruthless crime boss who wants him to make up a batch of bogus bills, if he ever wants to see his son again. He does.

Nothing says "the '70s" like a squad car through a camper... not even a cop in a plaid sport coat.

Looking no worse for wear after being beaten half to death, aside from a bandaged brow, Montero tearings up the Mexican highway in his beefed-up beater. Montero runs into cops, hookers, grifters, and more cops, all while wrecking cars and hitting bars. Following clues left for him in the classified ads of the newspapers, the police and Montero make their way down to the crime lord's mansion. You know he's a badass because he's got a hot white chick who sunbathes naked and helps run his bidness. In between his odd little encounters on and off the road, Montero has a moment where he loses his vision and has a waking dream about riding horseback on the beach with (what we presume to be) his son. It's such an odd moment that isn't referenced ever again, it adds to the "we're going on a ride, don't ask questions" philosophy that  De Anda embraces. If it were a big Hollywood film with grand pretensions, I'd call foul on this approach, where as here, it's more like hitting the worm at the bottom of the bottle. You just go with it.

If you were disappointied Montero turned down the gun, don't be. The ending sports a massive shoot out between the baddies and the police. As it should be. I'm not sure how many Mexican road movies there are, but now that I know they exist, I need to find out. Obviously inspired by the American films from the early '70s, de Anda captures the look of '70s Mexico and the gritty, sweaty feel of being a hard-bitten son of a bitch on the lam from the law and knowingly driving into an open grave. Maybe not as morose and nihilistic as VANISHING POINT (1971) or BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974), but still plenty of dirt and sweat to fill the bill.

De Anda acted in over 150 movies, but only directed just over a dozen. His directorial efforts are mostly genre related with robots, wrestlers, vampires, cowboys, and cyborg sex machines (EL MACHO BIONICO, 1981) and all of them are rare, many never released on video even in Mexico. 1000 MILES TO THE SOUTH actually has been released on video, but the source is a really rough 16mm print that just screams to be presented widescreen. Even with all of the lemmings proclaiming their devotion to Mr. Stiglitz, we sure haven't seen any DVD companies rushing to get some transfers made. It's a shame too, since clearly there is more to Mexican filmmaking than El Santo and NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), not that there's anything wrong with that.

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