I haven’t posted here for a while: I have my own demons to contend with and my attention scatters.
The recent release of Ride the Pink Horse (1947) on Blu-ray coincided with my reading of Dorothy B. Hughes original novel. The film has the same principal characters and the story-line is similar, but when you compare the ethos of Hughes’ story with the film’s screenplay, there is a big disconnect.
The film is a call to good ol’ Americanism. The novel is decidedly down-beat and has a mystical element shaped from a locus of events played out over only a few days in a small New Mexico town during Fiesta. Hughes’ prose explores the tension between the hard-boiled musings of the criminal protagonist, the stoicism of the native Indians, and the pagan-inflected Catholicism of the local Latinos. There is the counterpoint of an unlikely friendship between three very different people: a Gringo desperado named Sailor, a young Indian girl, and Pancho a dirt poor Mexican man who operates a merry-go-round. Pancho’s tequila-fuelled philosophy centres on the local Indians and – to borrow a recent expression of an otherwise high falutin’ intellectual hubris – the end of history:
“Because they do not care -for nothing. Only this their country. They do not care about the Gringos or even the poor Mexicanos. These peoples do not belong to their country. They do not care because they know these peoples will go away. Sometime.” “A long time,” Sailor said, seeing the little shops, the dumps and the dives. It wasn’t easy to get rid of the stuff that brought in the two beets feefty sants. “They can wait,” Pancho said patiently. “The Indians are a proud peoples. They can wait. In time . . .” One thousand years. Two thousand. In time. Maybe it was the way to do things, not to worry about the now, to wait for time to take care of things. What if the measure of time was one thousand, two thousand years? In time everything was all right. If you were an Indian. Maybe that was the terror the stone Indian generated. In time, you were nothing. Therefore you were nothing. He’d had enough of Pancho’s tequila philosophy. Enough of thinking. “Drink up,” he said. “I got to get some sleep. Got business to take care of tomorrow.” Pancho squinted at the small remaining drink. “You promised your sainted mother.” He filled his mouth with the tequila, rinsed it from cheek to cheek, savouring it.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie is great. One of the signature noirs. My review from four years ago is here. I love it. But Hughes had more and deeper things to say than Ben Hecht and Robert Montgomery allowed.
4 thoughts on “Noir Beat: Tequila Philosophy”
So great to see you back my friend, and to boot with another excellent novel to film comparison and quality assessment. I too am a fan of the film, and agree it is a justly venerated noir, but you are definitely on to something when you point to the complexity of the source, which you assert was more provocative by way of the sociological tensions and undercurrent of mysticism. I have not read the novel, sad to say, but am most fascinated with your cogent observations. And I am due for another viewing of the film too, especially now that blu-ray has enlisted it.
Thanks Sam. Get hold of the book if you can. It is a unique blend of the mystical and the hard-boiled.
Nice write up, read the novel about a year ago, yes the film left most of the mysticism out, too bad.