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Stronghold (1951)

Veronica Lake didn’t always pick the best projects and her work in the 1950s started the steady decline into obscurity we see today. It’s a shame, but she didn’t do herself a lot of favors when she was working in dogs like Stronghold. Lake is probably the lone high point of an incoherent and ridiculous film.

In 1850s Mexico, Mexican-American Mary Stevens returns to protect a silver mine. While she fights to protect it she also falls for Don Miguel Navarro (Zachary Scott) and incites the ire of Don Pedro Alvarez (Arturo de Cordova).

This will be a short review because, despite my paying attention, I could not follow Stronghold’s plot. After reading IMDb I learned there are two versions of this: the American cut and the Spanish-language version, Furia Roja. It wasn’t uncommon for foreign versions of US releases to be done with completely different actors but recycling the same sets. However, it looks like Furia Roja got several sequences that were cut from Stronghold!

The film looks as if it was shot on a random backlot, like a cheap serial done by a Poverty Row studio. The script is about 85% narration starting from the opening exposition about the Civil War and what’s going on in Mexico inciting Mary and her mother to visit. The film is so reliant on the narrator nearly everyone has unwritten exposition that needs to be delivered by him. This is sloppy screenwriting, relying on telling us as opposed to showing us. Oddly enough, with all the narration permeating the film, it’s still near impossible to suss out the plot. Part of this could be how amorphous the time period is – if you don’t know what was going on in Mexico at the time you won’t get the gravity of the situation – but too much could be because this is an incredibly cheap film and the screenwriter was a monkey clanking on the keys in the hopes of crafting something (I’m guessing).

Since this is a US production of a Latin American film, expect a lot of American actors in brownface, the worst of which is Zachary Scott, another actor whose glory days were far behind him by this point. Scott plays Don Miguel and it’s sad seeing Monty Beragon looking so poorly. The brownface application looks like he received an undercooked tan. Scott suffered from depression and alcoholism that took a toll on his physical appearance leaving him with thinning hair and an overall exhausted pallor. Lake, hiding her famed peekaboo hairstyle, looks amazing, even if she seems just as confused as I. Her performance is fine, but she never hides the fact that the dialogue is inane and nonsensical. She performs the role of Mary Stevens adequately, no better or worse. The character is tenacious with little logic as to why the country is supposedly her home, despite her growing up in the US. Oh, and Mary also believes slavery is a good thing!

Considering my difficulty following the story the whole experience of watching was a mess. Furia Roja might be a better option if you’re interested in the story itself, or, if you enjoy Veronica Lake you might want to visit this as a means of completing her filmography.

Ronnie Rating:


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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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