It is notoriously difficult to pin down what exactly constitutes Film Noir. Everybody seems to have their own list of titles that will variously include or omit a number of marginal entries. This 1953 movie would seem a likely candidate since it has a number of noir characteristics. The action, for the most part, takes place in Mexico, the lead is a down on his luck type drawn into intrigue, and the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to The Maltese Falcon. Furthermore, the director (John Farrow) had a fair noir pedigree, having overseen the likes of Where Danger Lives, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, and The Big Clock. So, does it qualify? I’m inclined to think not, but I can’t quite put my finger on the reason. The upbeat ending crossed my mind, but I don’t really buy into the theory that the style of everything gone before can be negated by the last few minutes – that would rule something like The Woman in the Window out of consideration as noir. Well, let’s just say that I don’t feel comfortable calling it noir – maybe someone else can offer a definitive answer.
The story opens in Oaxaca, Mexico and – via flashback and a noirish voice-over narration – takes us to Havana to introduce the main character, Al Colby (Glenn Ford), as a man on the bum and desperate to find the means to pay his debts and get back to the States. His hopes seem to be answered when he’s approached in a bar by a girl (Patricia Medina) in the employ of a crippled collector of artifacts (Francis L. Sullivan). Colby accepts the offer to book passage on a ship bound for Mexico with the aim of smuggling in a small package containing an old parchment. On board he meets the other main players, a spoiled rich girl (Diana Lynn) and a sinister archaeologist (Sean McClory). From there the action moves to Mexico and a treasure hunt ensues. So, there’s a race to possess a fortune, some dubious history, a fat man and a pair of duplicitous females – like I said, it all sounds like a cousin of The Maltese Falcon.
Glenn Ford is always an enjoyable actor to watch and he handles his fairly undemanding part well enough. Irish character actor Sean McClory looks a little startling with bleached blond hair and sunglasses, but his disbarred archaeologist (can an archaeologist be disbarred?), alternating between between charm and menace, is probably the best thing in the movie. Patricia Medina looks exotic and seductive and certainly fares better than the other female star, Diana Lynn, who has little more to do than impersonate Gloria Grahame.
Much of the film was shot on location in and around Oaxaca and makes good use of the ancient Zapotec ruins and pyramids. Paramount put this out on DVD a while back (before they decided to completely ignore their back catalogue) as part of the Batjac line. It looks very good and boasts a fine selection of extras, including a commentary, featurettes on Sean McClory and the Zapotec locations, trailer etc. Bearing in mind that the movie clocks in at around 80 minutes, it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.
8 thoughts on “Plunder of the Sun”
Very interesting piece. I suspect everyone has their own definition of what does or does not constitute Film Noir and is very resistant to any attempt to limit it. I would, for example, be unhappy with a definition which excluded “Laura” even though many people reject that as a candidate for the style. I personally think the definition should be elastic enough to encompass melodrama – “Clash By Night” springs to mind – but some find that a real sticking point.
I agree with you on ‘Laura’, I can see why others don’t want to call it noir but I couldn’t imagine leaving it out.
What about gothic pieces like ‘The Spiral Staircase’, ‘Dragonwyck’ or ‘Gaslight’? I usually think of them as noir but many would, I’m sure, disagree.
Another fine review, Colin. This one does seem to have a few good things going for it, especially the reliable Glenn Ford. It also appears to have been adapted from this David Dodge crime fiction novel from ’49. I also think an archaeologist can’t be disbarred because they don’t have a Bar to be expelled from ;-). Netflixing this one. Thanks.
It’s a nice little film – not perfect of course, but I’m still glad to have it.
Yes, the David Dodge novel you’ve linked to is the source. I actually bought a bunch of those Hard Case Crime editions last summer and have been working my way through them slowly. One of those I picked up, but haven’t yet read, is Plunder of the Sun. It’s a wonderful line of books though, full of neglected hard-boiled crime stories. I love the painted, retro-style covers too.
Thanks for the comment.
Just saw Ford in Human Desire, Plunder is next on my list. Ford was just an awesome actor, the Big Heat, just a classic. If you want to try a hidden gem of Glenn Ford’s that takes place during Christmas time, try Mr. Soft Touch.
This movie isn’t of the same quality as Ford’s work with Lang, but it’s still very enjoyable.
I have yet to see Mr Soft Touch but I do have a copy of the film on the recently acquired Ford set by Sony and TCM.
Another one I have never seen. How could I miss this one? Glenn Ford and Miss Medina with the reliable John Farrow at the controls. A whack on the side of the head sounds in order. LOL Again, thanks for the heads up.
It’s years since i last watched it but I still have a fairly positive impression of it. You’re right though, it is odd that it remains relatively obscure.