Crush-a-Thon: Barquero

Today we’re pleased to welcome the one and only Hal Horn, of the appropriately named Horn Section, to the ranks of our Crush-a-Thon guest bloggers. It’s a great site where he reviews the “obscure, overlooked, and sometimes very old.” He brings us the 1970 western “Barquero,” featuring his crush Marie Gomez.

“Barquero” was a childhood favorite of mine despite being very hard to find for three decades after its 1970 arrival. Never released on VHS and yet to make it to DVD, this ultraviolent (over a hundred deaths–go ahead, count ’em!) Western barely rated a blip in Maltin’s Film Guide and could only occasionally be seen in late night superstation showings.

Once Showtime (and later Encore) began airing “Barquero” regularly around the turn of the century, fans discovered a hidden treasure. “Barquero” boasted a great cast headed by Leone (Lee Van Cleef) and Peckinpah (Warren Oates) cult favorites and arguably the best late-career role for Horn Section patron saint and 1950’s Western icon Forrest Tucker. The benefit of hindsight also revealed this western’s commentary on the then-current Vietnam conflict that was completely missed by mainstream film reviewers–not one review I could find from 1970 caught it.

Fortunately “Barquero” has become much easier to see on Retroplex, Encore Westerns and (for a time) Netflix Instant in recent years, but we’re still waiting on that long-overdue DVD release, something I already covered back in 2006 when I made “Barquero” the very first review here at The Horn Section. Yes, this was “Why the Hell isn’t this on DVD yet?” Number One. As you’ve surely noticed from the leads, this is a guy’s movie through and through, complete with requisite eye candy. Mariette Hartley is top billed among the fairer sex, but with all due respect to her, I barely remembered she was in it afterwards. In the eyes of this young man, the pretty redhead was out va-va-voomed by a wide margin, thanks to the presence of Marie Gomez as Nola, girlfriend of the titular character played by Lee Van Cleef.

In the film Hartley wasn’t impressed, telling Travis the Barquero that he’d “never known a real woman” and further asserting that the tomboyish Nola is “half a man”. Come on! Obviously a bunch of meowing about the competition. It’s easy to see that Hartley’s claims are just sour grapes when the busty Latina lass makes her first appearance.

How sexy was Marie Gomez in this film? Put it this way: I can’t stand smoking, but I thought she was smokin’ even when greeting us with a cigar in her mouth.

Beyond her obvious attributes, one quickly understands what the taciturn, secular Van Cleef sees in her. She makes her way through the town of squatters with the same paucity of words the Barquero gives his customers, effortlessly commanding the attention of most of the men (“Take your time” is her response to the overeager blacksmith) and showing palpable disgust with the self-appointed religious leader with a single brief expression.

Not once during Barquero’s 113 minute running time does Gomez’ Nola become a damsel in distress. Quite the contrary. She handles her impressive rifle as well as any of her manly co-stars, firing quickly and accurately during the shootouts with Oates’ mercenaries over Van Cleef’s barge. When the aforementioned religious leader suggests burning the boat and tries to rally support to do so, it’s Nola who quickly quells the coup by threatening to shoot him herself.

“She will!” confirms the man to her right. Judging from the crooked preacher’s reaction, he didn’t need the echo. Nola and Travis are bonded by toughness, self-sufficiency and a decidedly secular outlook.

Hartley’s husband is the lone settler who doesn’t make it across the river, and she offers herself to Van Cleef in exchange for a rescue. This is an intriguing development: Van Cleef takes Hartley up on the offer….

…and Gomez is cool with it, to the point of bringing him coffee afterwards and smiling knowingly at Hartley when the Barquero returns to her.

Van Cleef might wander from time to time, but he won’t leave the woman he knows he belongs with. Gomez again expresses that she knew it all along with nary a word. The titular character is a very lucky man indeed. Nola’s intriguing and mysterious, and you could say the same for the actress portraying her. “Barquero” was my first exposure to Marie Gomez, and this preteen sought out other credits for his newfound crush.

Unfortunately I found there were few other credits to peruse, especially in those pre-IMDB days. (How did we ever live without it?) Gomez began her career with a Golden Globe nominated splash in “The Professionals” (1966) and became familiar to U.S. television viewers through her popular recurring role as Perlita in NBC’s The High Chaparral (1967-1971). Then she vanished after a too-brief five year heyday, with “Barquero” being her last screen credit to date. 1968’s “The Daring Game” was the only other role of substance I found. Marie Gomez’ busty figure also made her a popular magazine model during the last half of the swingin’ Sixties.

I was reminded of her every time I revisited “Barquero”, and the beautiful Latina remained mysterious well into my adulthood, finally resurfacing in 2005 to be interviewed for the DVD release of “The Professionals”. She also made it to the 40th anniversary cast reunion for The High Chaparral in Studio City, California. It was during an interview for the latter that I learned where she’d been all those years: mostly, doing charity work for orphans in Mexico and for The Lord’s Lighthouse. Hopefully the near future will bring Gomez’ participation in the extras for Barquero’s long overdue DVD release.

Onscreen, she shone briefly but unforgettably. She may not be the most mysterious of my childhood crushes any longer, but Marie Gomez is still one of the sexiest and most memorable.

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3 thoughts on “Crush-a-Thon: Barquero

  1. Well that settles tonight’s Western double-feature. I was going to do Apache Drums (http://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/the-val-lewton-blogathon-apache-drums-1951/) followed by Ramrod (http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film4/blu-ray_reviews_58/ramrod_blu-ray.htm) after work. But the latter’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. As gorgeous as Marie Gomez is, I’m a Warren Oates fan. In fact I first became aware of this title a couple of years ago after finding a cool pic of Oates with that hat of his. Thanks, Hal. I’m done putting off watching this one.

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