VCI Home Video // 1951 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 24th, 2006
Rebellion scorched the enemy's mightiest stronghold
A complex historical film set against the South American rebellion against Austrian emperor Maximillian, Stronghold doesn't even come close to living up to its name -- it's actually about as permeable as a sieve. This slapped-together, fairly tedious potboiler starring Veronica Lake makes its DVD debut from VCI, and provides a pretty good primer on the pitfalls of film co-productions.
At the behest of her Mexican-born mother, well-to-do Southern belle Mary Stevens (Veronica Lake. Sullivan's Travels) and her protector, Don Miguel Navarro (Zachary Scott, Mildred Pierce) leave Civil War-ravaged America and head south of the border. But Mexico is in the middle of its own violent upheaval, the Juarerz revolution, and when bandit Don Pedro Alvarez (Arturo de Cordova, For Whom the Bell Tolls) learns of Mary's silver mines located in the area, he kidnaps her in order to get enough money to fund his revolution.
An early Mexican-U.S. co-production, the historical adventure drama Stronghold was actually two films in one -- while scenes were shot with American stars Veronica Lake and Zachary Scott for the Hollywood version, a second version was simultaneously being made for theatres in South America. This other film, titled Furia roja, featured pretty much the same plot with local talent subbing in for the imported stars. Not too surprisingly, this dual citizenship is Stronghold's biggest weakness, a badly implemented trick that becomes as obvious as it is obtrusive.
Besides the parade of badly dubbed, outrageous South American accents, Stronghold crumbles under the sheer weight of poor editing. Almost all the scenes with Lake and Scott feel like they've been awkwardly spliced in, as they were meant to be replaced later on. The two American actors are almost never in the same shot as those they converse with, giving the film a slightly surreal quality, as though their characters are completely isolated from the others. Even more bothersome, secluded scenes of Mary and Don Miguel riding by themselves in carriages are interspersed throughout the film, culminating in one embarrassing scene where the two take a back-projected tour of Mexican market, probably culled from the Furia roja dailies. All in all, it reminded me off the Americanized version of Godzilla (1956), but at least that film had the sense to keep Raymond Burr offscreen for most of the action, and didn't try to directly integrate him into the action. Here, it's all too obvious what's going on, and it's incredibly distracting.
Also dragging Stronghold down is a narrator who breaks in periodically in an effort to keep the viewer up to speed on what is happening, but it's a futile effort -- there's so much plot in the film that almost every dialogue scene turns into another opportunity for exposition, leaving little room for character development . As Mary, Veronica Lake does the best she can in the stock role of a woman learning about her new adopted homeland, though she spends most of the time furrowing her brow and reciting intricate plot details for the benefit of the audience. Scott looks just as uncomfortable in his role, though he plays it appropriately smarmy, as he guards a mysterious secret.
Statically shot by B-film director Steve Sekely, better known for drek like Day of the Triffids and Revenge of the Zombies, Stronghold is also visually uninteresting, a dreary effort that stylistically borrows from low-budget westerns of its day, while leaving out all the thrilling action. Well, there is a flood, and the film ends with a ridiculously gentlemanly sword fight, but the rest of the film is almost rigidly slow-going. Part of the reason for this seems to be that a good deal of the plot has been lost in translation, and that the production of Furia roja was more of a priority than its American counterpart, with this version feeling something like an afterthought.
I wasn't even impressed with the print used for this DVD of Stronghold, which is riddled with artifacts and grain. Black levels are extremely lacking, making it difficult to make out some darker scenes. The mono soundtrack is a bit better, with all the badly dubbed dialogue presented clearly. The only extras on this disc are just a few text biographies and some trailers for unrelated VCI DVDs.
I just couldn't get into this Stronghold. Nice idea, but the execution is far too clumsy to forgive.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated