Gunmen from Laredo | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews: Cinema of yesteryear

Gunmen from Laredo

7 March, 2021

In this 24th and final instalment of the weekly ‘Retro Reviews: Cinema of Yesteryear’ series, I spotlight a Hollywood Western with a Sri Lankan connection which many younger Sri Lankans today may not know of.

Gunmen from Laredo is a movie released in 1959 directed by Wallace McDonald. The movie has as its leading lady former Sri Lankan beauty pageant queen from the pre-republican (British dominion or Ceylon) era, Maureen Neliya Hingert who appeared in numerous international cinema productions, such as The King and I, Gun Fever and the Rawhide Trail to name some. Hingert who is ‘Ceylonese’ by birth and of Dutch Burgher descent, is an old girl of Holy Family Convent, Colombo. She won the title of Miss Ceylon in 1955 and became the 2nd Runner Up at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in 1955.

Damsel in distress

In Gunmen from Laredo, Hingert, who is credited in the cast by her Hollywood screen name Jana Davi, plays the role of Rosita, a young and beautiful damsel in distress who is rescued by Gil Reardon, played by Robert Knapp, a prison escapee on the run from the law. Rosita who is of Mexican and Native American descent and is the captive of the chief of a Native American tribe at the point Reardon chances upon her after breaking out of prison.

After freeing her from the tree, she is tied to, Reardon faces the wrath of her captor who soon appears on the scene. The fight that ensues results in the inadvertent death of the Native American aggressor and that forges the way for the thrust of the story which is preceded by the events that lead to the vendetta that Reardon is out to settle with the unscrupulous Ben Keefer, his brothers and their posse of gunslingers who show scant respect for the law.

Reardon is sentenced to prison for shooting one of Keefer’s men in cold blood in a bar saloon in Laredo.

The incident occurs following an attack made upon Reardon and his wife when they were travelling outside the borders of the town which results in Reardon’s wife getting killed. The circuit judge who holds court hands the jury verdict of ‘guilty’ to the charge of murder brought against Reardon by Keefer. Reardon has no evidence to present court that Keefer was behind the shooting that resulted in the murder of Reardon’s wife. However, his escape from prison on a dark night beset by a stormy gale puts him back on the trail to seek justice for his murdered wife.

Justice and romance

The town’s U.S Marshall knows that Keefer and his men are lawbreakers and harbours secret sympathises for Reardon to whom he says ‘I wish you had evidence’ on the accusation that Keefer is responsible for his wife’s death. Reardon thus in the course of his journey for justice finds himself romantically bound to Rosita who professes sincere love for him and yearns to run away with him across the border to Mexico where they can be free of the troubles that trail them. Reardon is thus caught between his sense of loyalty to avenge his murdered wife, as well as the opportunity of freedom and to love again.

A fugitive of the law out to avenge the murder of his wife by lawbreakers who cannot be brought to face justice in court saves a beautiful young woman who is held captive by the son of a powerful Native American tribal chief whose people are now on the trail to avenge the dishonour that has been cast upon their tribe form the crux of this cowboy western woven with themes of love, honour, vengeance, action and romance. The end is one that sees all accounts of conscience being settled and the worthy being triumphant.

A movie with a fast paced storyline that makes up a cowboy western with all the ingredients that unfold an engaging narrative, Gunmen from Laredo is a cinematic creation that can be applauded and celebrated as a retro classic that will not disappoint viewers.