May 022013
 
"Why is Cinco de Mayo a holiday?" Or how has Hollywood treated the Franco-Mexican War?

Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, is a Mexican holiday that receives little attention in Mexico but is an important holiday for the Mexican-American community. The holiday celebrates a Mexican victory at Puebla against French invaders, which begs the question, why did France invade Mexico in the first place?

The French Intervention in Mexico (1861-1867) is one of the stranger footnotes in history. Employing a flimsy excuse, Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon, invaded Mexico, stage-managed a referendum in favor of switching from a republic to a monarchy, and placed Archduke Maximilian, the brother of Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the throne. The French army defeated the Mexican army, but Maximilian’s support was limited to the conservative elite, while the countryside was dominated by Juaristas, guerrillas loyal to President Benito Juarez. After the fall of the Confederacy and the end of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the victorious Union would not tolerate a French presence on its southern border. Blatant pressure convinced the French to return home, enabling Juarez to regain control of Mexico. When the Juaristas finally captured Maximilian, they placed him on trial and executed him, so the brother of one of the most powerful men in the world died in front of a firing squad, like the thousands of Juaristas who had been executed in his name. Read More…

Mar 212013
 
Major Dundee

Rating: ★★★½☆
Near the end of the American Civil War, the commander of a Union prison recruits a mix of civilians, Confederate prisoners and Union troops to hunt down a band of Apache, pursuing them into Mexico, which was occupied by a French army struggling to place an Austrian prince on the throne. As the search extends into weeks and then months, the men gradually shed all traces of civilization.
Described as Moby Dick on horseback, the film became famous for director Sam Peckinpah’s mix of self-destructive behavior and brilliance. Clashing with the executives who ran the studio, the film was taken away from Peckinpah in the editing stage and a drastically shorter version was released, which was ridiculed by critics and ignored by movie-goers. Although no one knew it at the time, it was a dress rehearsal for The Wild Bunch, but it is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. Major Dundee is one of those movies where a film of the behind-the-scenes action would probably be as interesting as the final result. A restored version, based on a cut made by producer Jerry Bresler, was made in 2005, which provides a more coherent story, while revealing the movie’s flaws. Despite the flaws, it bursts with passion and brilliance. Read More…

Nov 012012
 
Juarez

Rating: ★★★½☆
A solid introduction to the French Intervention in Mexico, a relatively unknown episode in history when France tried to turn Mexico into a puppet state, Juarez presents the basic chronology, but is limited by the decision to have Paul Muni’s Juarez single-handedly evict the invaders. Read More…

Aug 122011
 
The French Intervention in Mexico

When Mexican President Benito Juarez refused to honor the foreign debts accumulated by his predecessor. Emperor Napoleon III of France used this refusal as an excuse to invade Mexico in 1862 and install Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of the Habsburg Emperor of Austria, as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1864. Napoleon hoped to exploit Mexico’s rich mineral resources and counterbalance the American republic with a Catholic Mexican monarchy. Maximilian proved to be more fixated on court etiquette than ruling the country, so when American pressure forced Napoleon to recall his army, forces loyal to Juarez restored the Mexican Republic in 1867. Read More…

Jan 262011
 
The Undefeated

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Using the French Intervention in Mexico as a backdrop, The Undefeated (1969) shows the reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers, but does not extend that reconciliation to the former slaves. Read More…