Cast & Crew
In 1915, in the arid mountains of western Mexico, American mercenary Tom Bryan and revolutionary Col. Juan Castro hide behind a wall of bagged gold, as a group of armed soldiers close in. While awaiting the inevitable confrontation, Tom recalls how he and Juan ended up together: In a small town, Tom, who owns a powerful machine-gun called "La Cucaracha," helps Juan rob a bank, the spoils of which are to go to Pancho Villa's revolutionary army. Later, Tom delivers the money to one of Villa's aides, who tells him about a planned holdup of a gold shipment in Santo Tomas. At first, Tom refuses to become involved, as he has grown tired of the rugged rebel life, but changes his mind when he learns that Juan is running the operation. In Santo Tomas, meanwhile, Juan inspects the site of the robbery, then rides to the rebel hideout. There he confers with Capt. Pablo Morales and Pablo's sympathetic wife Laria about the train heist. Because of a past wartime experience with Pablo, Juan is mistrustful, but Laria vouches for her husband's loyalty. Laria then introduces Juan to Ruth Harris, an American whose mine owner father was recently killed by government soldiers. Laria has befriended Ruth, an idealistic schoolteacher, and asks Juan to take her north with him after the robbery. After Juan promises to consider Laria's request, he, Pablo and their rebel band lie in wait for the gold-bearing train. As hoped, Tom is on board the train, carrying La Cucaracha in a bass fiddle case. Once the holdup begins, Tom grabs his machine-gun and joins the rebels in killing the soldiers guarding the gold. The gold is taken, and later, the rebels load the bags onto donkeys, along with some dynamite, and prepare to deliver them to Villa. While camped, Tom meets Ruth and is immediately attracted. After Juan gives Ruth permission to accompany him, she thanks Tom, assuming that he had put in a good word for her. Tom, in fact, does not think that Ruth should make the hazardous journey and disparages her commitment to the revolution. In turn, Ruth questions Tom's claims that he is only in it for the money and, when he insists that he could care less about Villa, denounces him. Soon after the rebels depart, soldiers, guided by Indians, discover the abandoned camp and pick up the rebels' trail. Juan, meanwhile, leads the rebels across the rough, hilly terrain, reminding Pablo repeatedly that the gold belongs to Villa. One evening, Tom gives Ruth some perfume, and touched, she tells him that she prefers his "real," non-mercenary self. When Tom scoffs and declares that he is hoping to make a fortune off the revolution, however, Ruth again condemns him, but allows him to kiss her. Later, from a cliff, Juan spots the soldiers approaching and orders Pablo and some of the other rebels to take the gold to Villa, while he and a few others stay and fight. Ruth insists on fighting with Juan, but to her disgust, Tom decides to go with Pablo and keep an eye on the gold. Soon after, however, Tom hears the sounds of a gun battle and races back with La Cucaracha to help Juan. Tom and Juan defeat the soldiers, and Ruth apologizes to Tom. Later, at the place where the gold is to be delivered to Villa, Juan waits for both Villa and Pablo. Instead, Pablo and his men take Juan and the others prisoner, explaining that years earlier, while he and Juan were soldiers in another revolutionary army, Juan stole some gold for the then unknown Villa and forced Pablo to go into hiding. As revenge, Pablo intends to steal all the gold, sure that Villa will not come. Juan provokes Pablo into a fight, and during the commotion, Tom grabs La Cucaracha and subdues Pablo. Tom then unarms all of Pablo's men and forces Pablo to take Ruth and head for the safety of Tampico. Then, with no sign of Villa, he orders Juan and the remaining men to push on toward Yaqui country. Although Juan curses Tom for his betrayal, Tom offers to split the gold with him but is refused. Quickly, the men going toward Yaqui country begin to slip away from the mule train, driven by fear and thirst. Pablo and Ruth, meanwhile, run into another band of soldiers, and Pablo strikes a deal with the commandant, offering to lead the soldiers to Juan and Tom, in exchange for his freedom. After condemning Juan and the commandant, Ruth is sent north, while Juan guides the soldiers into Yaqui country. By the time the soldiers catch up to them, Tom and Juan are alone with the gold and the dynamite, high in the hills. Tom gives Juan a gun, and together they stack the gold bags to create a barrier. When Pablo is sent to negotiate with Juan and Tom, Juan shoots him, instigating a gun battle. Juan and Tom down many soldiers before their ammunition runs out, then plant the dynamite and retreat farther into the hills. While awaiting their fate, Juan assures Tom that Ruth was in love with him and insists that he was never interested in the gold. A soldier then sneaks up and kills Juan, but is in turn slain by Tom. Now alone, Tom lights the dynamite, and in the ensuing explosion, the gold as well as the soldiers are buried in a rock slide. Later, Tom, determined to keep the buzzards away, buries his friend's body under a pile of rocks.
J. Robert Bren
John E. Burch
The Treasure of Pancho Villa
"Kill you for a woman, gringo? Never! But for the Gold..."
Tagline for The Treasure of Pancho Villa
Romance took a back seat to lust for gold in the 1955 Western, The Treasure of Pancho Villa, one of the last gasps of RKO Studios under the leadership of eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes. The story focused on two adventurers, mercenary Rory Calhoun and revolutionary Gilbert Roland, as they battle over a golden treasure earmarked for bandit chief Pancho Villa. Hughes did it up in grand style, authorizing a location shoot in Mexico and having the picture filmed in Technicolor and SuperScope, RKO's version of Cinemascope. But it was in the romance department that Hughes exerted his greatest influence over the work of independent producer Edmund Grainger, casting one of his many obsessions, Shelley Winters, in the female lead. And though the role was distinctly secondary to the film's embattled action stars, the picture helped pave the way for better dramatic roles for Winters.
The Treasure of Pancho Villa was assembled by some of the top Western talents in the business. Director George Sherman had started out making B-Westerns at Republic Pictures with a pre-stardom John Wayne. He would continue in the genre through his final big-screen credit, the Duke's Big Jake in 1971. Grainger had cut his teeth on George O'Brien's low-budget Westerns at Fox in the early '30s. Calhoun had been discovered riding a horse, had just co-starred as one of the villains in Fox's big-budget River of No Return (1954), with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe, and would go on to star in the TV oater The Texan (1958-60). Even Winters had done her fair share of sagebrush sagas, including director Anthony Mann's pioneering Winchester '73 (1950) and the Destry Rides Again (1939) sequel Frenchie (1951), in which she had played the Marlene Dietrich role.
The most impressive Western pedigree on the film, however, belonged to screenwriter Niven Busch. In addition to scripting such critical favorites as The Westerner (1940), with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan, and the film noir Western Pursued (1947), with Robert Mitchum, he had penned the novels on which Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Furies (1950) had been based. Busch's writing had an intellectual bent, often mixing a bit of Freud in with the sawdust. What this meant to The Treasure of Pancho Villa was a decidedly verbose script that Sherman and company decided to film as if it were holy writ. Fortunately, the picture possessed enough action to balance the talky script.
For Winters, The Treasure of Pancho Villa opened the door to a new career. She was just coming off another Western, the Alan Ladd Canadian Mounty tale Saskatchewan (1954), when her agent called to relay Hughes' job offer. At the time, she was frustrated with her continued typecasting as a blonde bombshell, even after her shocking dramatic turn as Montgomery Clift's pregnant girlfriend in A Place in the Sun (1951). Moreover, her marriage to Italian star Vittorio Gassman was on the rocks, giving her more reason to make some changes in her life. Her dream was to be accepted as a serious dramatic actress, and she felt the best route to this would be to re-locate to New York and study with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio. So she called Hughes and made him an offer: instead of the $50,000 he wanted to pay her, she would take $48,000, paid out in monthly installments of $1,000 over the next four years. This would allow her to take some time away from the screen while working on her craft and crafting a new image. The move was a wise one. Soon after she returned to New York she landed the role of a drug addict's pregnant wife in the stage production of A Hatful of Rain. She didn't return to Hollywood until 1959, when she played an Oscar®-winning supporting role in The Diary of Anne Frank, launching her new screen career as a serious dramatic actress.
Producer: Edmund Grainger
Director: George Sherman
Screenplay: Niven Busch, based on a Story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Rory Calhoun (Tom Bryan), Shelley Winters (Ruth Harris), Gilbert Roland (Juan Castro), Joseph Calleia (Pablo Morales), Carlos Mosquiz (Commandant), Fanny Schiller (Laria Morales).
by Frank Miller
The Treasure of Pancho Villa
Onscreen credits conclude with the following written statement: "Appreciation is gratefully acknowledged to the Direccion General de Turismo of Mexico and General López de Nava, Governor of the State of Morelos, Mexico, for their assistance and cooperation in the production of this picture." In the onscreen credits, actor Carlos Múzquiz' name is misspelled "Mosquiz." Voice-over narration, spoken by Rory Calhoun as his character, "Tom Bryan," is heard intermittently throughout the film. Although not mentioned by name in the film, the Mexican president against whom Pancho Villa was fighting in 1915 was Venustiano Carranza. Prior to becoming president in 1914, Carranza had been a revolutionary leader with Villa, rebeling against Porfirio Díaz, Francisco Madero and Victoriano Huerta. For more information about Villa and the Mexican revolution, see the entry for the 1934 M-G-M film Viva Villa in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
According to mid-March 1955 Daily Variety news items, the production was based at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, and producer Edmund Grainger and director George Sherman obtained government clearances to film in Cuernavaca, Xenoptlam and Taxco, Mexico. Only Cuernavaca is mentioned as a location in later news items, however. According to an April 1955 Daily Variety news item, Van Johnson was originally cast as Tom Bryan. Modern sources note that students from the University of Mexico were recruited to portray soldiers and Indians in the picture.
Released in United States Fall October 1955
Released in United States Fall October 1955