Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mission to Glory: A True Story (1977)

          Bad news first—this low-budget biopic about a 17th-century Jesuit missionary who served a parish spreading from northwestern Mexico to southern Arizona and Baja California assumes the moral certainty of his crusade, meaning that all the natives whom the leading character encounters are depicted as savages in desperate need of Christian salvation. Worse, Mission to Glory: A True Story suffers from atrocious storytelling by writer-director Ken Kennedy, who employs clunky blocking and inert camerawork while steering a cast heavy with Hollywood C-listers through their paces. So in addition to being culturally dubious, the film is about as cinematically lifeless as anything you’ll ever encounter. And now the good news—for all of its faults, Mission to Glory: A True Story conveys an interesting narrative, albeit one very likely exaggerated and twisted from the historical events depicted onscreen. Surely it must have taken a unique individual to endure craven political machinations, internal strife among indigenous populations, and near-constant physical danger while trying to better the lives of others. Taken as a tribute to the man whom Kennedy imagines the real Father Kino might have been, the picture feels almost noble.
          According to voiceover at the beginning of the picture, Father Kino spent more than two decades building 19 ranches and 24 missions, suggesting he was spectacularly effective at spreading the gospel while traveling across desert terrain on horseback. At various times Kino clashes with the church, hostile tribes, and violent Spanish soldiers, meeting all adversaries with humility and resolve. Does the hagiographic portrayal stretch credulity? Of course. And does the parade of familiar character actors (Michal Ansara, Aldo Ray, Cesar Romero) add to the overall sense of fakery? Sure. (Playing the leading role, in an inconsequential performance, is 1950s Hollywood stud Richard Egan, quite a bit past his prime.) Yet Mission to Glory has a few vivid-ish moments amid the hokey music, one-dimensional characterizations, and predictable plot twists. Ricardo Montalban, of all people, gives the film’s best performance, an entertaining cameo as a savvy military official. Presumably persons of faith were and are the target audience for this piece, meaning they’re the folks most likely to overlook the picture’s massive shortcomings. For others, Mission to Glory might work best as well-meaning kitsch.

Mission to Glory: A True Story: FUNKY

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