Based on a nonfiction book by Oscar Lewis, an American anthropologist who spent time in Mexico studying the lives of the working class and gravitated toward the Sanchez family as a microcosm for his subject matter, The Children of Sanchez is an odd sort of a movie. Given the scope and socioeconomic significance of the material, a miniseries might have been a more appropriate format, allowing characterization and subplots to sprawl, thereby creating depth and texture. Crammed into a movie running about two hours, the storyline feels rushed and superficial, so every time director Hall Bartlett and his collaborators linger on something nonessential, the picture becomes rudderless. Specifically, because larger-than-life star Anthony Quinn plays the patriarch of the Sanchez family, his character receives a disproportionate amount of attention, even though the real protagonist of the story is Consuelo Sanchez, the patriarch’s willful daughter. Moreover, because Consuelo’s story depicts a woman finding her way to feminism, the source material’s original focus on economic issues gets overshadowed. It’s also distracting that smooth-jazz musician Chuck Mangione composed the score, because his distinctive flugelhorn riffs and disco-influenced grooves lack subtlety, drowning tender scenes with flamboyant sonics.
Covering multiple decades in the life of the Sanchez family, the picture begins, more or less, with the death of a matriarch. After Jesus Sanchez (Quinn) buries his wife, he becomes angry and remote, which causes anguish among his children. Eventually, he becomes a brute holding men and women alike to caveman standards of morality, beating and berating anyone who defies his commands or offends his sensibilities. Jesus is also a monstrous hypocrite, maintaining households with several common-law wives and supporting illegitimate children throughout Mexico City even as he calls his adult daughters whores simply because they date men. Upon reaching adulthood, Conseulo (Lupita Ferrer) reaches her limit, fretting that in her society, “only a man has rights.” The tipping point is when Jesus turns a housekeeper into a mistress. After Consuelo calls him on his boorish behavior, he ejects her from the house. Most of the film’s second half concerns her attempts to build a new life. Concurrently, Jesus wins a large amount of money in a lottery, soon discovering that wealth can’t heal the divides he’s caused within his own family.
If The Children of Sanchez sounds like a soap opera, that’s about right—which is a shame, because chances are something meaningful and relevant could have been made from Lewis’ book. In fact, some of Quinn’s scenes have weight, illustrating the damage a formidable man can do while serving only his own interests.
The Children of Sanchez: FUNKY