This week Jon decided to show the 1960 Mexican film Macario, which turns out to be the perfect film to show somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving considering that two of its major themes are Día de los Muertos and turkey.  Directed by Roberto Gabaldón, it was the first Mexican film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar (it lost to Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, so no real shame in being a runner-up there).  Let’s get to it!

OK, fine.  “I take this turkey, to have and to hold, until death do us part.”  It’s just a turkey, honey!

Macario is a Mexican peasant who makes his meager living as a woodcutter.  In the early portions of the film, he and his family travel to the nearest town where they take in some of the celebrations of Día de los Muertos – and incidentally the film is allowed to establish themes regarding death from the outset.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to sell the lot of you for medical experiments

But before the film dives into its supernatural themes, it has to establish the depths of Macario’s poverty.  He has five hungry mouths to feed, and typically not enough food.  After forgoing his own food so that his children can eat more, Macario sees some turkeys in town, and vows to his wife never to eat again until he gets to eat an entire turkey for himself.  And more than being just an idle threat, Macario in fact carries this out to the point that his wife becomes worried that he will starve himself.  She is worried enough that she manages to not only steal a turkey, but also to surreptitiously cook it so that she can give it to him before he heads off to logging one morning without the children, who would invariably ask for some, noticing.

I can give you a pencil-thin mustache (the Boston Blackie kind), a two-tone Ricky Ricardo jacket and an autographed picture of Andy Devine!

So Macario, in triumph at his opportunity to eat the entire turkey, heads off into the woods to enjoy it in private.  He selects a good lunch location, but before he can dig in he is interrupted by a vaquero who asks him to share the turkey.  Macario recognizes the vaquero as the incarnation of the devil, and he rejects all of the devil’s overtures, including offers of wealth (Macario reasons that if he suddenly turned up with a ton of gold he’d be accused of stealing it) and the ownership of the land on which he does his logging (which seems useless to Macario – evidently he doesn’t pay for permission to cut down trees?) and eventually the devil gives up and disappears.

I’m not underexposed, they just had to film me through a piece of smoked glass

Although the devil has left, Macario decides to pack up and head somewhere else to eat – where he is now approached by God, and guess what God wants?  Some turkey!  Macario respectfully declines this as an unfair test of faith, and reasons that God could make his own turkey if he really wanted it.  So God heads off disappointed and Macario heads off somewhere else to finally eat his turkey in peace.

Hadn’t eaten for a month or maybe so

And who should show up but Death?  And what do you imagine Death wants?  Unlike the other encounters, Macario gives in to Death and offers to share the turkey 50/50.  After he and Death finish their lunch, Macario admits that he shared because he believed that Death’s appearance meant he had no time left and he hoped to forestall his own decease as long as possible.  Death is terribly amused by this, and offers Macario an amazing gift – he kicks the dirt and a fountain springs up.  He instructs Macario to fill his water gourd with the liquid from the fountain, a single drop of which will cure any illness – with a caveat.  If Macario is to treat one who seems fatally ill, Death will appear either at the foot or the head of the bed the ill person is lying in.  If at the foot, Macario may cure them, but if at the head, this person is reserved for Death, and Macario may not cure them.  Macario is of course pretty skeptical about this, but Death assures him that he will have a chance to test this out by the end of the day, and sends him off.

This sprightly little imp is a far cry from the salmon mousse accuser

Sure enough, Macario arrives home to find that his own son has fallen down the well, and while he has been hauled up by the locals, he is at death’s door.  Macario forces everybody to leave the room, and Death appears at the foot of the bed, allowing him to cure his son, a cure which appears miraculous to the crowd (to be fair, it IS) whom he allows back into the room after it is accomplished.  Word of this feat spreads through town, and Macario is evenutally asked by a wealthy man to save the life of his wife.  Macario acquiesces, and thus begins his career as a healer.

Macario is honorable about the whole thing, only charging people what they can afford, but still becoming quite rich in the process.  Unfortunately, his powers finally draw the attention of the local church, who take him into custody, find and smash his vials of elixir, and intend to punish him either as a charlatan or one in league with the devil.  They set a test for him, putting him into a dungeon full of ill prisoners and asking him which were to die.  They include a man who they think is clearly going to die soon, and one of their own guards, who is perfectly healthy.  Macario, guided by Death’s positioning, informs them that all will live except for the guard.  His captors think this is ludicrous, but sure enough, this is how it goes down.

Still, Macario is given one last chance to save himself – a church official’s son is deathly ill, and seeing as his wife has saved one final vial of elixir, Macario undertakes to do it.  Unfortunately, in this case Death stands at the head of the bed, forbidding a cure.

The worst part of Death’s domain is how that one Elton John song is on endless repeat on the sound system

Now seeing no other option, Macario flees through an open window and attempts to evade capture.  Finally he gets into the wilderness and takes shelter in a cave – which happens to be Death’s own domain.  Here in the cave, each candle represents a life, lives which Death snuffs out at his will.  Macario asks to see his own candle and finds that it is but a stub.  It is threatening to flicker out, but Macario seizes it from Death and flees the cave, holding tight to the last threads of his life.  Upon leaving the cave, he then finds himself in the location where he and Death had their luncheon…and that is where his wife and the authorities find him dead, having only eaten half the turkey.  The End.

OK, so almost the whole movie turns out to be a Dallas shower sequence, and it’s got a lot the Dickensian “you will be visited by three ghosts” thing going on, but still, it’s a really good movie.  Normally films from this era of this level of quality at least make the public consciousness, but I had never even heard of it before Jon announced it.  And, of course, it was worthy of that Oscar nomination, without question.