Cast & Crew
Carlos L. Cabello
In the Mexican mountain village of Santiago, Juan Diego accompanies his mother Esperanza to visit Trini, the local wise woman. Esperanza asks Trini about the baby she is carrying, and Trini casts its fortune in corn. She tells Esperanza that the baby will be a boy and will be handsome and fortunate. Back at home, Juan Diego works in the corn fields with his father and his brothers, Paco and Carlos. Corn is the staple of their lives. They use it to make tortillas and, after the landowner takes first choice of the crop, sell what is left to pay for other necessities. The following day, the family leaves early for the market. Paco is feeling ill and sits with his mother, while Carlos and Juan Diego wander through the market, where items such as toys, chilies, beans and hats are for sale. Paco is still sick when the family returns to Santiago, so Trini uses eggs to trap the evil that is infecting him, but he does not get better. Soon other children in the village complain of stomach pains. Juan Diego asks the schoolteacher for help. The teacher, who has traveled outside the village, believes that contaminated well water is the cause of the children's illness, but Juan Diego's mother puts her faith in Trini's cures. Despite all Trini's efforts, Paco dies. All night long, the neighbors dance near the corpse. The new baby is born on the village feast day and is named Santiago. When more children become sick, the villagers hold a procession of saints and beg for their protection. The teacher borrows a projector to show the people about germs, but some are offended by the idea of serums and inoculation. The teacher then asks the people to sign a petition asking for a doctor, but because the landowner disapproves, the petition is not signed. When Juan Diego's sister Maria becomes ill, he writes a letter with the teacher's help, asking for medical help and then carries it himself to a distant city. At the hospital, Juan Diego learns that all the medical teams are unavailable, but a doctor is so impressed by Juan Diego's efforts that he accompanies him back to Santiago. The villagers, however, are suspicious of these outsiders and hide their children. The doctor examines Maria and gives her medicine for her fever, but Juan Diego's father refuses to let the doctor give his daughter an inoculation. When the doctor purifies the water in the well, Trini accuses him of poisoning the water. Later a baby dies, and Trini blames the medication. After the villagers drive the doctor away, Juan Diego abducts Maria and takes her to the doctor, who advises him to use the medicine when he can and disinfect the well at night when no one can see. When Juan Diego returns home, his father orders him to leave. Juan Diego goes to the teacher, who promises to try to convince the villagers to use the medication. With the doctor's help, Juan Diego goes to the city to study. The doctor consoles Juan Diego, saying that when Maria gets well, the people will accept the value of the medicine. He then tells Juan Diego that it is young people like him who will bring knowledge back to their people and help them to change.
Carlos L. Cabello
Rosa Harvan Kline
In a written foreword, the film explains that the people who appear in the film are actual peasants, doctors and teachers, not actors, and observes that there is a conflict between the ancient ways and more modern approaches in the small mountain towns of Mexico. This film marked the first time that John Steinbeck wrote directly for the screen. A December 28, 1942 New York Herald Tribune article reported that director Herbert Kline and Steinbeck insisted on paying the amateur Mexican actors a high wage, thus angering their regular employers, the farm owners, who then tried to stop the filming until the richest owner gave his approval to the arrangement.
A study guide included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library adds the following information about the production: The film was shot over a ten-month period in Mexico. The story was later published and illustrated with 136 photographs from the film. On November 23, 1941, New York Herald Tribune reported that New York censors had banned the film because of scenes in which a mother breast-feeds her child and another in which a midwife is shown aiding a woman in childbirth. After the film's sponsors protested the censors' decision, it was reversed by the State Board of Regents, according to an December 8, 1941 Time article. The Time article also notes that Silvestre Revueltas was Steinbeck's choice to compose the film's music, but died before the film was completed and was replaced by Hans Eisler. According to information in the MOMA files, a Spanish version of the film was also produced.