Seven Cities of Gold


1h 43m 1955
Seven Cities of Gold

Brief Synopsis

Catholic priest Junipero Serra accompanies a group of Spanish soldiers into the land north and west of Mexico. Reverand Serra, however, intends to establish missions there, while the military men want to find the fabled "seven cities of gold."

Film Details

Also Known As
The Gun and the Cross
Genre
Adventure
Historical
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 1955
Premiere Information
World premiere in San Diego, CA: 8 Sep 1955; Los Angeles opening: 21 Sep 1955
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Mexico and United States
Location
Guadalajara,Mexico; Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; Manzanillo,Mexico; Topanga Canyon, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Nine Days of Father Serra by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler (New York, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
9,243ft (12 reels)

Synopsis

In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola and his friend, Lt. José Mendoza, travel by carriage to Mexico City, New Spain. At their insistence, the carriage travels so fast that it hits an old woman and kills her. Padre Junípero Serra gives the woman last rites and then chastises the soldiers for their carelessness. Upon arriving at their destination, the soldiers are given orders to occupy California, which, although discovered by the Spanish in 1536, has not yet been conquered. The soldiers also hope to discover the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. Two parties are dispatched by sea, and an advance group takes an overland route to San Diego Bay. The main expedition, commanded by Portola, is ordered to meet the other three parties at San Diego and then proceed northward to Monterey Bay. Padre Serra, who hopes to found a string of missions in California, is named spiritual director of the expedition. As he blesses the departing soldiers, however, Serra startles the men with an accusation. Serra denounces the Spanish military's plans to enslave the "childlike" Indians and plunder their Seven Cities and, pressing a burning torch to his breast, urges the men to behave like "children of God." Before they depart, José complains that Serra carries too many religious "trinkets," but after the expedition is surrounded by armed Indians, the priest prevents an attack by giving the curious visitors strings of colorful beads. When a soldier is killed by an arrow in camp that night, however, José argues that Serra's method of handling Indians is ineffective. Determined to be rid of Serra, Portola feigns concern about an abscess on the priest's leg and orders him back to Mexico City. Serra becomes even more determined to found his missions, and that night, submits to a painful procedure that cures his leg. Later, Serra and José become separated from the column and lose their way in a fierce desert windstorm. Out of nowhere, a shack appears, and they receive food and water from the man, woman and child who live inside. Serra believes they have been miraculously rescued by the Holy Family, but José, an agnostic, is skeptical. The Portola expedition finally arrives at San Diego Bay, only to discover that Rivera's advance party has been decimated by disease. Portola sends the San Antonio back to Mexico City for supplies, places José in charge of the San Diego camp and proceeds northward to Monterey. That night, the Diegueño Indians attack the camp, and Matuwir, grandson of Diegueño chief Miscomi, is wounded. Serra nurses Matuwir back to health and then releases him, thereby infuriating José. Serra soon befriends the villagers, however, and although none of them agrees to be baptized, they begin to visit Serra's Mission San Diego de Alcala regularly. When Miscomi dies, Matuwir is named chief of the Diegueños. Unknown to him and Serra, José pursues and finally makes love to Matuwir's sister Ula. Months later, exhausted and starving, Portola and his men appear, reporting that they were unable to find anything but parched lands and "savages too useless to fight." Because the supply ship has not yet returned from Mexico City, Portola decides to abort the entire California expedition, but Serra persuades him to remain in camp until Saint Joseph's Day. Ula receives Matuwir's permission to accompany José to Mexico City as his wife, but José advises her to remain with her own people. Deeply distressed, Ula runs from José and falls from a cliff to her death. Portola refuses to have José punished "for the benefit of Indians," and Serra refuses to turn him over to the vengeful Matuwir. War drums sound for several days, and the Diegueños sabotage Portola's remaining supply of fresh water. Finally, aware that they will be destroyed by the Indians, Portola orders his men to attack. As Serra blesses them, José confesses his sins and slowly walks out of the camp toward Matuwir's warriors. Serra weeps when José's body, with its heart cut out, is returned to the camp. Because Saint Joseph's Day has dawned without the supply ship having arrived, the expedition abandons the mission and sets out for Mexico City. Shortly after their departure, however, the San Antonio sails into the bay, and the exuberant party returns. As the sailors unload bells meant for the mission at Monterey, Serra rings out a loud, clear tone, "one my Indians will love. I can hear them coming!"

Videos

Movie Clip

Seven Cities Of Gold (1955) - The Glory Of Spain Interesting introduction of three principals (and two historical figures), Anthony Quinn as Spanish Captain Portola and Richard Egan his fictional lieutenant, in a reckless rush to Mexico City, causing an accident and meeting Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie), in 20th Century-Fox’s Seven Cities Of Gold, 1955.
Seven Cities Of Gold (1955) - Burn It Into Your Heart Preparing to depart Mexico City for California, 1769, Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie) goes rogue with the Spanish colonial rank-and-file, cueing grumbling from Captain Portola and (fictional) Lt. Mendoza (Anthony Quinn, Richard Egan), with top career-Assistant Director Robert D. Webb directing, in Seven Cities Of Gold, 1955.
Seven Cities Of Gold (1955) - The Holy Family Michael Rennie as the famed Father Junipero Serra and Richard Egan as the imagined Lt. Mendoza have been separated from their expedition in a dust storm, in New Spain (a.k.a. Mexico), 1769, and find phantom solace, in Seven Cities Of Gold, 1955.
Seven Cities Of Gold (1955) - We Will Not Be Evil Another fabricated event in the factual mission of Father Junipero Serra to 1769 California, Jeffrey Hunter as Indian Matuwir mediates a meeting with his grandfather (Guillermo Calles), with a glimpse of Rita Moreno as maiden Ula, in Seven Cities Of Gold, 1955.
Seven Cities Of Gold (1955) - How Many Wives Have You? Hard to call it anything but frolicking, in the California Pacific (likely from the Guadalajara-area Jalisco, Mexico location shoot), 1769, Spanish Lt. Mendoza (Richard Egan) finally meets native Ula (Rita Moreno), with the best hairdo in the tribe, in Seven Cities Of Gold, 1955.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Gun and the Cross
Genre
Adventure
Historical
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 1955
Premiere Information
World premiere in San Diego, CA: 8 Sep 1955; Los Angeles opening: 21 Sep 1955
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Mexico and United States
Location
Guadalajara,Mexico; Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; Manzanillo,Mexico; Topanga Canyon, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Nine Days of Father Serra by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler (New York, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
9,243ft (12 reels)

Articles

Seven Cities of Gold


Seven Cities of Gold (1955) is based on the true story of a Spanish expedition into California in 1769, led by the soldier Gaspar de Portola. As played by Anthony Quinn, his orders are to lead a group to colonize the territory and search for the possibly mythical "seven cities of gold." Accompanying him as spiritual advisor is a Franciscan priest, Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie), who winds up establishing California's first mission in what is now San Diego. The central story conflict is between these two men, with the tough soldier focused on plunder and confrontations with Native Americans, and the gentle priest focused on peaceful outreach and education.

The project was developed by Twentieth Century-Fox from a 1951 novel entitled The Nine Days of Father Serra, by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler. At first announced for writer John C. Higgins and producer Charles Brackett, the film ultimately wound up being written by Richard L. Breen and directed by Robert D. Webb, who also produced it with his wife Barbara McLean, a longtime Fox studio film editor.

Webb had begun his career as a prop man before moving up to assistant cameraman at Louis B. Mayer Productions in 1919. In 1935, he started a long association with director Henry King at Fox as an assistant director and later second-unit director. (Webb won the last Academy Award ever given in the category of Best Assistant Director, for 1938's In Old Chicago.) He made a transition to feature film director in 1945 with the B film The Caribbean Mystery. His most famous film as director would be Love Me Tender (1956), starring Elvis Presley.

In 1937, Webb met the film editor Barbara McLean, but it wasn't until they were both working on 1951's David and Bathsheba, and were invited to dinner by leading lady Susan Hayward, that they started seeing each other. Soon they were married, and a few years later they were producing their first of two films together, Seven Cities of Gold.

Webb later said in an oral history interview (held at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library) that he thought the initial approach to this story was more interesting than what ultimately appeared onscreen. The picture was made under the working title The Gun and the Cross; with that title, Webb said, "you've got your conflict. That's the way I wanted to go after it, [with] that spiritual [element]... I had a beautiful scene with Father Serra sitting on the sand with the Indian, and he said, 'The wind--where does the wind come from?' I had things that would open up the conflict and make you ask who is doing the better, this guy going out and subduing the Indians or the Father bringing them in through a spiritual concept. They cut that out of the picture."

Instead, the studio powers inserted a love story--between a Spanish officer played by Richard Egan and an Indian girl played by Rita Moreno--to drive the story's development and crisis. Webb felt this was contrived, "There [was] no legitimate reason for the love story... It still sticks out like a sore thumb."

Rita Moreno wasn't too crazy about the role, either. The 23-year-old actress was five years into a career that had included memorable small roles in Pagan Love Song (1950) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), after which MGM chose not to renew her contract. She freelanced for a short time, and then in March 1954 Fox chief Darryl Zanuck noticed her on the cover of Life magazine--a sexy shot, Moreno recalled, in which she was "baring my teeth and looking over my bare shoulder." Zanuck promptly signed her to a contract and cast her in Garden of Evil (1954), Untamed (1955), and then Seven Cities of Gold.

"I must have been filed under the category of 'general ethnic,'" Moreno later wrote in her memoir. "I guess they figured that if there was some sort of accent, darker skin, or an exotic look, a little Puerto Rican girl could play the role. Indian maiden roles were popular in the era. [They] became a stereotype--insulting along both sexual and racial lines. The maidens are all captured in some sexy way, and they either love the Indians who capture them (the majority of the time) or not. For years I...played parts that involved...sexily swinging my fringes and once again speaking in my generic ethnic accent.

"The Indian maiden roles had their challenges. For starters, buckskin is one of the most uncomfortable materials to wear; it is stiff and freezing cold during those dawn shoots in the desert... All my maidens had goose bumps."

The movie was shot by ace cameraman Lucien Ballard in color and CinemaScope in Mexico--in the badlands around Guadalajara and the beaches and hills surrounding Manzanillo. During the shoot, Moreno bonded with Anthony Quinn. "He wasn't a big star yet," she recalled, "except at seduction. But his role in that performance didn't get a good review from me. Tony wasn't nice to women. I suffered whiplash from his sudden uncourtly and uncouth departure. But I was attracted to him because we had many things in common despite being years apart in age... Tony was one of the few Hispanic men in my life, and what we shared was the experience of Tony's ethnic stereotyping mangle, which had Tony playing ethnic roles such as Indian and Hawaiian chiefs, Chinese guerillas, Filipino freedom fighters, and Arab sheikhs. Underneath, he and I both simmered with resentment over our stereotypical casting... Tony was a real mentor to me in one important way: as an actor, he always did what he could within the roles he was given." To her credit, Moreno did the same in film after film, which paid off when she landed a major role in a much more prominent picture, The King and I (1956).

Seven Cities of Gold opened to mixed reviews. The Los Angeles Times noted it as "one of the most serious efforts made by film studios to tell a story of the founding of California." The Hollywood Reporter said "Webb and McLean make an auspicious bow," and Variety, despite Webb's opinions to the contrary, deemed it "a thoughtfully made picture that sharply delineates the difference between spiritual and military triumphs."

By Jeremy Arnold
Seven Cities Of Gold

Seven Cities of Gold

Seven Cities of Gold (1955) is based on the true story of a Spanish expedition into California in 1769, led by the soldier Gaspar de Portola. As played by Anthony Quinn, his orders are to lead a group to colonize the territory and search for the possibly mythical "seven cities of gold." Accompanying him as spiritual advisor is a Franciscan priest, Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie), who winds up establishing California's first mission in what is now San Diego. The central story conflict is between these two men, with the tough soldier focused on plunder and confrontations with Native Americans, and the gentle priest focused on peaceful outreach and education. The project was developed by Twentieth Century-Fox from a 1951 novel entitled The Nine Days of Father Serra, by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler. At first announced for writer John C. Higgins and producer Charles Brackett, the film ultimately wound up being written by Richard L. Breen and directed by Robert D. Webb, who also produced it with his wife Barbara McLean, a longtime Fox studio film editor. Webb had begun his career as a prop man before moving up to assistant cameraman at Louis B. Mayer Productions in 1919. In 1935, he started a long association with director Henry King at Fox as an assistant director and later second-unit director. (Webb won the last Academy Award ever given in the category of Best Assistant Director, for 1938's In Old Chicago.) He made a transition to feature film director in 1945 with the B film The Caribbean Mystery. His most famous film as director would be Love Me Tender (1956), starring Elvis Presley. In 1937, Webb met the film editor Barbara McLean, but it wasn't until they were both working on 1951's David and Bathsheba, and were invited to dinner by leading lady Susan Hayward, that they started seeing each other. Soon they were married, and a few years later they were producing their first of two films together, Seven Cities of Gold. Webb later said in an oral history interview (held at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library) that he thought the initial approach to this story was more interesting than what ultimately appeared onscreen. The picture was made under the working title The Gun and the Cross; with that title, Webb said, "you've got your conflict. That's the way I wanted to go after it, [with] that spiritual [element]... I had a beautiful scene with Father Serra sitting on the sand with the Indian, and he said, 'The wind--where does the wind come from?' I had things that would open up the conflict and make you ask who is doing the better, this guy going out and subduing the Indians or the Father bringing them in through a spiritual concept. They cut that out of the picture." Instead, the studio powers inserted a love story--between a Spanish officer played by Richard Egan and an Indian girl played by Rita Moreno--to drive the story's development and crisis. Webb felt this was contrived, "There [was] no legitimate reason for the love story... It still sticks out like a sore thumb." Rita Moreno wasn't too crazy about the role, either. The 23-year-old actress was five years into a career that had included memorable small roles in Pagan Love Song (1950) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), after which MGM chose not to renew her contract. She freelanced for a short time, and then in March 1954 Fox chief Darryl Zanuck noticed her on the cover of Life magazine--a sexy shot, Moreno recalled, in which she was "baring my teeth and looking over my bare shoulder." Zanuck promptly signed her to a contract and cast her in Garden of Evil (1954), Untamed (1955), and then Seven Cities of Gold. "I must have been filed under the category of 'general ethnic,'" Moreno later wrote in her memoir. "I guess they figured that if there was some sort of accent, darker skin, or an exotic look, a little Puerto Rican girl could play the role. Indian maiden roles were popular in the era. [They] became a stereotype--insulting along both sexual and racial lines. The maidens are all captured in some sexy way, and they either love the Indians who capture them (the majority of the time) or not. For years I...played parts that involved...sexily swinging my fringes and once again speaking in my generic ethnic accent. "The Indian maiden roles had their challenges. For starters, buckskin is one of the most uncomfortable materials to wear; it is stiff and freezing cold during those dawn shoots in the desert... All my maidens had goose bumps." The movie was shot by ace cameraman Lucien Ballard in color and CinemaScope in Mexico--in the badlands around Guadalajara and the beaches and hills surrounding Manzanillo. During the shoot, Moreno bonded with Anthony Quinn. "He wasn't a big star yet," she recalled, "except at seduction. But his role in that performance didn't get a good review from me. Tony wasn't nice to women. I suffered whiplash from his sudden uncourtly and uncouth departure. But I was attracted to him because we had many things in common despite being years apart in age... Tony was one of the few Hispanic men in my life, and what we shared was the experience of Tony's ethnic stereotyping mangle, which had Tony playing ethnic roles such as Indian and Hawaiian chiefs, Chinese guerillas, Filipino freedom fighters, and Arab sheikhs. Underneath, he and I both simmered with resentment over our stereotypical casting... Tony was a real mentor to me in one important way: as an actor, he always did what he could within the roles he was given." To her credit, Moreno did the same in film after film, which paid off when she landed a major role in a much more prominent picture, The King and I (1956). Seven Cities of Gold opened to mixed reviews. The Los Angeles Times noted it as "one of the most serious efforts made by film studios to tell a story of the founding of California." The Hollywood Reporter said "Webb and McLean make an auspicious bow," and Variety, despite Webb's opinions to the contrary, deemed it "a thoughtfully made picture that sharply delineates the difference between spiritual and military triumphs." By Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was The Gun and the Cross. In a spoken foreword, the film announces that only "one language" would be used in the dialogue, despite the varying ethnic backgrounds of the characters. In the onscreen credits, actor Julio Villarreal's surname is incorrectly spelled "Villareal."
       According to an August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Edward Dmytryk was originally assigned to direct the picture. According to an January 18, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Cameron Mitchell had been cast in a lead role, and in February 1955, Hollywood Reporter announced that singer Russell Evans was considered for a part in the picture. Hollywood Reporter news items include Felipe Méndez, January Svelk, Jaime Rosario, Jack Maner and Gilda Fontaine in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. A April 4, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the "famous choir" of Franciscan Cathedral Toluca, a four-hundred-year-old church near Mexico City, was going to be used in the film for "special choral effects," but the choir's participation in the released picture has not been confirmed.
       Seven Cities of Gold was mostly filmed in Mexico, in and around the west coast town of Manzanillo and the deserts of Guadalajara. An Indian village was built as a set in the hills near Manzanillo, and a reproduction of the original San Diego mission was constructed on the beach. Although studio publicity material credits Mexican director/producer René Cardona as Robert Webb's co-director, and Mexican director of photography Jorge Stahl as Lucien Ballard's camera operator, it is likely that they were hired only to fulfill union requirements and did not actually work on the production. A few sequences of the picture were shot on location in Topanga Canyon, CA, according to a May 19, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item.
       As depicted in the film, in 1769, Padre Junípero Serra (1713-1784) accompanied the expedition of José de Galvez to Upper California and founded the Mission San Diego de Alcala. It was the first of twenty-one Franciscan missions established in California. On September 25, 1988, Serra was beatified, the first step leading to sainthood in the Catholic Church. The Motion Picture Herald reviewer remarked that Seven Cities of Gold was the "first important film dealing with" Serra's contributions, while the Hollywood Reporter review commented that it was "the first film to pay attention to the important contributions of culture and humanity made by the Spanish to the development of more than half of the new world." Director-producer Webb and producer Barbara McLean were married at the time of this production. Seven Cities of Gold marked the first producer assignment of longtime Fox film editor McLean.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 1955

Released in United States on Video July 1988

CinemaScope

Released in United States on Video July 1988

Released in United States Fall September 1955