09 October 2014

Speaking of Mexican Bandits... Gilbert Roland's Cisco Kid

The Cisco Kid was created by O. Henry, of all people, in a story called "The Caballero's Way," published in 1907. He is very different indeed from familiar versions of the character; for one thing, he is not even Mexican, but a 22-year-old renegade named Goodall. He is also a thoughtless, casual killer, whose skill with a gun makes him all but invincible. These features fell away when Hollywood's never ending search for story material lit on this story.

But one thing did remain; as O. Henry puts it: "Besides his marksmanship the Kid had another attribute for which he admired himself greatly. He was 'muy caballero,' as the Mexicans express it, where the ladies were concerned. For them he had always gentle words and consideration. He could not have spoken a harsh word to a woman. He might ruthlessly slay their husbands and brothers, but he could not have laid the weight of a finger in anger upon a woman."

Gilbert Roland's Cisco Kid is a different breed of cat than Duncan Renaldo's take on the character that we're familiar with -- I can't remember the TV Cisco ever kissing a girl, though of course he would always help a lady in distress. The first thing you notice about Gilbert Roland's Cisco is how fabulous his tall, elegant figure looks in serape and silver-trimmed jacket and sombrero; the second is how much his version of the character loves women.

Every one of his six Cisco programmers involves at least one complex relationship with a female character -- sometimes several, and once with what turns out to be quite a bad girl. The plots generally involve Cisco wandering into town (with a side-kick called Baby -- Pancho hadn't come along yet) and discovering venal landowners or other big-business types oppressing innocent villagers in one way or another, and of course having to do something about it. Often, the wrongdoer's are Anglos, and sometimes they are corrupt officials. Throughout each film, he is flirtatious, kind, and chivalrous towards every female he comes across, from seven to seventy. None of them ever turns out to be the woman of his dreams, but he keeps on hoping.

Now, I was a huge Cisco fan as a little kid; Duncan Renaldo was my hero (and he deserved it; but that's another story!) But Gilbert Roland's Cisco is a Cisco for grown-up ladies.

This is a particularly hot moment from "Beauty and the Bandit":