By Ray O’Hanlon
The director of the movie "One Man’s Hero" has come out swinging against the distributors of his film, an historical epic depicting the role of Irish immigrant soldiers in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s.
"It’s very depressing for us. More than 2,000 people came together and worked their hearts out for this film," director Lance Hool said this week from his Santa Monica office.
The MGM-distributed "One Man’s Hero" has all but vanished from screens only a short time after it was released in selected markets in California and the southwestern U.S.
Controversy has swirled around the production in recent days with accusations circulating on the internet that MGM dropped the movie faster than a hot potato because it feels the film is anti-American.
When the Echo last checked, the movie was showing in just 11 West Coast theaters. It has not been released at all in major markets such as New York, Chicago or Boston.
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The film had its world premiere at the recent West Belfast Film Festival. Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams saw it and afterward described the film as "brilliant."
The movie stars Tom Berenger as a leader of the Irish San Patricio (St. Patrick) Battalion of the Mexican army. Irish actor Patrick Bergin stars as a U.S. general. The movie also features Prince Albert of Monaco, son of the late Princess Grace, in his first acting role.
But despite the presence of two top Hollywood actors, the son of a screen legend and favorable reviews in publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Box Office magazine, the New York Times and others, the movie is apparently heading fast for a cinematic Boot Hill.
"The film works. It came together beautifully but there has been absolutely no publicity to back it up," Hool said.
"One Man’s Hero" was originally an Orion Pictures production but was passed on to MGM a couple of years ago when Orion was sold.
According to Hool, once Orion was out of the picture, MGM lost interest in the "One Man’s Hero" project, which was being shot in Mexico.
"They couldn’t care less," he said. "We sent a first cut but there was no word from MGM. We delivered the movie on time and there was still no word."
Hool said he had subsequently heard through various lawyers and agents that top MGM management viewed the film as being anti-American.
According to Hool, "One Man’s Hero" is a companion to two previous Orion productions — both box office winners — "Platoon" and "Dances With Wolves," which were indeed critical of U.S. military policies, the former in Vietnam, the latter on the western frontier of the mid-19th century. Tom Berenger was one of the stars of "Platoon."
"One Man’s Hero" does climax with a gut-wrenching scene in which captured San Patricio soldiers are branded and hanged — for treason against the United States- – as the American flag is raised before their eyes. But both reviewers and the movie’s production team contend that the film is a faithful portrayal of historical events in a war that ultimately wrested California from Mexican control.
The film closely reflects the story of the San Patricios as documented in a recently published book, "The Irish Soldiers of Mexico," written by Michael Hogan of the American School of the University of Guadalajara. Hogan was frequently on the set of the film during production.
The book debunks a popular image of the San Patricios as being little more than a bunch of drunken deserters from the U.S. Army. It points out that known deserters represented only about a third of the total membership, while the majority were in fact European or Mexican citizens, and not citizens of the United States. Many of them were reacting to anti-Catholicism in the U.S. military.
But despite the reviews such as one in Box Office which compared "One Man’s Hero" to the works of legendary directors John Ford and David Lean, the U.S. release, according to Hool, "became a joke."
"A very small amount of money was spent on promotion, well under a million dollars. That’s nothing compared to most movies," Hool said.
Hool said that most of the promoting by MGM was aimed at the Spanish-speaking market in California and the Southwest. But MGM rejected the idea of dubbing it in Spanish or adding Spanish subtitles for selected theaters.
"The movie was promoted in Spanish and went out only in English. It was set up to bomb," Hool said.
Hool also expressed anger and disbelief at the "R" rating for historical violence attached to his film. He said that this was unfair as there was no gratuitous violence in the production. He was even prepared to change the branding scene to make it less explicit.
Hool, who has worked as a director and producer with some of Hollywood’s biggest acting names, including Charles Bronson, Danny Glover, Kevin Bacon and Patrick Swayze, said that "One Man’s Hero" was a work particularly close to his heart but that his sense of disappointment was being compounded because nobody was willing to stand up for the movie.
"The chance they (MGM) gave it was no chance," Hool said.
In an earlier report, the Echo quoted an MGM spokeswoman as saying that "One Man’s Hero had "bombed" because the word of mouth reaction to it was negative.
Hool countered that the reason why the film was still playing in any theaters at all was because the word of mouth from those who had seen "One Man’s Hero" was positive.