By Ray O’Hanlon
A row has erupted over a movie depicting the exploits of Irish immigrants who fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
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.
The film had its world premiere in Belfast a couple of months ago. Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams was one well-known figure who attended what was a highly publicized opening night.
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.
But despite the presence of two well-known Hollywood actors and favorable reviews in publications, including the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly, the movie is in apparent full retreat.
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"It bombed. It did horribly in theaters," MGM spokeswoman Amanda Marashinski told the Echo Tuesday.
However, another account of the movie’s demise has been circulating on the internet. It suggests that the film came a cropper as a result of national sensitivities.
The internet tale alleges that MGM pulled the plug on the production because a top official in the company believed the film to be "anti-American."
"California became part of the United States as the result of the Mexican American War. Even hard-bitten old soldiers like Ulysses S. Grant thought the war a blatant land grab and a national disgrace," the web account, put out by a group of San Francisco-based Irish American activists, suggests.
The internet account continued: "An MGM executive, when asked why the company was giving the film the silent treatment, replied he considered it ‘anti-American.’"
"I find that offensive," said MGM’s Marashinski. "We advertised "One Man’s Hero" in newspapers and we had a campaign aimed at Hispanics that cost a lot of money. The audience dropped by 87 percent last weekend because the word of mouth is bad," she said.
Marashinki said that the favorable reviews had not mattered for the film which was actually made by Orion pictures. While she believed that it was still "holding on" in one or two theaters she reiterated her initial assessment. "It bombed," she said.
One veteran Hollywood observer who has seen "One Man’s Hero" told the Echo that, overall, the reviews of the picture were accurate.
While he found some scenes, one of them depicting Irish dancing, a bit wide of the mark, the filmgoer, who preferred not to be named, described "One Man’s Hero" as "a very serious effort, faithfully true, a wonderful account."
"The film started off quite slowly but the drama increased to the point that battle scenes were reminiscent of what Kenneth Branagh achieved with limited resources in Henry V," the observer said.
The film climaxes with a gut-wrenching scene in which captured San Patricio soldiers are branded and hanged as the American flag is raised before their eyes.
The film closely reflects the story of the San Patricios as documented in a recent book, "The Irish Soldiers of Mexico," written by Michael Hogan of the American School of the University of Guadalajara.
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.
One reviewer of the book, James Fogarty, wrote that Hogan’s book revealed that labeling the group as American deserters was a tactic that had been manipulated by biased historians who "ignore the fact that at least 46 known members were not deserters and that many were Irish residents of Mexico prior to the invasion of Mexico by U.S. forces."
The review added: "Hogan also indicates that declaring oneself to be Irish and Catholic in the U.S. army at that time was akin to declaring oneself Jewish in Nazi Germany, a point graphically made by the Mexican-Jewish artist, Luis Camnitzer."
Meanwhile, more details on "One Man’s Hero" can be obtained on the web at http://www.dayproductions.com/patricio.html.