Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca ( 1958 )

Walt Disney produced a number of great television serials during the 1950s and 1960s for his show The Wonderful World of Color. The most popular were The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and The Swamp Fox. One of the earlier serials, however, also ranks as one of the best - The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca - released in 1958. This was years before the average family owned a color television set, but Disney was shrewd enough to realize that the program may be re-aired in the near future and so he had the entire series filmed in color.

"And the legend was that, like el gato "the cat", nine lives had Elfego Baca"

This ten-part miniseries, set in the 1880s, starred a young Robert Loggia as Elfego Baca, the legendary gunman who took on the badge of deputy sheriff and vowed to rid New Mexico of the reckless cowboys who caused havoc in small towns. Baca was a man of peace but he wanted “outlaws to hear my steps a block away.” They not only heard him, but after he survived unscathed an incident where eighty cowboys ganged up on Baca and barraged over 4,000 shots into the house where he was holed up in for nearly 33 hours, he was nicknamed "el gato" the cat, and many believed that he truly had nine lives. Since this serial had ten parts, each episode featured a different incident that endangered one of those nine lives of Elfego Baca. 
The Italian-American Loggia makes a convincing Latino, oozing charisma as this noble hero. He's courageous and bold, considerate of the poor people in the village, and studious, too. He spends every free hour studying law so that he could become a lawyer and better serve the people. Each one of Baca's encounters with those around him are interesting, whether he's tracking down a wanted criminal ( even beyond state boundaries ), trying to prove the innocence of another, or engaging in a gunfight on the street.  
Almost all of Disney's television shows featured a little romance so Liza Montell was brought in to play the character Anita Chavez, a young widow who first encounters Baca when he uses her adobe house as a hideout. She's a fitting beauty for this good-hearted young man. Also in the cast are James Dunn, as a fellow lawyer; Robert F. Simon, as his deputy sheriff; and Leonard Strong as one of the villains.

One of the highlights of The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca is the introductions that Walt personally delivers to each episode. Dressed in western regalia, he narrates a brief history behind the man known as Baca and is then followed by a group of fiddling cowboys who perform the catchy opening theme song. Great entertainment!

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