Douglas Fairbanks carries his adventurous spirit high into the Andes in The Gaucho, an inventive and playful comedy thriller. Fairbanks reveals new facets of his formidable talents and demonstrates an uncommonly fierce bravado that makes even his simple act of lighting a cigarette a marvel of machismo.
Armed with a pistol, the requisite sword and exotic Argentine bolas (which he hurls with remarkable skill, disabling his foes and, in one delightful scene, entwining himself with Lupe Velez for an especially intimate tango), Fairbanks shines as the reckless titular ne'er-do-well. His appetites for adventure, women and riches lead him to the City of the Miracle, a colossal shrine carved in a mountainside which houses a young girl (Geraine Greear) gifted with the power to heal. When the shrine is robbed by a pack of bandits, the roguish gaucho becomes its unlikely savior in an adventure with as many dramatic peaks as the Andes themselves, lightened by raucous comedy and flavored with moments of haunting beauty.
The Gaucho's relative darkness of tone makes it one of Fairbanks's most fascinating pictures today. No longer the admirable representative of healthy virtue, Fairbanks's character is a heavy drinker, falls prey to a deadly plague known as the "Black Doom" and carries on a carnal courtship with the tempestuous Velez. Even the religious conversion experienced by the protagonist near the film's climax implies a life previously devoted to iniquity that ran counter to the virtuous image Fairbanks cultivated throughout his career.
(Original music composed and performed by Sydney Jill Lehman)