BURN!—-Power to the People time! Vietnam-era revolutionary sensibilities are soaked into a period costume adventure, with occasionally striking, often tedious, always obvious results. Filmed in Colombia (with some pieces in Morocco), it’s sweeping fiction about a British agent (Marlon Brando) who instigates a slave rebellion on a Portuguese-controlled Caribbean island in the 1830s. Colonialist replaces colonialist, the downtrodden get more so, blood flows.
Muddy ideology, choppy continuity, and mediocre supporting performers, none of that helped by slicing it down from its original 132 minutes to 112 for its 1969 release (since restored). Moments of vivid color texture alternate with jarring contemporary camera techniques. Using telephoto lenses, quick zooms and that accursed held-held wiggling has some validity in modern surroundings, but intruding on a recreation of a bygone age just highlights the fact that you’re watching a lot of actors, in wardrobe, waiting for a guy to yell “cut!”
Director (and partial-maniac) Gillo Pontecorvo orchestrates some clever mob scenes and passages of violence, while composer Ennio Morricone pitches in with typical flamboyance. The best thing about it all (and main reason to watch) is the quite good playing from Brando as the bastard of the piece. Some of his old vitality is on view, outfitted with swaggering flair. He thought it was his best acting he’d ever done (!), even though he almost got to the stage where he wanted to kill the director. They both went around armed at one point, things had deteriorated to such a degree. The awful heat in Cartagena locations, and Brando’s disgust at Marxist mouthpiece Pontecorvo’s casually indifferent treatment of poor local extras didn’t help tempers.
Brando’s work maintains enough interest for buffs and fans to catch this, though his presence wasn’t sufficient to hook the box-office, even after the title was changed from Queimada!, then again to The Mercenary. Results were $2,700,000 and 76th place among earners. Pontecorvo and his masses-in-revolt message fared much better three years earlier with his documentary-style coup The Battle Of Algiers.
With Evaristo Marquez, Renato Salvatori, Tom Lyons and Norman Hill.