Thursday, March 12, 2020

Chicanonautica: Yellow Hair in Racist Adventureland

I needed a break from all the raging politics. Some silly entertainment from my YouTube watchlist. Comes in handy in times like this.

There was this thing called Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold. Looked like a weird spaghetti western. Maybe a Wild West Barbarella. Yippie-eye-oh-tie-yay!

I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

It began with a black and white clip of some Fifties-style kids demolishing a movie theatre. No doubt this 1984 film was inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Hollywood discovered that a formula for box office gold was to take some old schlock, and redo it with a bigger budget and slicker production values. It even started like a chapter of an old serial with a recap of the story, and introduction of the characters.

Yeah, the good guys were all white, and the baddies were Mexican, Indian, or Comanchero, but that’s the way it was back in the bad old days.

And being a proud mestizo, I’ve always liked Comancheros.

Yellow Hair is supposed to be a half-breed with an Apache father. She’s played by Laurene Landon, a tall, sunburned, bleach-blonde. An hija de la chingada of that pedigree would look like a Chicana, but Landon is nice on the eyes, and does well in the action scenes.

She also proclaims that her white blood makes her turn up her nose from the “barbaric” aspects of Apache culture.

Yellow Hair(Yellow for short)’s Apache mother is kind and noble. Maybe she can be “saved.” She also keeps a secret, which turns out to be that Yellow’s real mother was a member of the Tupalans (called Aztecs in the intro, and Mayans in some online synopses, also Tupalan is a town in Veracruz, Mexico, probably a native word or a distortion of one) keepers of the lost city of gold.

Her father was a blond.

When Yellow first sees the Tupalans she’s dazzled. “Aren’t they beautiful? . . . Something tells me these are the most civilized people in the world.” At first she wants to stay with them to the disgust of her buddy, the Pecos Kid: “You sure this is what you want? They don’t even speak English.” But it turns out that the Tupalans not only killed her parents, made them into gold-plated mummies, and cut out their hearts (not necessarily in that order), but planned on doing the same to her.

Suddenly, she decides that they’re filthy savages, 
and is oh, so grateful when Pecos wrecks the lost city, rescues her, and brings her back to so-called civilization.

If that's not enough, there's also Colonel Torres, the effeminate villain who’s the butt of homophobic jokes, and says, “Stay on the other side of the border with your own people!”  Tupalan culture is a mishmosh of preColumbian artifacts even though a “Professor of Aztec Culture” is listed in the credits. The mummification process involves dipping people in molten gold, and somehow their skin and hair isn’t burned, allowing us to see Yellow’s dad’s important hair color.

To be fair, auteur Matt Cimber probably didn’t set out to create a piece of racist propaganda. The modern adventure genre as it evolved from Edgar Rice Burroughs to George Lucas is a product of European colonialism, and the western is its American version. Some white people often don’t notice the racism in this sort of thing. They used to consider it “pure entertainment.”

And it’s not a totally awful movie. There’s lots of rip-snorting action, and strangeness that goes beyond the wildest spaghetti western--like rattlesnakes stuffed into tumbleweeds and rolled down the hill at the heroes. I’m not surprised that it earned a cult following.

And was also released as Yellow Hair and the Pecos Kid, and in dubbed versions in Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Slovenia, Spain, and West Germany.

It does end with “scenes from the next adventure,” but failed to spawn a franchise.

Ernest Hogan has a Chicano sense of humor. He finds the damnedest things amusing.

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