Ferrua, Pietro

Behold a Pale Horse

A film by Fred ZINNEMANN

Communication. FilmsSpanish Civil War (1936-1939)Spain. 20th CenturyFERRUA, Pietro (Piero) Michele Stefano (1930 - ....)Art. Fiction SABATÉ LLOPART, Francisco (1915-1960). Anarchiste espagnolFilm/Vidéo en ligne

USA, 1964
B&W, 113’.
WRITING CREDITS: J.P.Miller, Emeric Pressburger
CAST: Gregory PECK, Anthony QUINN, Omar SHARIF, Mildred DUNNOCK, Raymond PELLEGRIN, Paolo STOPPA, Marietto ANGELETTI, Rosalie CRUTCHLEY, Daniela ROCCA, Christian MARQUAND, Zia MOHYEDDIN, Perette PRADIER.
After the 1939 defeat of the Loyalists in Spain, the dictator Franco continued fighting against his enemies within and outside the country. His struggle was directed against all remaining pockets of guerrilla-style resistance in the mountains of Extremadura, against the organization of urban cells in Castilla and Catalonia;and against international political pressure. At home, he used torture, repression, blackmail, long-
term imprisonment and, occasionally, death sentences (whether or not the accused were actually “guilty”). He was inexorable. He did not even listen to the appeals of foreign clergy who preached moderation. He disregarded Cardinal Montini, a future Pope at that time, who intervened on behalf of falsely accused young anarchists.
Franco was considered a fox as well as a viper, even by some of his allies: he had won the battle against the Republic with the help of Hitler and Mussolini, but abandoned them when, a few months after, World War II started. He feigned compassion to the oppressed, opening the doors to Sefardic Jews persecuted elsewhere in Europe in the hope to regain some of the gold of the Bank of Spain that was still in the hands of the Soviet Union.
Despite opposition from the Spanish intellectuals and artists (the greatest of them were in exile: Picasso, Casals, Buñuel, Alberti, Sender, Chacel, Arrabal, etc.) Franco’s Spain was even admitted to U.N.E.S.C.O., which caused Nobel Prize-winning Albert Camus to resign from that organization.
Among the Spaniards exiled in France there were some who organized clandestine incursions into Spain crossing the mountains on foot and fighting against the francoists. One of them was the anarchist Francisco Sabaté Llopart, who died in 1960, preceded and followed by many others. The story of his life was written accurately by Antonio Tellez, who lived in France but wrote in Spanish.
However, the book had not been published yet ( the first English-language edition was issued in 1974) when Emeric Pressburger wrote his beautiful novel Killing a Mouse on Sunday in 1961, inspired by the last days of life of Quico Sabaté.
Soon after, Fred Zinnemann (it may just be a coincidence that he and Pressburger were born in the shadows of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) started working on a script, together with J.P.Miller and then directed the film Beyond a Pale Horse, which was released in 1964. It caused havoc immediately. Everyone was discontented: Franco, who did not want to admit that there was still strong resistance against him and that it was accompanied by so much sympathy and solidarity. Spanish authorities not only denied Zinnemann’s request to shoot the film in Spain, but prohibited its distribution and barred many other Columbia Pictures movies. On the other hand, some anarchists, while recognizing that the real Sabaté was less attractive than Gary Cooper, did not like how the director portrayed the character, slapping a child as well as a priest, among other behaviors.
Pressburger’s novel displays a great virtuosity: every chapter is seen by a different character, thus creating several points of view (which may reveal an influence of the Nouveau Roman that was very trendy in France at that time). From the point of view of content, the dialogs explore in depth ethical arguments. The stronger character is not necessarily the main protagonist, Manuel Artiguez (personifying Sabaté) but Father Francisco. Although he is a priest, he disregards Church hierarchy as well as State obedience and obeys only the law of his conscience (in the spirit of Thomas Aquinas).

Zinnemann has transposed the novel almost literally. A few changes here and there are so minor that they are hardly noticeable. The boy in the novel is Pablo, but in the film he becomes Paco. An episode of the film does not exist in the book: the acquisition of the horse. It is a useful addition, however, to show how high bourgeoisie is subservient and generous with police, in the context of those times. It is also an excellent excuse to introduce José Luis de Villalonga, who shines in all his roles.
The cast is outstanding: Sabaté-Artiguez is played by Gary Cooper, the police officer Viñola by Anthony Quinn; Father Francisco by Omar Sharif; the anarchist Pedro by the Italian veteran actor Paolo Stoppa; Carlos, the Traitor, by Raymond Pellegrin; and so on. Also we must mention the young Italian actor, Marietto Angeletti, who plays the Spanish 11-year old Paco. The black and white cinematography is competent, the music is composed by Maurice Jarre, the editing cleverly respects the constant change of narrative point of view.
Another change made by Zinnemann is, of course, that of the title, from the traditional popular proverb "Hanging a cat on Monday for killing a mouse on Sunday” to another quote that comes from the Book of Revelation. Thus Captain Viñolas becomes the horseman of the Apocalypse who represents Death. A death that Artiguez expected. When Viñolas asks Padre Francisco why he came knowing that his mother had died and that a trap was set for him, the priest answers: “He came to save me!”
It is up to us to decide whether the salvation is meant by the fact that deciding to kill Carlos, instead of the chief of police, he kills the only witness to the priest “betrayal”, or on a more spiritual level, like the one reached by the dying mother who designates Father Francisco (she, an anarchist and an atheist) to save her son:”You have to obey the Law of God, NOT the law of Captain Viñolas.”
And that is exactly what happened: mother and son lay side by side on their deathbed while the ball is symbolically thrown to Paco. Perhaps he will continue the fight. Father Francisco is left with his demons (or His God) and perhaps will continue some kind of fight: two apparently contradictory faces of Spain have somehow communicated.
Pietro Ferrua