Even if you’ve never seen one of Emilio Fernandez’s movies—even if you’ve never seen him in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia—you’ve seen Emilio Fernandez. According to legend, he was the model for the Academy’s Oscar statuette.
Another legend attached to Fernandez is that he shot a film critic in the balls at one of his parties. Bob Dylan mentions this tale in Sam Shepard’s one-act play Short Life of Trouble:
BOB: You know, Emilio Fernandez used to shoot the critics that didn’t like his movies. At parties.
I first heard this story from the writer Barry Gifford after I tracked him down in Berkeley years ago. He’d heard it from the director and actor Alfonso Arau, who played the part of Herrera in The Wild Bunch. Like a no-nose bike seat, the account in Brando Rides Alone, Gifford’s book about One-Eyed Jacks, supports everything but the testicles:
Mexico’s most famous (along with Luis Buñuel)—certainly most infamous—director, Emilio Fernandez, known as “El Indio” because of his mother’s origins, made many unforgettable films, several featuring María Félix (Enamorada) or Dolores Del Rio (María Candelária, called by Beatriz Reyes Nevares “the classic and most memorable of all Mexican films”); he also directed a version of John Steinbeck’s story The Pearl/La Perla, starring Pedro Armendáriz. […]
Arau told me that after completing a new film Fernandez invited to dinner at his estancia the most prominent film critics from Mexico City. After dinner and undoubtedly many drinks, El Indio screened for them his latest effort, then solicited their opinions. One after another, the critics, stuffed and glowing from whiskey and Tequila, praised the film, telling their host what he wanted to hear, that it was his best to date, possibly another masterpiece, as moving as María Candelária. Then a journalist rose and begged to differ, not impolitely, but making clear his opinion that the new movie, while reasonably effective as melodrama, was not a particularly worthy addition to the maestro’s oeuvre. A silence fell over the room. El Indio, initially uncomprehending and a good two-and-a-half sheets to the wind, finally realized that he was being disrespected on his own turf and drew from beneath his coat a revolver. Without hesitating, he shot the disputatious fool, killing him in front of his fellow guests.
Arau said that for the offense of murdering a critic Fernandez was forced to spend some time in jail (where he was well treated), but since he was a national hero, and the insulting behavior of the deceased was compounded by the fact that at the time of the incident he had been availing himself of El Indio’s hospitality, the director’s sentence was cut short. Emilio Fernandez is a legend. (He died in 1986.) Nobody remembers the name of the dead critic.
More after the jump…