YELLOWHAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD (1984) – Reviewers need to lighten up about this movie. Especially over at IMDb. If those reviewers actually think this film deserves a low rating of 4.2 they’re being silly. I eat, sleep and breathe bad movies and I settled in to finally watch this supposed bomb fully expecting something hilariously awful. Nope. It’s no masterpiece but it’s a fairly good movie with a butt-kicking female lead.
Actually, Yellowhair and the Fortress of Gold is better than 1980s schlock like the Allan Quatermain flicks or many Chuck Norris films. The production values are above many other Eurowesterns, which is what this really is, despite its Raiders of the Lost Ark pretensions. They’re also above many, many Grade Z action movies of the decade.
In my opinion the admittedly dopey opening seems to prejudice too many reviewers, who harden into hatred before the movie properly gets underway. The success of the first Indiana Jones movie a few years earlier prompted many studios to try touting all their new action releases as being “like Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
To capture that same old-fashioned cinema/ Republic Serial feel, director Matt Cimber presents the opening moments of Yellowhair and the Fortress of Gold as a “meta” trip to a movie theater, complete with excited, squeeing children. To pile on the corn even more, there’s a melodramatic voice-over setting the scene by depicting this movie as if it’s the latest chapter of the serialized adventures of Yellowhair (Laurene Landon), our half-breed Indian heroine, and her platonic friend the Pecos Kid (Ken Roberson).
NOTE: Yes, that makes for a cringingly lame opening sequence but let’s face it, it’s only slightly more awkward than if Cimber had relied on setting the scene with an opening scroll like Star Wars and its sequels had revived years earlier and which other movies had been copying ever since. Anyway, you can tell some reviewers don’t bother watching beyond that opening sequence since their reviews bash the whole movie as if it’s like that. Actually, the voiceover disappears and the story proceeds like in any other film after that ill-advised opening dose of nostalgia.
Our main character is YELLOWHAIR, a half-breed Apache woman who is her tribe’s greatest warrior. She refuses to marry any man who can’t defeat her in battle and her introductory scene features her winning out over the latest admirer trying to win her hand. (She speaks the Apache language plus Spanish AND perfect English, by the way, so there’s no Tonto-style nonsense.)
Yellowhair and the Pecos Kid have been raised since childhood as brother and sister (even though they’re not) by an Apache woman named Grey Cloud. Yellowhair often wanders the west to rescue her rascally pal Pecos from the fixes his dishonest nature lands him in.
People try to bash cult starlet Laurene Landon for her performance in this movie but actually she’s no stiffer than Lucy Lawless was as Xena. Yellowhair takes no guff from anybody, is more capable than the Pecos Kid in a fight and smacks down anybody who tries insulting her mixed heritage. If YATFOG was being released today it would probably be criticized for making Yellowhair TOO indestructible and people would say “They just did that to make the male character the Pecos Kid look second-rate.”
And by the way … NOBODY OINKS AND BOINKS WITH YELLOWHAIR DURING THE ENTIRE MOVIE. There are plenty of 21st Century films with supposedly “strong” female characters that can’t resist tossing the heroine into bed with some guy at some point. Even the revered Ellen Ripley slept with a man in Alien III.
The main supporting character is the aforementioned PECOS KID. The Kid’s nature hints at this movie’s likely origin as just another Eurowestern. He’s a handsome, roguish gambler/gunslinger in the mold of Sacramento, Trinity, Providence, Hallelujah and many other Spaghetti Western echoes of Brett Maverick.
Typical of those seriocomic figures the Kid is so full of himself that he is fooled into thinking that one of the prostitutes he frequents is in love with him. This, too, if presented in a 2019 movie, would be criticized as an attempt to undermine a male character but actually it’s the type of overconfident male stereotype which has been around for decades. The prostitute, called Rainbow, pretends affection for him in order to get his gold piece.
During a recent visit to Grey Cloud, the Pecos Kid stole one of four pieces of gold which the elderly woman feels she needs to get into the Afterlife. The Kid dismisses that as mere superstition, so he swiped the piece and headed into Mexico to track down the enormous, hidden fortune in Aztec gold which Grey Cloud had been telling him and Yellowhair about since they were kids. Our heroine sets out after Pecos to retrieve Grey Cloud’s gold piece but finds even greater problems.
The lead villain is COLONEL TORRES, who is also after the Aztec gold. Torres is the regulation corrupt, power-abusing Mexican officer featured in countless Spaghetti Westerns. To camp up this character even more he’s noticeably effeminate and bitchy and sexually harasses some of his hunkier male subordinates.
Yes, hyper-sensitive emotional cripples of the 21st Century will criticize this character just like red pill-leaning critics would probably pounce on Yellowhair’s badassery and the Pecos Kid’s frequent need of being rescued. Grow up. At least having Colonel Torres sexually prey upon males is a change of pace from the trope of a corrupt villain sexually preying upon “helpless” women.
And by the way, Torres’ inclinations and what he does to his men are covered with nothing but vague hints and references. Younger viewers (well, at least in 1984) probably wouldn’t even understand those jokes. In fact the entire movie is surprisingly sexless, despite the presence of saloon girls and Colonel Torres. The scene with Indy and Marion NOT having sex in bed in Raiders is more lurid than anything in YATFOG. Very odd for a Eurowestern.
FLORES is the evil, sadistic, whip-wielding subordinate villain to Torres. Repeatedly, Flores seems to have been killed off, only to turn up later, still alive but increasingly enfeebled by the long list of nearly-fatal injuries he received. It’s just one example of the film’s often lame attempts at humor, which I admit really DO deserve the criticism they get. But I’ve seen worse.
SHAYOWTEEWAH is the leader of the tribe of Aztecs who have survived to the present-day in their hidden canyon and underground city. They inflict horrendous violence on any people who come looking for their fortune in gold and the magnificent artworks they craft with it.
Shayowteewah is fond of dunking captives in his people’s bubbling-hot gold spring to kill them, then dressing and posing their gold-covered corpses as Aztec warriors guarding the canyon and underground city like the terracotta Chinese figures. This makes for some nice visual bits as Shayowteewah’s REAL warriors often pose motionless in the midst of the gilded statues, only to suddenly spring into action against intruders.
This “lost civilization” element is the movie’s main claim to Raiders similarities, along with some of the ancient relics used to locate the hidden lair of the Aztecs. However, even this element bears similarities to a few 1960s Spaghetti Westerns which featured assorted gunslingers competing to find lost Aztec gold or – in one case – lost Inca gold in Peru. (I reviewed those movies years ago.)
Regarding the action, while tracking down the Aztec gold, Yellowhair and the Pecos Kid wind up in plenty of shootouts and chases along with the de rigueur saloon brawl and “out-of-control horses” stunts on a runaway stagecoach. The setting ranges from Arizona to deep in the heart of Mexico and at one point, while busting the Kid out of jail, our heroine proves as skilled at flinging around dynamite as the Spaghetti Western hero Dynamite Joe.
SPOILERS: During the quest to locate the lost Aztec fortress, Yellowhair learns that she is really the half-breed daughter of an AZTEC and a blonde white woman, not an Apache and a blonde white woman like she had been raised to believe. The lost tribe invites Yellowhair to stay with them and marry into their ruling family.
The Pecos Kid is permitted to leave with some of his precious gold and after he exits we learn that there are sinister, deadly undertones to what the Aztecs intend for Yellowhair. This misunderstanding is put down to their language being unfamiliar to our heroine.
Yellowhair is saved by the returning Kid, who came back because he and our heroine are beginning to feel slightly romantic toward each other after all this time. Since she had to save him plenty of times during the story this should not annoy certain hypersensitive critics but it probably will.
And surely it’s no SPOILER in such a good-time actioner to point out that Yellowhair and the Pecos Kid survive against the Aztecs AND the still-pursuing Colonel Torres and his men.
COMMENT: In the final couple minutes YATFOG again sabotages itself a bit by reviving the melodramatic voice-over from the beginning. In an almost fatal error, the voiceover chimes in during a very late death-trap which makes it sound like the movie is going to end with a gimmicky cliff-hanger instead of resolving the storyline.
I myself started to inwardly groan and began to think “Oh, THIS must be why this flick gets so much hatred” and I was bracing for a Timewalker ending. Some critics seem to have shared this assumption but stopped paying attention, thus failing to see that, no, the voiceover gimmick was just meant as a meta joke. The storyline IS finished in those final two minutes, so IGNORE REVIEWS WHICH SAY THE TALE ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER!
As our two leads head back to America the movie does end with sequel bait, as we viewers are invited to return for the next adventure of Yellowhair and the Pecos Kid.
Overall, this movie is much more enjoyable than its reputation would suggest. I went into it primed and ready to rip it to pieces only to find myself pleasantly surprised. Think of it as what it really is – a foreign film with some humor and characterizations that may seem awkward and out of place to Americans.
At worst I would say it deserves a 6.5 over at IMDb, not the 4.2 it has as of this writing. +++
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