A historical drama about Captain Gaspar de Portola (Anthony Quinn) expedition from Mexico to California in 1769 in search of fabled seven cities of gold. Spain was looking to establish a presence in the area before other countries moved in. Portola was looking for gold, but Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie) was looking to save the souls of the Indians.
NY Times Review from 1955
When Indians get in their path, Father Serra gives them some beeds and they get through. That night a guard is killed with an arrow. Portola doesn't think beeds is the answer.
The expedition makes it to San Diego and Portola leaves Lt. Jose Mendoza (Richard Egan)behind in a camp with the sick. After Portella goes off searching for gold, the Indians attack the camp. Mendoza takes a hostage, Matuwir (Jeffrey Hunter), the grandson of the local chief. Matuwir had been wounded and the Spanish treat his wounds.
Father Serra lets Matuwir go, and then he rides in to the Indians camp. He talks to the chief about God and passes out gifts. Father Serra then starts building his mission.
Mendoza seduces Matuwir's sister Ula (Rita Moreno) and then refuses to marry her. An upset Ula runs away from Mendoza and accidentally falls from a cliff and dies. Matuwir demands that Mendoza be handed over for punishment, but Portola refuses to give him up. War is about to break out and Mendoza gives himself up to Matuwir to save the others.
The movie ends with the Spanish about to leave, because of a lack of supplies, but then a supply ship shows up in the harbor.
The movie is a pretty good microcosm of the history between the Spanish and the Indians in the New World. The Spanish justified their conquests by saying they were saving souls, but they were really just after gold.
Seven Cities of Gold (1955)
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: October 8, 1955
ONE of the less celebrated ventures in American history—that of the early settlement of California by Spanish soldiers and priests—is recollected with awe and reverence in Twentieth Century-Fox' "Seven Cities of Gold," a big CinemaScope outdoor drama that came to the Roxy yesterday.
Initially, this drama, which takes off from Mexico and ends up on the coast of California in 1769, is an account of the Spanish expedition sent to find the fabled "cities of gold" that were supposed to lie in the region north and west of old Mexico. But it soon becomes a rapt and reverent tribute to the Rev. Junipero Serra, the Roman Catholic priest who went along with the colonizing soldiers to establish missions in the heathen land.
Father Serra, according to this picture, was a man of gentle ways and boundless faith who had almost as much trouble with his own companions as he had with the Indians. They didn't want him with their expedition. They tried to send him back when his knee developed an abscess (which he cured in one night with hot pitch and "beads"). And when they finally reached the site of San Diego, where his first crude mission was built, they continually mixed it up with the Indians whom he labored to win to friendship and to God.
It is a simple and fairly faithful story that Richard L. Breen and John C. Higgins have tried to tell in their script, derived from a novel by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler. And Michael Rennie, while a bit sanctimonious in the role of the man of God, gives a generally convincing representation of goodness and sincerity.
However, the plot is lurid in some of its major details, especially in the episodes of contact between the Spaniards and the aborigines. We have seldom seen such acrobatic Indians as the painted and feathered demons who pop up here to harass and battle the Spaniards, until Father Serra passes a few small "miracles." Fortunately, they speak English almost as well as the Spaniards, so he is able to communicate.
The episode by which one of the soldiers, whom Richard Egan plays, causes the suicide of an Indian maiden is an embarrassingly pat and foolish thing. When Mr. Egan gives himself up to the outraged Indians as an act of sacrifice and faith, it is a display of theatrical heroics that takes this week's cornmeal cake.
Anthony Quinn gives a reasonable performance as the rugged leader of the expedition, but Jeffrey Hunter as the young Indian chieftain and Rita Moreno as the maiden are quite absurd. The scenery is occasionally handsome, but more often it is obviously fake. This does not help the illusion of this pious and slowly-moving film. Robert D. Webb's direction is wholly pedestrian.
SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD, screen play by Richard L. Breen and John C. Higgins, from a novel by Isabelle Gibson Ziegler produced by Robert D. Webb and Barbara McLean; directed by Mr. Webb for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Roxy.
Jose . . . . . Richard Egan
Captain Portola . . . . . Anthony Quinn
Rev. Junipero Serra . . . . . Michael Rennie
Matuwir . . . . . Jeffrey Hunter
Ula . . . . . Rita Moreno
Sergeant . . . . . Eduardo Noriega
Galvez . . . . . Leslie Bradley
Juan Coronel . . . . . John Doucette