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Film / The Undefeated

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The Undefeated is a 1969 American Western film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson.

In the closing days of The American Civil War, Union Army Colonel John Henry Thomas (Wayne), after being told that the war has ended at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, leads his company out west towards home with the intention of compensating his men for their service by rounding up and selling wild horses in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories. Meanwhile, a unit of ex-Confederate Army soldiers led by Colonel James Langdon (Hudson), feeling that defeat has left them without a home, prepare to head south to Mexico and serve as reinforcements for Emperor Maximilian, who's leading the French intervention against that country's republican government. The two groups eventually meet, and while tensions from the war soon emerge, they must join forces to fight off Mexican bandits and revolutionaries.

Not to be confused with the 2011 political documentary of the same name about Sarah Palin, or with the 2011 documentary film about the Manassas Tigers high school football team, Undefeated.

This film features examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The film is stated to take place during the end of the Civil War, in 1865, but elements from other time periods appear:
    • The cavalry uniforms are from the Indian Wars (1870s-1880s) rather than the ones used during the Civil War (1860s).
    • The Confederates are using 1873 Springfield Trapdoor rifles, the Mexican bandit leader is using an 1873 Trapdoor Carbine, and John Henry Thomas is using an 1873 Colt Peacemaker and an 1892 Winchester rifle.
    • In the opening scene, Union soldiers are marching past the screen carrying a flag with 48 stars on it. During the Civil War the Union flag only had either 34 or 35 stars.
    • The song played during the Mexican reception to Americans is "La Adelita", which actually would not be composed until 1914 or 1915, i.e. some 50 years after the time period of the film.
    • When the cowboys are around the campfire, Webster talks of sending a letter and that it could go on the Pony Express. The Pony Express dissolved in October 1861. It also did not go into South Texas where the cowboys, apparently, were traveling.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • At the beginning of the movie, Ann Langdon is shown placing flowers on the grave of her husband. His date of death is shown as March 1863. Later, Col. Langdon tells Thomas that his brother was killed by Yankee cavalry at Chickamauga. The Battle of Chickamauga was on September 19-20, 1863.
    • The film also plays fast and loose with regards of the French intervention in Mexico.
      • The film strongly implies that most Mexicans supported the fight against Maximilian. In fact, the Catholic Church—which held great influence—considered Benito Juarez a troublemaker and a rabble-rouser in the aftermath of the Reform War and strongly supported Emperor Maximilian's rule (it didn't hurt that France, which backed Maximilian, was a strongly Catholic country). In fact, the Church detested Juarez so much that it actually called on Mexicans, who are overwhelmingly Catholic, to join Maximilian's army to fight against Juarez, and many did. As a result, there were actually more Mexicans fighting against Juarez than for him.
      • Several characters, both Mexican and American, keep referring to the war against Maximilian as a "revolution." As the Juarez government had never fled Mexico during the intervention and consistently insisted it was the lawful government, no loyal Mexican would consider the war a revolution—it was the expulsion of a foreign invader.
  • Bandito: A group of these appear attacking the Confederate camp, with Thomas' former Union Army troopers saving the day.
  • Fake Guest Star: The film is one of the examples of a "Special Guest Star" credit on a movie (yes, somebody being a "guest star" in a production that doesn't have a regular cast), in this case Antonio Aguilar as General Rojas.
  • Gentle Giant: Little George (Merlin Olsen) would much rather play with the kids than perform as the unit's undisputed champion at fisticuffs.
    Bobby Joe: Biggest Reb I ever saw.
    Col. Thomas: That's the biggest anything I ever saw.
  • The Remnant: The group of Confederate soldiers at the command of Col. Langdon chose to move to Mexico after the Civil War ended and offer their support to Emperor Maximillian.
  • Take a Third Option: At the end of the film, when the company of reunited Union and Confederate soldiers rides out of Mexico to return to the U.S., they try to decide what song to listen to as they ride. The group passes over "Dixie" (a throughly Confederate song, adopted as the de facto national anthem of the Confederacy) and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (a song with lyrics written by an abolitionist) before settling on "Yankee Doodle" (a song from the American Revolution).
  • Take Me Instead: The Confederates have been captured by Mexican revolutionaries. Ludlow, who has been shunned by his companions because he refused to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War, is selected to face a firing squad for the second time (the first was averted). Captain Anderson stops him; "My turn."
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Union and Confederate companies, while clearly at each other's throats due to the war, have to join forces to fight off the Mexican bandits and revolutionaries.