One of the more curious endeavors of the Eisenhower era government was the State Department’s financing of a movie about a family of Hispanic-American sheepherders in New Mexico. The resulting work was Joseph Krumgold’s 1953 film “And Now, Miguel” – and while it is not a great movie, it is a significant accomplishment in Latino film history.
Krumgold’s film focuses on the Chavez family’s sheep ranch, as seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel Chavez, who provides a constant narration. The film works best when detailing the daily operations of the ranch – the birth of a lamb, a fleece-replacing trick for uniting an orphan lamb with an ewe whose infant died, and the carefully paint-numbering of ewe and lamb (although the Miguel’s narration seems to suggest that the numbering procedure is mostly to help in sheep self-identification rather than assist the ranchers in identifying the flock).
The film takes a dramatic turn when Miguel’s older brother is drafted into the Army. His absence gives Miguel the opportunity to enjoy the right-of-passage as a “pastore” on the family’s sheep herding in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This part of the film is less compelling, with many of the scenes showing evidence of Krumgold’s manipulative direction.
“And Now, Miguel” is fairly unusual for presenting a straightforward, non-stereotypical view of Hispanic-Americans during a period when this demographic was barely represented on screen. Unfortunately, Krumgold’s filmmaking style was somewhat primitive – it is a silent film with a nonstop narration by Miguel (who sounds like he is doing a cold reading from a hastily assembled script). This dilutes the depth of the film, with the Chavez family reduced to one-dimensional characters.
Krumgold returned to the material in 1954 with a children’s book that won the Newbury Medal. In 1966, he co-wrote a narrative feature film based on this material. The 1953 film has been out of circulation for many years, and a new DVD release from the Milestone Collection should help to bring it a new generation of film scholars who are interested in tracing Hispanic portraits on the big screen.