The Old Gringo was first conceived as a film project. Although the story was effectively simplified and clarified by the film version directed by Luis Puenzo and produced by Jane Fonda in 1989, the film was a box-office failure, perhaps because the novel’s value resides not so much in its story and relatively wooden archetypes as in its psychological complexity, which cannot conveniently be brought to the surface and visualized. The film makes the story more easily comprehensible—the identification of the gringo with Ambrose Bierce is made clear to the viewer from the very beginning, for example—but it cannot be as well understood, except on the most superficial level.
The Old Gringo is more than merely a colorful and passionate revolutionary epic that resembles a classic Western featuring archetypal characters. It is both a psychological novel and an intercultural meditation disguised as popular fiction that seems to exploit sensuality, romance, and adventure, and its varied strengths made it the first novel by a Mexican writer to become a U.S. best-seller.