The film is set in 1817 in the Salta Province of northwest Argentina during the Argentine War of Independence. It is based on the actions taken by the guerrillas under the command of the general Martin Güemes against the royalist army, loyal to the Spanish monarchy. For exterior filming, a village was established in the same area where the actual conflict had taken place. The cast of some thousand participants was unprecedented in Argentine cinema until that time.
The origins and content of the film are linked to a particular moment in Argentine history in which there was an intense debate over whether the country should take the side of either the Axis or the Allies during World War II, or maintain its neutrality during the war. The film stresses the values associated with nationalism as expressed in the union of the people, the army, and the church in defense of the country, which was considered by some a prelude to the revolutionary ideology that led to, on June 4, 1943, the overthrowing of the government of president Ramón Castillo.
The film was produced by Artistas Argentinos Asociados (Associated Argentine Artists), a cooperative of artists created just a short time before production began. It required an investment far beyond other productions of the period but the commercial success of the film allowed it to recover the cost in the first-run theaters, where it remained for nineteen weeks.
In Salta Province in 1817 during the War of Independence, the irregular forces commanded by General Martín Güemes carry out a guerrilla action against the Spanish army. The commander of a Spanish army contingent, Lieutenant Villarreal, is wounded, captured by the guerrillas, and put under the medical care of Asunción, the mistress of an estancia. She finds out from his idenfication paper that the Lieutenant, though serving in the Spanish army, was born in Lima. She persuades him of the justice of liberating America from Spain.
The patriot forces receive help from the sacristan of a chapel located next to the grounds of the royalist troops. The sacristan fakes loyalty to the king, but during the battles he sends messages to the gaucho guerrillas hiding in the mountains by means of a messenger boy and by ringing of the bell. When the royalists discover this, they attack and burn the chapel and smash the sacristan's eyes. Blinded, the sacristan unwittingly guides the royalists to the patriot camp. The royalists then proceed to annihilate the gauchos. In the final sequence, after the battle, the only three surviving characters (the badly injured sacristan, an old man, and the lieutenant who has fallen in love with Asunción and converted to the patriot cause) see Güemes' arriving troops, which will continue the battle.
The film begins with a prologue on screen providing the historical circumstances of the place and time in which the action is placed, and advancing the position of its authors. From 1814 to 1818, Güemes and his gauchos resisted the royalist armies, that systematically ransacked the country from the Alto Peru since the withdrawal of the regular troops. This conflict of small battles was characterized by the heroism of the adversaries.
The opening states:
"The thickness of the bushes gave cover to hundreds of partisans. The war of resources opened up like a mortal fan over the fields. Dented sables, clubs lances and bolas were the weapons of the gauchos. Neither hunger nor misery stopped these primitive hordes. To them, to the ones that died far from the pages of history we'd like to remember in these images"