Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Many Girls

Too Many Girls posterThree rows of attractive football players singing in unison begin the musical comedy Too Many Girls (1940), revealing the lighthearted nature of this "boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl" genre of film.

First we meet Clint Kelly (Richard Carlson), an All-American university football hero trying tirelessly to convince his friend Manuel (Desi Arnaz), a foreign student from Argentina and up-and-coming football star, to come play at Princeton when the fall term begins. Manuel can’t bear the fact that all his life he has grown up around men: in school, at home, at work, on the football field. He confides to Clint that all he wants is to meet some women. Clint is confronted in his recruitment quest by football heroes Jojo (Eddie Bracken) and Al (Hal Le Roy), who also want to draft Manuel to play for their own Ivy League universities. The four are discussing the matter at the restaurant where Clint and Manuel work when, all of a sudden, wealthy businessman Mr. Casey comes in to eat. Through conversations the football stars are not meant to hear, we learn that Mr. Casey is having trouble keeping his daughter Consuelo (Lucille Ball) under control. Casey offer Clint a job, but the young man doesn’t accept until he sees the beautiful Consuelo, whereupon all four boys are love-struck and eagerly sign up for the task. Their mission just happens to be to work as bodyguards to Consuelo, employment which comes with an anti-romantic, hands-off clause. Consuelo, ignorant of her father’s plan, has decided to go to Pottawatomie College in New Mexico, a country-bumpkin, middle-of-nowhere school that only plays football on Fridays . . . what have these boys gotten themselves into?

In New Mexico, they are surrounded by students of all types: cowboys, Native Americans, Mexicans, and sorority girls. The school is closed due to a utility payment debt, a situation quickly remedied by the four undercover football heroes, of whom Manuel takes the credit for generously donating the cash, and the entire school then bursts into joyous song and dance (betcha didn’t see that one comin’!). The college proves to harbor some strange antics, as when the sorority girls asking Consuelo, as they put her through her pledge, “What do you consider your ultimate goal in life?” To which she answers, “A man.” It soon becomes clear that this school, with ten girls for every man, runs on cheesy one-liners, impromptu songs, dating, and school dances, one of which has Manuel leading a Mexican band to a saucy, Latin American beat.

The boys seem to be fitting in fine, until Consuelo begins to date playwright Beverly Waverly, her secret lover and reason for attending Pottawatomie. Clint uses every ploy up his sleeve to keep the two apart, and soon finds the anti-romantic clause a nuisance as he begins to fall in love with his employer’s daughter. Meanwhile, it has been discovered that the boys are football stars and all four are enlisted to play for the Pottawatomie team, which they guide to greatness and fame over the course of the season. After Clint gives in to his urges and begins dating Consuelo, the truth is revealed about the boys' real purpose at Pottawatomie and all four, with their enraged detainee, must return to the east coast, on Mr. Casey's orders. The town is outraged that their football stars plan to miss the last game and almost capture them with a lynch mob, but the day is saved by the benevolent Mr. Waverly who convinces the them to play. The stands go wild as the Pottawatomie team scores touchdown after touchdown to victory, and at the fervent after-party the entire student body becomes a dancing, singing, smiling fusion of bodies led by the charming young playboy Manuel, with an enormous bongo drum slung around his neck. And so concludes a happy-go-lucky film as the handsome leading men all end up with girls on their arms and grins on their faces.

Manuel’s Argentine, American-football playing, smooth-talking character appears to be the epitome of the fantasizing foreigner coming to America with big dreams and big talent. Everywhere he turns he is confronted with good fortune: a plethora of football scholarships, a school with more girls than he can handle, and a student body that loves his swaying hips and Spanish accent. The prospects presented to Manuel showcase the abundance of opportunity and success often associated with a foreign perspective of America. Even though he is sought after, the movie still presents a double standard of race, calling Manuel the “South American youngster” and the other football players “All-Americans”.

Beyond the fact that Desi Arnaz is a Cuban playing an Argentine, the film throws in references to general Hispanic culture, such as when Manuel sings a song with the lyrics “Spic and span . . . spic and Spanish." Too Many Girls is fraught with cultural references to the point of becoming ridiculous. The final jumbled scene of dancing and frolic is dizzy with action as it hops to a thrilling conga beat, provided by Manuel and showcasing Arnaz's talents as a Cuban bandmaster. The beat is tribal and seems ethnically out of place for a New Mexican college. Though the school does entertain cultures of white, Native American, and Mexican, it also throws these ethnicities together into an unintelligible hodgepodge of chaotic dance and song, and tops it off with the presumably Native American tribal markings on Manuel’s bongo drum. Perhaps Gustavo Pérez Firmat best articulates the overall feel of this movie when he argues that "Too Many Girls meshes too many cultures" (Life on the Hyphen, 54).

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