Friday, February 27, 2009

One Night in the Tropics

One Night in the Tropics posterOne Night in the Tropics (1940) is a musical comedy about a topsy-turvy love triangle and is best known as the film debut of radio duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who, although they steal the show with witty dialogues, play only minor roles in the main plot. The movie begins with the klutzy Steve Harper (Robert Cummings), who is unlucky with love in the way that he always has too many women at once. He’s falling head-over-heels (almost literally) for the beautiful Cynthia Merrick (Nancy Kelly) and the two plan to marry within the week; until Steve has several unfortunate run-ins with an elderly lady who ends up being Cynthia’s Aunt Kitty (Mary Boland). She forbids Cynthia to marry such a screw-up and Cynthia finally agrees when Steve inadvertently rips her wedding dress. While Steve tries to win Cynthia back over the phone, Mickey Fitzgerald (Peggy Moran) shows up and declares that no one will marry Steve except for herself. Steve is at odds until his best friend Jim “Lucky” Moore (Allan Jones) arrives with the proposition of offering Steve a million dollar ‘love insurance’ policy against his marrying Cynthia by Saturday. Seeing as Jim is about as lucky as they come for an insurance salesman, Steve accepts with the wisdom that he’ll obviously lose in his love insurance policy and thus marry Cynthia. All appears to be going to plan, as Cynthia has agreed to forgive Steve, until one evening when, while out at a restaurant, Cynthia, Steve, and Jim run into Mickey who sings a swooning love song to Steve. Cynthia becomes suspicious and her fears are soon confirmed after she discovers Mickey cornering a reluctant Steve into a kiss. Jim, who had met Cynthia only that night and immediately was bewitched, becomes fearful that he may owe Steve one million dollars if there’s no marriage that Saturday, not to mention a hefty bet that he laid with the intimidating restaurant manager, Roscoe. Cynthia storms off and is followed by Steve, who is followed by Mickey, who is followed by Jim, who is followed by Abbott and Costello, Roscoe’s unlikely henchmen, who are ordered to make sure Jim seals the deal between Cynthia and Steve.

Cynthia plans to board the S.S. Pan America with her aunt and head for the South American town of San Marcos. She is secretly pursued by Jim, Abbott, and Costello. When Steve fails to arrive at the boarding dock for the scheduled time of departure in order to win back Cynthia, Jim sends Abbott and Costello to investigate. Instead, the two nit wits become absorbed in their famous ‘baseball dialogue’ and when they finally arrive at Steve’s apartment they realize that he was being stalled by the conniving Mickey, who conveniently stole the ‘love insurance’ policy when Steve wasn’t looking. Steve takes the next boat to San Marcos while Mickey, flanked by a watchful Abbott and Costello, also manages her way to the South American city.

Meanwhile, on the steamer, Jim and Cynthia discover that they are interested in one another, but Jim keeps his distance, more to honour the insurance policy than his best friend. Aunt Kitty also takes a liking to Jim and upon arriving in San Marcos she insists that the young pair spend more time together. When night falls, the two lean in for their first moonlit kiss, accompanied by the hotel orchestra, but are interrupted by Steve who bounds up and tries to discreetly tell Jim that Mickey is also at the resort. This is all for naught when Mickey appears in Cynthia’s room that night and divulges the entire story to her. Cynthia joins forces with Mickey in order to beat the boys at their own game, thus making more of a love-square than a love-triangle. Mickey is all for it, as long as she is able to have Steve in the end.

The girls plan comes into action the next day when they attend a bull fight with the men and immediately send them into a state of jealousy with Mickey fawning over Jim to distract Steve, and Cynthia swooning over the bull fighter, Rudolfo, in order to distract Jim. They return to the hotel that night and spend the evening serenading their pretend partners while yearning to be with the ones they love, which leaves everyone pacing their verandas in anticipation of the wedding. The following day, Cynthia arrives at the ceremony to announce that the wedding is off, but is stopped when Roscoe appears and forces the minister to marry Steve and Cynthia so that he can win his bet. Jim spoils Roscoe’s plan by throwing grapes at him and then runs away with Cynthia; leaving Mickey behind who threatens the minister with the dropped gun to marry her and Steve, much to Steve’s delight. In the meantime, Cynthia and Jim race away from Roscoe through a maze of dancers in the square who are performing the country’s national dance, the Farandola, in honour of the wedding ceremony. The pair try to blend in, but to no avail. When Roscoe has them cornered, Cynthia pleads to Roscoe not to hurt Jim. Roscoe begins to laugh and says that the insurance policy has been fulfilled on account of Steve marrying Mickey and no one is going to get hurt. Jim doesn’t even hear this as he’s only focusing on how Cynthia tried to save him. He pulls her in close for a kiss as the final curtain falls.

In New York, the characters are constantly at odds with one another, and while the situation doesn’t appear to improve much after shifting locations to San Marcos, the trip’s intention of ending confusion and liberating love lives eventually transpires. San Marcos, in all its wonderful geographic ambiguity, is a site of escape and a refuge for stressed city-folk. Along with the oddness of its street vendors selling hot dogs under the name of ‘tamales’, even the ‘national dance’ of San Marcos appears out of place as it is actually a dance native to several regions in France. The bullfight brings the characters closer to the culture of Spanish heritage, but the tell-tale ignorance of foreigners in Latin America is flaunted when Aunt Kitty exclaims, “Oh, what a pretty bull!” as the beast appears in the ring, which clearly demonstrates that she is unaware of the expected outcome of a bull fight. The resources of this Latin setting are constantly being utilized to set-up passion for the complicated Americans, from the ever-present orchestra and rich moonlight, to the bullfighter Rudolfo who is used as an object to create jealousy. From the plot’s point of view, one night in the tropics, where “the chief import is love and the chief export is happiness”, is all that is needed to untangle a muddled love-triangle.

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