Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dr. No

Dr. No posterDr. No (1962) is British secret agent James Bond's explosive debut into the world of film, in the form of the smooth-talking Sean Connery. His first mission is to investigate the murder of a fellow agent, John Strangways, and his secretary stationed in Jamaica. The dead agent was working on a case with the American CIA involving the disruption of Cape Canaveral rocket launches by radio jamming. Upon arrival in Kingston, Bond proceeds to Government House, where he meets Principal Secretary Pleydell-Smith, who sets him up with a local Police liaison and arranges an interview with other members of Strangways' bridge four (who were the last to see him alive). He meets with them at the Queen's club and is pointed in the direction of a local fishing guide, who apparently had taken Strangways on numerous boat-trips before his death. When Bond goes to the port to find the guide, named Quarrel, he discovers that he and the Felix Leiter of the CIA were observing a certain offshore island called Crab Key with Strangways. Rocks collected from this island have turned out to be radioactive; furthermore, locals are afraid to go near there because of the existence of a "dragon", keeping the island completely private. The owner of the island is a mysterious Chinese man, Dr. No.

Bond pursues a lead and goes to see Professor Dent, a local metallurgist and member of Strangways' bridge four. Dent refuses to cooperate with Bond's inquiries, and immediately thereafter takes a boat to Crab Key, where he goes into a large complex and is instructed by an unseen voice to kill Bond with a black widow spider. That night, Dent releases the spider into Bond's room, but Bond keeps his cool and kills it with a shoe. The next morning, he goes to Government House to report, and catches the sexy Asian secretary, Miss Taro, listening at the keyhole. He makes a date with her for that afternoon. When he is driving up to her house in the mountains, Dr. No's henchmen chase him in a hearse, but thanks to Bond's excellent maneuvering, they drive off a cliff. Miss Taro is surprised when he arrives to her house, expecting him to be dead. He seduces her, calls the police to take her to prison. Then he waits in the dark at her house, knowing that someone will show up to kill him. This unlucky someone is Dent, whom Bond kills.

Late that night, he meets with Leiter and Quarrel to reconnoitre Crab Key in Quarrel's boat. Bond and Quarrel sleep on the island, waiting for day. The next morning, Bond finds the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who is diving for shells off the beach. Suddenly a patrol boat of security men show up, shooting up the beach with machine guns while Bond, Honey, and Quarrel hide. When they have gone, Honey leads the two men up a stream and into the jungle, where they barely avoid being found by the guards and their dogs. As night falls, they are on an open swamp and encounter Crab Key's famous "dragon," which is a fire-blowing armoured tractor driven by guards in radioactive suits. The dragon's fire kills Quarrel, and the guards capture Bond and Honey. They are taken to Dr. No's lair, a large underground complex full of men in radioactive suits, and soon thereafter are invited to dine with Dr. No. Dr. No is a megalomaniac genius of German and Chinese descent, who is a member of the evil SPECTRE organization, and is working on disrupting a highly publicized Project Mercury space launch (Nasa's first manned program, erroneously described as the first moon-orbital shot) from Cape Canaveral with his atomic powered radio beam. After dinner, he has Bond and Honey put into separate cells, and proceeds to his control room to disrupt the space launch. Bond escapes from his cell and breaks into the control room, disguised as one of No's men. He overloads the nuclear reactor that powers the complex, kills Dr. No, and saves Honey as the whole complex begins to explode. He steals a boat just in time and escapes with Honey while Dr. No's lair blows sky-high in the background.

Dr No was filmed entirely in Jamaica in 1961-62. Jamaica gained its full independence from Britain in 1962, immediately after the filming was finished. In the movie, Jamaica is still a British colony, its power centre at Government House, which is administered by British bureaucrats and military officers in khaki shorts and knee-high socks. The entire film is permeated by the British colonial spirit, with its propriety and organization, its high social circles completely separated from those of the locals. At the Queen's Club, the British ex-pats play bridge and talk about business. The Jamaicans' island, on the other hand, is a laid-back and fun place where American tourists go to party. One scene takes place in a bar on the beach, where whites and black locals mingle and dance together. Jamaican people are portrayed as relaxed, but distrustful of foreigners. They are very superstitious, and Dr. No takes advantage of this by creating the myth of the "dragoon".

Where does James Bond stand in all of this? Bond is undeniably a part of the British power organization, and slips easily into the colonial atmosphere. He acts as if he owns the island, but is it because it's a British colony or because Bond acts this way wherever he goes? He works alongside a black local, Quarrel, as an equal. The island dynamics demonstrate, however, that the local Jamaicans are far below the high-up and high-power politics of the British elite. They are excluded from every important event in the film. There is still very much a small English ball of power within a larger, looser, darker Jamaican world.

See also Jon's account of the film.

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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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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus posterChristopher Columbus (1949) is a tale of suffering on the part of its protagonist, who spent long, frustrating years soliciting monarchs to finance his voyage, then after the initial thrill of discovering the New World, spent long, frustrating years governing a colony perpetually on the verge of chaos. The fact that the indigenous people under his notoriously tyrannical rule also suffered is shielded from viewers, lest this distract them from the nuanced personality of the man himself.

It is immediately clear that the film plays fast and loose with the historical details. In the first scene Columbus visits a monastery, hoping to send a letter to Queen Isabella via her confessor, and speaks to a monk about his certainty that a “New World” has yet to be discovered. The viewer is thereby informed that Columbus had a vision of the Americas that primarily motivated his voyage, whereas in real life his goal was to chart a quicker trade route between Iberia and the Indies. When the monk later asks Columbus why he plans to sail to India, he responds “Because there are thousands of heathen in those parts to be converted, and they are rich in gold and spices.” In 1485, talk of the “New World” is a glaring anachronism, and the viewer receives mixed cues whether to imagine India or Latin America as the object of the voyage, especially due to the repeated references to the gold in these unknown lands.

After weaseling his way into Court, Columbus secures a private meeting with the Queen, whose interest is piqued by his vision of an “empire” with “illimitable riches.” Trade-routes to India have now been put firmly on the back-burner; the prime goal is now the colonization of an imagined abundant landscape. Columbus delivers his evidence of the New World before a royal commission, and despite the machinations of one Francisco de Bobadilla, whose Mediterranean trade investments would be threatened by the discovery of an Atlantic trade route, he is given the go-ahead and his fleet of three ships cast off towards the New World. Columbus quickly realizes that he underestimated the length of the voyage and rumblings of discontent culminate in an attempted mutiny. Following this, Columbus swears that if they do not reach land in three days they will turn back. To his profound relief, land is sighted at the eleventh hour. The camera lingers on him, in a shot taken from below, outlining his furrowed brow and windswept hair, for a heroic portrait with orchestral accompaniment.

Columbus kneels and utters a prayer, then reads aloud a proclamation taking possession of the territory for the Spanish monarchs, naming the land San Salvador, and stating the intent to teach its inhabitants the Spanish culture and language. It is uncertain whether the Europeans are aware that a giant ring of these inhabitants is forming behind their backs, or whether they are too caught up in the rituals of conquest to notice. First contact occurs without the mutual surprise and fear one might expect; the Spaniards merely ram their flag into the sand and an indigenous person approaches them, then drops to his knees and releases his spear as a sign of submission. The two cultures are shown fraternizing, the indigenous people helping the Europeans and trading with them. Within a decade, however, the honeymoon is over and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are shown fretting about the tales of “disorder and bloodshed” that come back from the colonies. Francisco de Bobadilla is sent to the New World and he brings Columbus back in shackles, arrested on account of his irresponsible and tyrannical governorship. The film closes as he leaves court demoted from colonial viceroy and embittered with life: the conqueror of the New World branded a criminal.

In Christopher Columbus, Latin America appears only as a tropical shoreline and its loincloth-wearing inhabitants are portrayed as friendly, guileless, peaceable, generous and, significantly, entirely mute. These individuals are so passive that they not only drop their weapons at the sight of the Europeans, presumably understanding that they lost their sovereignty when the Spaniards planted their flag, but they do not even have voices. Conversely, the Spaniards exercise the power of language to change everything around them, from the requerimiento, the declaration of sovereignty read before conquered populations, to the practice of (re)naming places. When Latin America is on screen, the viewer learns very little about it; it is merely a landscape in which to showcase Columbus’s ingenuity, fortitude, and benevolence. The devastation caused by the introduction of European diseases and the violence of Columbus’s ruthless governorship is barely alluded to and never shown. It is ironic that in the main scene showing good Indigenous/Spaniard relations, Columbus stops a deckhand from trading broken crockery for a gold necklace, chiding him that “We are here to convert these natives to Christianity, not to exploit them.” In actuality, Columbus's log books reveal his rapacious nature from the moment he set foot in America, containing plans to subjugate the indigenous people and enumerations of the resources to be extracted from their lands.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

99 Women

99 women poster“Behind bars. . . without men!” is the tagline for 99 Women, a campy 1969 women’s prison film, promising steamy lesbian sex scenes from Spanish director Jesus Franco who is known for, well, steamy lesbian sex scenes. However, contemporary reviewers were quite disappointed at the lack of “hotness” that the film provides; indeed, a recent purchaser of the film on demands his money back for this very reason. Given that there was a decent budget and a relatively well-known cast, it seems Franco’s usual audacity in sex scenes was limited to out-of-focus close-ups, much to the chagrin of genre devotees. This chagrin should extend to the ambiguities in the plot and the confusion concerning its cultural and geographical context.

The setting is a castle prison on a jungle island off the coast of Panama. The island is nicknamed "Pleasure Island," the castle “Castillo de la Muerte” (Castle of Death). Three well-endowed convicts, Marie, Helga, and Natalie, arrive to serve their sentences. In their first meeting with the sadistic warden Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge), they are assigned numbers and told that they no longer have names. Marie is number 99. Suddenly they are plunged into a harsh regime of torture, rape, and abuse. The first night, Natalie, played by Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi, falls ill from the withdrawal symptoms of her heroin use. Although Marie calls the prison guards for help, Natalie is ignored; by morning, she is dead. The next day all the inmates are doing their labour in the work yard when a catfight breaks out between Marie and another beautiful inmate, Zoie. These two are sent to the “punishment room” for discipline, which comes in the form of Governor Santos, the warden of the nearby men’s prison. Despite her initial resistance, after a few slaps from Zoie, Marie subjects herself to a sexual encounter with Zoie and Governor Santos.

A new warden, Leonie Carol (Maria Schell), arrives and tries to improve the prisoners' conditions, but she faces the corrupt team of Diaz and Santos, who undermine her every decision and thus the prisoners' situation only gets worse. Meanwhile, Zoie and Marie are put in the same cell, and continue their absurd love-hate sexual relationship. In a moment of affection they reveal their crimes, and it turns out they have both been falsely convicted. Zoie was a stripper for a lesbian club, but when she tried to leave, the club’s owner threatened her with a gun. Her act of self-defense resulted in the his death, and she was sent to prison. Marie accepted a ride from a stranger, who kidnapped her and gang-raped her with other men. In trying to defend herself, Marie killed one of these men--but no one believed her story at her trial. Warden Diaz says, “This prison is a place for women who have broken the rules of society,” implying some sort of mysterious oppressive society. It never becomes clear where these women come from, and what society’s rules they have broken.

One day, a prisoner from the men’s camp contacts a female prisoner, Rosalie, and helps her to plan an escape. Rosalie, Helga, and Marie conspire together and flee at dawn. They must make their way through a treacherous jungle until they get to the other side of the island, where there is a fishing village and boats they can use to complete their escape. On the way, they meet an escapee from the men’s prison, Ricardo, who helps them hide from the search parties. They spend the night in a cave, where Ricardo and Rosalie sleep together. The next morning, they come across a group of male convicts who are eating in the jungle. When these men see the three scantily clad and sexy women, they go crazy. After killing Ricardo, they proceed to rape and kill Rosalie, while Marie and Helga take flight. These two make it to the fishing village. Ecstatic and exhausted, they run towards the boats and into the sea. Just then, a shot is fired into the air. Behind them is Governor Santos, clad in gray military-wear, and his soldiers. “We’ve been waiting for you all day,” he gloats. Back to the cold, violent Castillo de la Muerte they go. The new warden Carol has given up trying to break the corrupt and cruel prison system, leaving it in the hands of the vicious Warden Diaz and the governor, who promise to make prison existence a living hell for the rest of their days. Marie, Helga, Zoie, and the rest of the inmates are left at their mercy.

The eerie and almost Kafkaesque atmosphere of the film goes beyond the rape scenes and violence and extends to the confusion surrounding the culture and place to which it refers. The island is in Panama, but footage reveals it to be anything but tropical, except in the depiction of the dense jungle. Panama, or even Latin America, seems to show its face in few aspects of the film. Only three of the characters have Latin-sounding names: Ricardo, Thelma Diaz, and Governor Santos. The female inmates all seem to be from Europe or America, but the characters have similar nonspecific accents. The island’s English name contrasts with the prison’s Spanish name. Governor Santos is the only one who gives us much of a clue; his stereotypical military caudillo-type outfit and ruthless, corrupt manner suggest some sort of Central American authoritarian regime. Otherwise, the disappointing lack of clarity of the context converges with the disappointing lack of clarity of the sex scenes.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Le Magnifique

Le Magnifique posterUpon first glimpsing of the cliché movie poster for the 1973 film Le Magnifique (literally “The Magnificent”), which pictures a suave and handsome leading man clutching an automatic weapon and standing above the figure of a sexy, scantily-clad co-star, you may envision a James Bond-esque espionage movie of adventure, skin, and martinis; shaken, not stirred. Jumping at the opportunity to see a different culture’s take on this genre, you begin the film . . . and are utterly appalled.

The opening scene brings us to a fiesta in a town square on the coast of Mexico. There’s a mariachi band, dancers, festive colors, and a conspicuous Frenchman who strides to a telephone booth to tell his secret agent bureau that, due to his unfailing sixth sense, he doesn’t think he’s been spotted. With that statement, the phone booth is lifted off the ground by a helicopter and plopped into the nearby ocean, where underwater divers proceed to set a tiger shark upon the trapped agent. Fake blood ensues. Apparently, the only man worthy enough to fix this "situation in Mexico" is the dapper and debonair Bob St. Clare (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a secret agent extraordinaire who can chat on the phone while fighting five men, and has a keen eye for deadly infiltrators. He immediately flies to Acapulco and meets his attractive French informant, Tatiana (Jacqueline Bisset). The movie continues with a ridiculous slew of B-movie comedy: spies at every turn, fake blood, and cheesy lines. Bob and Tatiana are sharing a romantic moment on the beach, when suddenly innumerable scuba divers with machine guns come at them from every angle. As the camera pans over the gun fight, an oblivious woman vacuuming the sand walks through the scene in the opposite direction . . . wait! A woman vacuuming the sand!?

Here you are flung out of the Mexican dreamland and into the Parisian apartment of writer François Merlin (also played by Jean-Paul Belmondo), whose maid is vacuuming loudly in the background. Evidently, he can’t continue typing with all the noise and it soon becomes apparent that the entire first section of Le Magnifique has been a glimpse into his stereotypical, paperback espionage novel, and here is where you realize this film is more than its first half hour. The movie becomes a magical setting where the effects of François's life can be seen in his writing, such as the sound of his typing becoming Bob’s gun shots, or the novel's characters not being able to speak the letters that have malfunctioned on François's keyboard. Even the people in his life have small bit-parts in the book, such as his cranky electrician being a henchman that is killed off, or the cop, who didn’t give François a ticket in real life, being shown mercy. The two opposing worlds become entangled with one another in the mind of François: syllables typed become glimpses of the book, paragraphs become scenes, and the overall effect is delightful.

However, it appears as though François can never be Bob St. Clare, and as such he will never get the girl of his dreams, Christine (also played by Jacqueline Bisset), who lives above him and is played in the novel by, of course, the sexy Tatiana. François fantasizes about Christine, but they have never met. When they finally do, she realizes he is a writer and immediately studies all 42 of his novels, hoping to write her sociology thesis on what creates the desire for these wacky characters which the readers know and love. The plot proceeds with François on a rollercoaster of anxious moods (Does Christine love him? Does she love Bob St. Clare?), which leaves his novel’s characters in a mess. For example, a scene may be first written with Bob making love to Tatiana, but the next day the scene is rewritten with Bob as a bumbling idiot, due to François's jealousy of the secret agent. Christine begins talking to François's editor, Mr. Charron (Vittorio Caprioli), for more information on her research, but Charron sets out to court the oblivious Christine, and François becomes suspicious. And so the novel continues with Charron becoming Karpof, the evil Albanian colonel, who tries to steal Tatiana from Bob. After many unfortunate situations of seeing only what he suspects of Christine and Charron, François finally discovers that she is in love with him, not Charron or the fictitious Bob. The novel's end is rewritten to justify the real-life happy ending of François and Christine. And just as Charron walks away, below their window, François tosses the manuscript papers of the finished novel off the balcony and lets them rain down on his editor. In this ending, François, with Christine at his side, finds the true happiness which was beyond his imagination.

The location of Mexico plays a central role in Le Magnifique, but only as a fictitious get-away filled with lust and espionage. The scenes flaunting Acapulco from an aerial view seem like advertisements for Mexican resorts, complete with exciting mariachi music and large swimming pools. Bob St. Clare is shown water-skiing behind a motorboat or relaxing in a lounge chair when he’s not out fighting crime. However, this perception of Mexico is perfectly normal when it is noted that François surrounds himself with brochures and magazines of exotic Mexican destinations in order to create the settings for his novel, such as a sunny beach or a mysterious Aztec temple. The movie references Mexico numerous times as a vacation destination, such as when Merlin describes his novel’s setting to his editor and Charron leans back and exclaims, “Ah, I love Acapulco! I’ll be spending this winter there.” Mexico is also seen as a place of no inhibitions, such as when François leans in to kiss Christine and then apologizes, saying, “I’m a fool, for a moment I thought we were in Mexico.” Christine responds brusquely with “Well, we’re not in Mexico,” alluding to the fact that they are in the real world and Mexico is just a fantasy. Later, Christine expresses her love for the magic of the novels as she sighs, “I just had to go down one floor and I found myself in Mexico.” The message which this movie sends out to its audience is powerful and suspicious: If François’ novel reflects his actual life, do the brochures then reflect a true Mexico?

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Bridge of San Luis Rey posterThe Bridge of San Luis Rey is loosely based on the life of Micaela Villegas (1748-1819), the famous Peruvian actress nicknamed "La Perichole" or, in Spanish, "La Perrichola," meaning "half-blood bitch." She was the mistress of the Viceroy of Spain from 1761-1776, Manuel de Amat y Juniet. Their son, Manuel de Amat y Villegas, was one of the signers of Peru’s declaration of independence from Spain on July 28, 1821. Her story is the basis for Prosper Mérimée’s comic novella Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement.

Benedict Boegaeus's 1944 version of Villegas's story begins with the collapse of a rope bridge in the Peruvian Andes, which sends the five people who were crossing it plunging to their deaths. Franciscan priest Brother Juniper, whose chapel is nearby, sets out to discover the true story of all those who perished. His quest brings him to Lima, where he sits down with the well-loved Uncle Pio, director of the Lima theatre and close friend of the Viceroy, to get the facts.

The flashback begins with Uncle Pio's adoption of a poor, young Micaela as his protegée in the theatre. He trains her meticulously and she becomes a big star and a favourite of the Viceroy. Meanwhile, her jealous childhood sweetheart Manuel has made her promise to wait for him as he leaves on a sea voyage to Spain. As Micaela grows in the people's and the Viceroy's favour, Uncle Pio manipulates the situation so that she is invited to the Viceroy's court. She is criticized and abused by the women of the court, and leaves in a huff. Eventually, however, the Viceroy wins her over and asks her to be a member of his court. She leaves the theatre and the brokenhearted Uncle Pio to live in the luxury of the Viceroy's Palace. Her only friend among the aristocracy in Lima is a rich Marquesa; but in reality, the Marquesa is manipulating her and the Viceroy in order to undermine the Viceroy's power and put her own daughter's husband in power. When Micaela finds out, she denounces the Marquesa in front of the court. Much to her surprise, the Viceroy, who is in love with her, condemns her actions and orders her to publicly beg the Marquesa's forgiveness. It is here that he calls her "Perrichola," which she takes as a deep insult.

When she apologizes to the Marquesa, Micaela is surprised to discover that the Marquesa has repented from her scheming, evil ways after witnessing her servant, a kind girl from the convent named Pepita, praying for her salvation. Following this confrontation, Manuel suddenly returns from Madrid and sneaks into Micaela's royal apartments to beg her to come back to him. The Viceroy catches the two young lovers red-handed, and he and Manuel challenge each other over Micaela. The Viceroy arrests Manuel, then asks Micaela to marry him. She refuses. Afraid that his anger at her refusal endangers Manuel's life, she goes to Uncle Pio and begs him to help Manuel escape from prison, which he does. When the Viceroy questions Pio about the escape, Pio convinces him to sign a pardon in order to prevent the people making a martyr out of Manuel. Pio then takes the pardon to Manuel, who is hiding on the other side of the Bridge of San Luis Rey. Pio and Manuel plan to meet Micaela a few days later at the bridge, where she is accompanying the Viceroy as he visits the hospital at Brother Juniper's Chapel. They travel with the Marquesa, Pepita, and Esteban, the Marquesa's scribe who also happens to be Manuel's twin brother. On the last fateful afternoon, the Viceroy crosses the bridge and steps into the chapel courtyard. As the Marquesa, Pepita, Manuel, and the Viceroy's aide begin to follow him, an Indian steps on as well. The ropes break and the five poor souls fall to their deaths. Micaela, who was just about to step on the bridge, is saved from falling by Manuel and Pio.

This adaptation of Villegas's story portrays colonial Peru in all its lavish grandeur and wealth. The Viceroy and his court are dressed in pompous eighteenth-century garb, with the women in Spanish-style gowns and veils. They entertain themselves by watching flamenco and drinking the King of Spain's wine. The Viceroy seems to concern himself little with the affairs of the colony, refusing his aides' insistence that he address them properly and instead continuing with his frivolous activities. Uncle Pio uses his favour with the Viceroy to influence him in policies that benefit the people, such as giving miners higher wages. The indigenous people are depicted as a "simple, friendly" folk, who are marginalized by society and deal only with the kind Brother Juniper. High Peruvian society is made up of pure Spaniards, who scorn the half-blood Micaela for her humble beginnings.

The film emphasizes the line between good and bad, right and wrong, but allows repentance and forgiveness to save all the characters from their humanity. The Catholic trust in God and his ever-forgiving goodness that characterized the Spanish belief system mingles with a questioning of God's intentions and workings on earth. In the end, it is accepted that God works in mysterious ways, and has His own reasons for allowing representatives of every level of colonial Peruvian society - an Indian, a lowly maid, a scribe, a Marquesa, and the Viceroy's top aide - to perish in a freak accident while saving Micaela and the others. God does not discriminate between races and classes as the Spanish do, explains Brother Juniper. In the end, all men are subject to God's power.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Plunder of the Sun

Plunder of the Sun posterPlunder of the Sun (1953), based on the novel by David Dodge (To Catch a Thief), begins in Havana, Cuba, where tough-talking Al Colby (Glenn Ford) has run out of money and awaits a cheque in the mail so he can pay his mounting hotel and bar bills. One afternoon he is approached by a beautiful young woman, Ana Luz, who leads him to the home of a self-described “antiquarian”, an old wheelchair-ridden man named Thomas Berrien. Berrien has a proposition for Colby: Colby must transport a small package by ship to Oaxaca, Mexico and he will receive $1000 as payment. Berrien and Ana Luz will also be on the ship. Colby is very suspicious, but he needs the money, so he agrees.

On the voyage, Berrien dies of mysterious causes. Suddenly, a variety of characters are pursuing Colby for the package, which he discovers contains three pages of an ancient Zapotec treasure map and a small jade carving. One of these characters is Ana Luz, who wants to give the manuscript to an aristocratic Mexican treasure-hunter and her adopted father, Ulbaldo Navarro. Another is the mysterious Jefferson, a ruthless blonde Irishmen who will not hesitate to resort to violent measures to get the manuscript. There is also the troubled American party-girl Diana Lynn, who throws herself at Colby and manipulates whatever situation she finds. Once in Oaxaca, Colby dedicates himself to learning more about the Zapotecs and the treasure to which the mysterious manuscript potentially holds the key. He visits the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán and decides that the map may really lead to treasure. He creates a hidden code for the manuscript and takes the code to Navarro, asking him to translate the individual words without giving him their order so that he can keep the document’s meaning a secret. Meanwhile, the sinister Jefferson makes a few failed attempts at stealing the manuscript from Colby; eventually he tries another approach and asks Colby to form a partnership with him so that they can find the treasure together and split the spoils.

Once Navarro has translated the words of the manuscript from ancient Zapotec and Colby and Jefferson have put them together, they employ the help of a local Mexican and his burros and go to the ruins at night to find the treasure, which according to the manuscript contains valuable gold, silver, and jade. Following the map, they find the treasure in the wall of the high-priest’s temple. When they have just about finished packing it up on the donkeys, Jefferson shoots Colby and leaves him for dead in the ruins, taking all the treasure. When Colby awakes from his unconsciousness, he is in Navarro’s house being nursed back to health by Ana Luz, Diana Lynn, and Navarro himself. They found the near-dead Colby at the ruins and now need his help to find Jefferson and the missing treasure. Navarro wants these precious artifacts to be put in a Mexican museum, where they can be studied. Colby and Ana Luz, on a hunch, find Jefferson hiding with the treasure in the Zapotec museum’s storehouse in Oaxaca. After a rough fight and shootout, Jefferson is crushed by a huge Zapotec head, and Colby and Ana Luz recover the treasure. Colby is rewarded $25,000 for finding the treasure by the Mexican government. He and Ana Luz leave Oaxaca together to live it up in Havana.

All of the characters in the film are morally ambiguous, including our protagonist Al Colby. Is Al really willing to rob Mexico of its priceless cultural heritage for his own money troubles to be solved? The film emphasizes the fact that the Zapotec treasure rightfully belongs in the hands of the Mexican government, and that it is wrong for a couple of gringos to steal it for their own gain. The film was shot on location in Oaxaca and Monte Alban, and the colourful (even for a black and white film!) streets of Oaxaca as well as the sweeping, impressive shots of the Zapotec ruins, show a romantic and beautiful side to Mexico. The Mexican characters are diverse and well-integrated in the film: from the aristocratic and courteous Navarro, or the beautiful and kind Ana Luz, to the rough and disgusting Mexican who is Jefferson’s henchman. They treat the gringos with wary respect, evidently aware that some of the tougher ones will use and exploit their country for their own success.

In Havana and Oaxaca, the loner Colby finds his niche: it’s a tougher world, a hotter and more exotic world than his own, but he is just fine hunting for treasure, beating up bad guys, and winning the heart of the innocent local woman. Latin American culture allows him to flourish, to succeed, and to be free. It’s an adventurous, exciting world, and perfect for a fast-paced treasure hunt.

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One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed JacksWhen you’re trying to survive in the gun-slingin’ days of the wild west, sometimes you gotta be a one-eyed jack. In cowboy terms, this is the crook that lives off lying and cheating, but presents a decent profile so as to not raise any suspicion. You can always see one side of him, but beware of his deception.

The 1961 film One-Eyed Jacks, directed and headlined by Marlon Brando, begins in Sonora, Mexico, 1880, with 3 bandits robbing a bank. They jump on their horses with the bags of gold coins and ride across the surrounding hills to a near-by town. The relaxed demeanor of the crooks reveals how sure they are that they nabbed their bounty with no repercussions. Two of the men head to the town brothel while the other, Rio (Marlon Brando), who is a drifter and a trickster by nature, with his lightning-quick draw compensating for his slow, slurred, southern speech, runs off to a lady friend. He gets his way with any means available to him, even if it means coming up with a lie about his dead mother in order to steal a kiss. When the authorities ride into town, the men all make a break for it. One bandit is shot and killed while Rio and the third bandit, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), ride into the desert. They hole up on the top of a sand dune so as to watch for the men coming for them, and then decide that one of them should ride to the next farm to buy fresh mounts and then come back. Dad is chosen to ride, but has a change of heart at the farm and decides to run off with the gold and leave Rio to his fate, as well as the years of vengeance which are to follow.

After seething with anger for 5 years in the Sonora Penitentiary, Rio escapes with a trusty Mexican sidekick, aptly named Chico Modesto. Rio’s one focus in life is to kill Dad. The two men search for him from town to town until they meet Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who enlists them to help him and his partner Howard (Timothy Carey) rob a bank. When Rio states he’s not interested, Bob seals the deal by revealing that Dad is now the sheriff of the town that holds the bank. With that news, Rio’s in.

They ride 900 miles to the town and the first thing Rio does is head to Dad’s house. Dad is on edge, but when Rio makes no attempt on his life he calms down and then makes up a sob story about trying on that fateful day five years ago to make it back to Rio but instead having to flee for his life and become a town sheriff, turning over a new leaf. Rio knows he is lying about trying to come back for him, but says nothing and instead offers his forgiveness. After years of waiting for Rio to come kill him, Dad is overjoyed at this turn of events and asks Rio to stay for dinner, which is where Rio meets Dad’s Mexican step-daughter, Luisa. Rio is convinced to stay until after the next day’s fiesta, which is fine by him because the bank won’t be open until then anyhow. The distraction of the fiesta gives Rio and Luisa time to know one another, and by the end of the night Rio has seduced Luisa with lies and they spend the night together making love on the beach. The next morning, Rio, knowing that he’s a bandit at heart, admits his lies without remorse to Luisa and devastates her.

After riding back to town, Rio gets in a bar fight because he doesn’t like how a man is treating a prostitute, and ends up killing him. Dad, as sheriff of the town, can feel that Rio isn’t going to just leave without a fight, so he ties him to a horse post and lashes him with a whip. Then, to make sure he doesn’t try anything stupid in revenge, he crushes Rio’s gun hand with the barrel of a rifle, causing Rio to go into hiding up along the coast with his partners until his hand heals and he can get his payback.

After six weeks, Bob and Howard get tired of waiting for Rio’s hand to heal and plan to rob the bank by themselves. Chico tries to stop them because it will ruin Rio’s plan of revenge, but instead is mercilessly shot. Bob then tells Dad that Rio plans to kill him and that he should wait at his home outside of town. Meanwhile, Bob and Howard ride into town to rob the bank, but are foiled when the bank teller pulls a gun on Bob and kills him. Howard gets away, but Dad thinks that it was Rio’s plan all along. Dad and his men ambush Rio as he rides back to town and throw him in a jail cell to await his judgment and inevitable execution. Rio tells Dad he knows that he never tried to ride back to save him five years ago and calls him a one-eyed jack. Dad becomes like stone and swears that Rio will be hung the next day. Luisa later visits Rio in jail and reveals to him that she’s going to have his baby. Rio is overjoyed and confesses his love for her, no lies attached. She returns with a bowl of stew containing a gun without bullets. The deputy discovers the gun but leaves it on the table unguarded. Rio manages to build a contraption from his bed that can pull the table closer and recovers the revolver. He escapes after bluffing the deputy with the gun and is about to make his get-away through town when Dad arrives and starts shooting. With no other choice Rio shoots back, only to kill Dad as Luisa looks on. Rio scoops up the crying Luisa and puts her on a horse as they both ride away up the coast. They stop a good ways out of town and Rio explains how he has to leave so the authorities don’t hunt him down. He plans on going to Oregon but he’ll return for Luisa one day. Luisa, perhaps the only queen of hearts for this one-eyed jack, reluctantly agrees and waves good-bye as he disappears up the California coast.

This film is set in both Mexico and California in the late 1800s and it appears as though the American and Mexican cultures mix just as easily as the locations, with Rio falling in love with Luisa, as well as having Chico as his most trusted friend. Dad is also married to a Mexican woman, and even the fiesta mixes together a town made up of primarily white Americans with festivities of the Mexican and Spanish culture, including a dance of the fandango. The only one-eyed jacks in the film appear to be the Americans, while the prominent Mexican characters, such as Luisa, her mother, and Chico, all uphold strong morals and understand what it means to stand by those you care about through thick and thin. This sense of American precariousness is further shown when Rio chooses to hide-out up Oregon instead of Mexico, claiming that the authorities in Mexico would be on his tail right away. He chooses an American refuge over a Mexican one, clearly drawing the line between what the characters believe to be a country that houses criminals and a country that has no tolerance for one-eyed jacks.

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Alvarez Kelly

Alvarez Kelly posterAlvarez Kelly (1966) tells of a cattleman whose herd becomes the object of a tug-of-war between Union and Confederate forces during the food-scarce days of the American Civil War. The tale would be unremarkable if not for its eponymous hero, also known as the Irish Señor. In contrast to the other characters, who provide single-minded and unquestioning service to their side of the Civil War, Kelly has a complex and critical relationship to the United States.

Alvarez Kelly is a suave cigar-smoking cowboy who has just finished three months of herding his beef cattle across the prairies to deliver them to Union colonel Albert Steadman. To his dismay, Steadman informs him that he is now to take them by rail to Richmond, Virginia. The men argue, but Steadman points to his contractual obligations to deliver the cattle to the area deemed most urgent. Kelly concedes and takes the steers east, making it clear that he does not give a damn who wins the war, he just wants to collect his pay. We learn that he is making a hefty sum from war profiteering, buying cattle for $2 a head and selling them for $20. But Kelly is not merely a money-grubbing renegade. His intelligent manner of speaking, peppered with sardonic remarks, hint that his motivations are more complex than they appear.

Kelly and Steadman bring the herd to the homestead of the ironically named Southern belle Charity Warwick; ironic because while Steadman praises her for allowing the cattle to graze in the northern pasture, Kelly shrewdly points out that this pasture is the one most in need of fertilizer, proving his conviction that there is a selfish streak in every righteous act. Confederate raiders, abetted by Warwick, rob and kidnap Kelly. However, it is not just his money they want, but his expertise to herd the cattle around the Union lines encircling Richmond to feed hungry Confederate soldiers, expertise that Kelly is loathe to give. Their leader, the mean Tom Rossigner, locks Kelly in jail and even shoots a finger off until Kelly resigns to training his rag-tag Confederate cavalrymen. Eventually the Confederates acquire basic herding skills and the Unionists, though nervous that Kelly will help Rossigner to steal the precious cattle, are confident that their army has Richmond on lockdown.

One day at dawn the Confederates swarm Warwick’s property and, thanks to her tip-offs, deftly round up the Unionists. However, Steadman escapes and is granted a three-hundred strong regiment from the general, which he stations at the only bridge where the cattle-thieves could cross. Rossigner is resigned to defeat, and intends to drown the cattle rather than forfeit them to the Union, until Kelly steps in with a plan to storm the bridge with the massive herd and slip by the Unionists in the ensuing chaos. The plan works, and in the midst of stamping hooves and cannon fire the Confederates reach the other side of the gunpowder-rigged bridge, including Kelly who stalls to rescue a fallen man then dives from the exploding bridge. This final selfless act earns Rossigner’s respect and the men bid each other farewell. Kelly rides off with no cattle, no money, a missing ring finger and a bad reputation with the Union, but the broad smile on his face indicates that he is happy with the outcome.

Alvarez Kelly is a wandering cowboy whose life has been defined by the fracturing of nation-states, both Mexican and American. He already had a hyphenated identity, with Irish heritage and Mexican nationality, but this was further complicated by his violent displacement by the Mexican-American War twenty years ago. Kelly relates that his father was killed defending their Texas home "in the 'Mexican War' I think you call it. We had other names for it: 'Theft of a piece of our country.'" This strong indictment of American foreign policy comes as a surprise in this Civil War action film. Kelly goes on to reveal the roots of his indifference to the Civil War; he sees the soldiers that dismembered Mexico as the same ones that are now divided down Civil War lines, “So I say Alvarez Kelly, take what you can from either side. Small return for your birthright.” In light of this statement, one can see the hypocrisy of the American characters constantly berating Kelly for making a profit on their war; the United States robbed him almost half of his country.

Kelly has a nihilistic approach to life, no doubt attributable to the shifting borders during his youth and the injustice of his loss. At one point he groans: “God deliver me from dedicated men.” For Kelly, the causes that people dedicate themselves to are often self-serving and of limited use. He is not a man who is moved by causes, but rather by instincts. The filmmakers seem to share in this view, portraying neither the Confederacy nor the Union as more righteous, and casting a negative light on those who go to great extremes for personal or political gain. Only an outsider, a Mexican man with no faith in ideology, could serve as such an effective counterpoint to these dedicated generals, scheming damsels, and fanatical colonels.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Treasure of the Sierra Madre poster"I know what gold does to men’s souls," the old-timer ominously states to the eager young men before him. His comment foreshadows the subsequent action in the revered film noir gem The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), in which morals fall by the wayside and madness breaks out as the men venture through Mexico on a quest to claim material happiness.

The tale begins in Tampico, Mexico, in the year 1925, after the Mexican Revolution and during a time when banditos roam the desert and federales try to enforce justice. Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck American trying to scrape together a living in a town where a foreigner can’t even shine shoes to make a buck. And so he begs from his fellow Americans to get money for a decent meal. It seems as though Lady Luck smiles upon Dobbs when he manages to hook a hard-labour job, only to be duped out of his money by the sleazy manager. But not all is lost in his unprofitable venture as he befriends a fellow scrounger by the name of Bob Cortin (Tim Holt) who helps him bully the money out of their greedy ex-employer. Although they wreak havoc on the manager, the scene shows the honest nature of the two men, who only take what is owed them, throwing hundreds of pesos back in the man's bloodied face.

Dobbs and Cortin check in to an old dorm and encounter Howard (Walter Huston), a friendly old-timer who has seen the world and talks about the universal dangers that gold bestows upon a man, such as turning him against his friends or provoking an insatiable lust for that glittery rock. As Howard looks on knowingly, Dobbs vows that if he struck it rich he would only take what he needed. Later, Dobbs and Cortin start to consider what it would be like to have all that gold and they enlist the help of Howard to get them started. Pooling their money, they agree to be partners and set out for the Sierra Madre.

They hike through blazing sun, howling wind, overgrown jungle, thirst, and fatigue. But led by Howard’s know-how, the trio finally find the spot for the big pay-off and build a secluded gold mine in the mountains, careful to play the part of hunters to any outsider they meet by chance. One night when weighing the gold flakes, they start chatting about how the gold should be divided and who is the most trustworthy. Without reaching a consensus, it is decided that each man will take responsibility for his own share. When the men discuss their dreams of what they will do with their pay-out, Cortin and Howard express a desire to settle down while Dobbs reveals his short-term, greedy cravings. And thus the suspicions begin. Dobbs’s partners notice him acting strangely when he starts talking to himself, a characteristic which Howard finds unsurprising for a gold-miner. Trust issues emerge when Cortin accidentally discovers Dobbs’s hiding place for his stash.

Cortin then reluctantly heads to town for supplies and unwillingly brings back another eager American (Bruce Bennett) to their camp. The three men decide that it’s best to kill the stranger before he takes off with their gold or reports their illegal mining operation to the authorities. But the murder is stalled when a band of banditos come across the group. We are introduced to the only English-speaking outlaw of the group (Alfonso Bedoya) whom the Americans simply call "Gold Hat." He claims that they are Federales, but is unable to produce a “stinkin’ badge” to Dobbs and a gun fight ensues. The real Federales appear and chase off the bandits, but not before they manage to shoot and kill the American outsider. The partners come across a letter on the dead man from his wife and they realize from her words that this man had also come down with the fabled gold-lust and they decide that it’s best for them to pack up their operation before succumbing to the same fate.

On the long road back, Howard is enlisted by several harmless villagers to come and revive a young boy who has fallen in some water. Howard succeeds and is revered by the villagers, who will not let him go on his way until they have paid their debt to him. Cortin offers to take Howard’s things (including his gold) to Durango with them until he is able to join them. Later that night Dobbs gives into lunacy as he envisions Cortin plotting to take all of the money for himself. The soft-spoken Cortin denies such allegations, but Dobbs gives his word that he will not be the first to fall asleep. The next night, an exhausted Cortin collapses and Dobbs steals his gun away. Without a shred of remorse, Dobbs marches Cortin away from camp and shoots him twice. He leaves the body there, not knowing that the bullets only wounded Cortin and he was able to crawl to some villagers who in turn bring him to Howard to be patched up. Meanwhile, Dobbs attempts to out-talk his guilty conscience as the flames of the campfire appear to engulf him in their hell. The next day he discovers that Cortin is gone, but convinces himself that the animals got to him. He continues to Durango and practically falls into a stagnant waterhole when he is parched from thirst. He looks up to see Gold Hat standing above him. Gold Hat feigns friendliness and then he and two others kill Dobbs in order to sell his donkeys and animal hides. They see the sacks of gold on the donkeys and dump it out, thinking that it’s only sand to weigh the hides down for selling.

In town, Gold Hat and his bandit friends are caught and made to dig their own graves before standing in front of the firing squad. Cortin and Howard ride into town just as the shots are fired. They are tipped off that the bandits have left the bags of gold by some nearby ruins, but are left to utter disappointment when they realize that the gold flakes have blown away in the wind. Howard begins to laugh at the cruel joke that has been played on them until both he and Cortin are in stitches over the whole thing. They decide that “the worst isn’t bad when it finally happens” and decide to pursue, without the gold, the dreams they had talked about while searching for their treasure in the Sierra Madre.

The sense of authenticity of the Mexican characters in this film is notable: the casting included villagers, well-known figures, and possibly even a real bandit, all from the surrounding area of the movie’s on-location set in Mexico. Not only are the small talk, greetings, and the commerce spoken in Spanish, but so are many of the crucial scenes. Without subtitles, the audience is left to piece together the meaning from situational clues and Howard’s knowledge of Spanish. The effect is a mark of Mexican culture in a storyline dominated by American presence. It appears that the English language takes on a sinister character as it is only spoken by selfish Americans and the ruthless Gold Hat. This movie is part of a darker era of film, beginning at the end of World War II, where bandits are more interested in guns and ammo than gold and riches, and American greed takes the forefront as the elusive villain. Mexico is seen as a treasure chest of natural resources just waiting to be opened. The land has its own way of governing with its own inherent judgment. At the end of the film it’s as though the cacti are grabbing onto the cloth sacks that held the men’s gold, as if keeping what belongs to Mexico in Mexico. Coincidentally, "Sierra Madre" translates a "Mother of the Mountains"; the "mother" on whom the men bestowed thanks for their gold as they waved good-bye to their mine is also the mother who wouldn’t let her precious resources ride away into the sunset. The "cruel" joke played on the men almost personifies the Sierra Madre into an authority, one whose final decision always sides with her country. Perhaps in this film it is not the gold itself which is the treasure, but the lesson learned.

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Desperate Cargo

Desperate Cargo DVD coverCrime thriller Desperate Cargo (1941) is focused entirely on action; the dialogue does nothing more than advance the plot and the settings are neither specific nor believable. Evidenced by the two settings in which the film takes place, the fictional cove Puerto Nueve of an unnamed Caribbean island, and a seaplane with warped interior dimensions, both place and space have minimal importance in Desperate Cargo; what matters is catching the crooks and getting the girl.

The opening sequence occurs in a balmy Puerto Nueve hotel and lays the groundwork for the crime around which the film revolves. Two men named Ryan and Dessler show up to see a man named Carter; maintaining his disguise even before the hotel staff, it is assumed he is a notorious crime boss. Carter has planned a heist and has hired the others to pull it off; their objective is to steal close to half a million dollars stored in a safe on a Trans-Caribbean Airways plane, which is due to arrive soon in Puerto Nueve. This may be peanuts for modern Hollywood thieves, but the figure elicits an awed whistle from Ryan.

Later we are introduced to leading man Tony Bronson, an American playboy who enlists bellboy Jose to drive away two flirtatious Latin women when platinum blond Ann Howard catches his attention. When Howard and her friend Peggy Morton, a self-proclaimed gold-digger, go out to dine with Morton’s long-time love interest and New York newspaper correspondent Jim Halsey, he invites Bronson along. The girls work their charms on Bronson, who happens to the Trans-Caribbean Airlines purser, lying that they must get back to their Broadway jobs in order to secure their passage back home. As they wait for the delayed plane there is some romantic chemistry between Howard and Bronson, but he is enraged when he catches on to her deception, accustomed to being the player rather than the one played.

Despite his wounded ego Bronson does not cancel the tickets, and all board the Trans-Carribbean Airways seaplane. Its lengthy corridors and spacious cabins demand a suspension of disbelief, but the action quickly distracts from volumetric details. The thieves from the opening scene brandish their guns before the passengers, who oddly seem more inconvenienced than terrified, and proceed to empty the safe. They land on water and tie up the crew, revealing their plan to escape via another plane and set this one alight. The passengers, led by the stoic Bronson, acquire a gun which leads to skirmishes and shootouts. Bronson saves the day by exiting the plane, swimming to where the crew is held, and leading the men in a surprise attack on the villains. The near death experience prompts Bronson and Howard to become enamored once again, and catalyzes a romantic relationship between Morton and Halsey. They arrive in Miami, we are informed by a diligent crew member, only four hours late. Not bad!

Some characters are in Puerto Nueve for business: the would-be thieves, Bronson, and Halsey. Others are there for pleasure: the vacationing Howard and Morton. However, the reason why this generic island has such a transient and diverse American presence is taken for granted, until one line of dialogue reveals the big picture in a flash. We hear Halsey, in mid-phone conversation to New York: “. . .and it’s encouraging to note the effect of the American Good Neighbor Policy in such a small town of Puerto Nueve. That’s all for today. I’ll cover the cotton angle tomorrow.” In contrast to the rest of the dialogue in Desperate Cargo, this line offers concrete geopolitical details; the island has recently and conspicuously been absorbed into the U.S. sphere of influence and its primary goods are of economic interest.

However, one wonders what this “effect” is, and how it might be experienced differently by Americans versus Caribbeans. The affluent hotel and smartly dressed Latin women suggest that American money has been infused into Puerto Nueve, but the only other evidence of American presence is a surge in crime and violence, from a knife inexplicably launched at Halsey, to a bar brawl involving Bronson, to the thieves hiding out while planning their heist. Interestingly, the film explores some murky ethical territory in heated exchanges between Morton and Howard, the former arguing that gold-digging is a perfectly equitable exchange of a woman’s entertaining presence for a man’s wealth and influence, and the latter morally opposed but resigning to necessity. In a film situated on an anonymous island into which U.S. free trade policy is embedding its claws, a discussion on the ethics of gold-digging is not entirely out of place.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Bandoleros! posterBandolero! opens in Val Verde, Texas. It is 1867. Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his nefarious Bishop gang are finally captured, while robbing a bank and killing a man in the process, after a long history of crime and destruction. The town’s sheriff, July Johnson, is hard on crime, and sentences the gang to hang. The day of the hanging is the Bishop gang’s lucky day, because Dee’s long-lost brother Mace (James Stewart) is posing as the hangman and helps them escape. They ride off into the dusty desert, and Mace stays behind to take advantage of the fact that the town is empty after the hullabaloo, robbing the bank of $10,000 and making his own way out of town. The Sheriff and his men also ride out of Val Verde, seeking to hunt the Bishop gang down.

Dee and his gang find Maria Stoner (Raquel Welch), the beautiful young Mexican widow of the man they killed, and her carriage a few miles out of town. They rob the carriage and kidnap her. Suddenly, they are ambushed by the Sheriff’s men and there is a big shootout. The Bishops get away, taking a struggling Maria with them and heading south for the Mexican border. They agree that the deeper they get into Mexico, the safer they are from the Sheriff, whose dogged pursuit is mainly because he is in love with Maria and wants to save her. As the chase continues and the gang makes camp for the first night, the gang members start harassing Maria, but Dee protects her vehemently. Mace joins the gang that night. Though Mace hates Dee’s way of life, he plays the big brother role by constantly helping him out and trying to convince him that he is better than the scum he rides with. Here, we discover more about the beautiful Maria, who reveals that she was “a whore at 13, and [her] family of 12 never went hungry” and that her deceased husband bought her from her tiny Mexican village and brought her to his big ranch in Texas. We also begin to see some chemistry between Maria and Dee.

As the gang reaches Mexico, Maria warns them against entering Bandolero country, a region of lawless bandits who “kill every gringo they find.” It is Sheriff Johnson and his men, however, who are the first to encounter the bandoleros. The bandoleros hide in the rocks, armed with straps of bullets, sombreros, and handlebar moustaches; they drop down onto the men at the back of the Sheriff’s entourage and butcher them with machetes, stealing their clothes and horses. The rest of the Sheriff’s men get away and continue the chase. The Bishops, meanwhile, have found a ghost-town, abandoned by citizens terrorized by the bandoleros, and stop to rest. Dee expresses his love for Maria, who reciprocates. Just then the Sheriff’s men show up and capture the gang, turning the tables. Shortly thereafter, the bandoleros storm into town, shooting wildly into the air, and there is a massive shootout in which many men from all sides die. In the middle of the melee, the evil-looking bandit leader catches sight of Maria and tries to rape her in one of the abandoned houses. In his efforts to save her, Dee is stabbed with a machete. Mace kills the bandolero leader and then is shot. Without leadership, the bandoleros become cowards and ride off. Both Bishop brothers die dramatically, as Maria sobs nearby. The end of the film shows Maria and the Sheriff riding off back to Texas, having buried the dead men.

In Bandolero!, Mexico is a lawless, wild country of rocky deserts and abandoned towns where bandits rule and civilization is apparently absent. For American bad guys, Mexico is a place where they are safe from American law; however, the dangers of Mexico make this safety an illusion. The Mexican bandits are evil-looking, savage men who kill with machetes and shoot crazily into the air when they make their entrance. They force themselves upon women and generally wreak havoc, but when they lose their leader, they run away just as thunderously as they’ve attacked. The Americans, both outlaws and law enforcers, are familiar and comfortable in the harsh desert environment of Mexico because it matches their own; what is missing in Mexico is the law.

Maria’s character shows another aspect of the hard life in Mexico. Her story of prostitution at a young age and her purchase by an American for a price of “five cattle and one gun” is a heartbreaking one, but she tells it with a hard face and a hard heart. She says her father became “the richest man in the village” after she was sold, and that her life in Texas was easier than in Mexico; she was treated well by her husband. She is returning to her home country for the first time since she was bought, and there is no evident connection between her and her “compadres”; she is a fine and beautiful woman while they are a bunch of violent animals. Her softness and vulnerability show through in her sudden love for Dee, who also becomes softer in Mexico, repenting for his life of crime and making plans for a better future. Alas, these plans are not to be realized. Dee and his brother die in the dusty, lawless, and lonely place that is Mexico.

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The Long, Long Trailer

The Long, Long Trailer posterYou know those days when nothing seems to go right? When everything falls apart and it’s all you can do not to break down? Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz feel the brunt of that kind of day stretched into weeks in the 1954 film The Long, Long Trailer, a slapstick comedy similar to recent films such as National Lampoon and Meet the Parents, whose audience can't help but cringe as bad luck rains down on the protagonists.

The film begins with Nicky Collini (Desi Arnaz) driving frantically through the rain to a trailer park in Colorado where he knocks on what is presumably his trailer and yells out for Tacy (Lucille Ball) to open up. The camera pans to a "For Sale" sign tacked to the side of the trailer, which is apparently news to Nicky. He decides to retreat from the rain into the clubhouse where he meets an older gentleman (Moroni Olsen) relaxing in a chair. After a few customary pleasantries and inquiries, the two realize that the older man is here to buy Nicky’s rig and both their wives have gone to measure furniture for it. Nicky exclaims, "I'm telling you, it's a fine thing to come home to your home and your home is gone!" and then proceeds down a different path and asks the man if he and his wife ever fight. When the man answers a bewildered "no," Nicky cries out in exasperation, "No fights? No battles? Then don’t buy a trailer!" And with such an exclamation Nicky begins his upside-down tale of his experiences with the long, long trailer.

The movie is filmed as a flashback from the point of view of Nicky, a successful engineer who travels a lot for his work. The flashbacks begin with the sound of laughter as Nicky ridicules his fiancé Tacy's idea of living in a mobile home, but Tacy soon wins him over with clever pouts and hypnotizing dreams of a mobile honeymoon. The next scene brings the pair to the mobile home show where Tacy falls in love at first sight with the Blue Moon rig, complete with charming doorbell, sunken living room (where Nicky always manages to trip on the stair), and a $5345 price tag; three times the price they had originally had in mind. Lucy convinces her fidgety fiancé that in the end they would actually save money because they would otherwise be living in hotels (words she may need to eat by the end of the film), and Nicky signs the cheque. The trailer is magic to Tacy and misfortune to Nicky as mishaps happen again and again, including the task of learning to drive with a 40 foot trailer creeping up behind him. However, these calamities are put on hold for the lovebirds to be wed and Nicky even puts the trailer in his new wife’s name as a wedding gift. And so the honeymoon, and the bad luck, begin.

After the first leg of their trip, filled with wrong turns, driving embarrassingly slow, and stopping in the middle of a busy traffic light, they arrive at their first trailer park, only to realize that being a neighbour in a trailer park means that they can’t have any privacy, not even to consummate their marriage (a curious consummation seeing as they sleep in separate beds, a rule and regulation of 1950s film and television). After a frustrating night, they pack up and attempt to camp in the wilderness only to get the trailer stuck in a rut on a back-country road. A downpour commences as they undertake the comedic task of cooking and eating dinner while on a slant, culminating in Tacy getting thrown out of the trailer door into an enormous mud puddle, in true Lucille Ball form. Tacy now begins to see the disadvantages to her big, beautiful trailer.

The adventure continues with a much-anticipated week-long stop at Tacy’s Aunt Anastasia’s house, only to have Nicky back the trailer over the the garden, the roses, and then into the garage, all in front of an on-looking crowd of extended relatives. Needless to say, the trip promptly continues the next day. Throughout the catastrophes, the couple is committed to staying together, with Nicky saying that he’d be happy with Tacy even if they had to live in a cave. This leads the movie into a few scenes of rest, relaxation, and beautiful scenery while cruising through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Tacy tries a turn at the wheel and discovers that she’s better at driving the rig than Nicky, which only leads to resentment and another fight. Tacy makes amends by suggesting she cook a pasta dinner while Nicky drives and then they can eat upon arrival at the next destination. Unfortunately, Tacy does not compensate for the turbulent ride and ends up covered in all her ingredients.

The final drama involves the couple driving up the mountain to an elevation of 8,000 feet. Nicky had asked Tacy to get rid of all her heavy possessions, including the large rocks she collected throughout the trip. Tacy can’t bear to part with her memories and so she hides them around the trailer, only to regret her actions when the rocks tumble from their hiding places and nearly topple the trailer off the edge of a cliff. When Nicky opens the trailer door and discovers what Tacy has done, it is the last straw and the pair part unfavorably, with Nicky taking a long drive alone.
This brings us back to the film's opening scene, with Nicky coming back to find his wife gone and his home for sale. The old man who has listened to this tale of woe tells Nicky that he and his wife were unhappy at first as well, but all they had to do was learn to say "I'm sorry." Nicky balks at this idea and then sees Tacy arriving back at the trailer. He grudgingly grabs his things from her and makes his exit in the car, when all of a sudden Tacy races through the rain to the car and the two of them exclaim apologies to one another. They rush inside to make-up, and the audience catches glimpses, through the door banging in the wind, of this eccentric couple embracing in their long, long trailer.

Although this film enjoys kooky mishaps and romantic reconciliations, it denies the viewers any recognition of the Cuban culture of Desi Arnaz. That being said, in one scene Arnaz does rattle off angrily in Spanish as he’s trying to put the trailer on a jack, but these rants are directed only to himself and the prominent use of the English word “trailer” is the only clue to the non-hispanic audience that he is upset with having bought the mobile home. It is also interesting that a character with the Italian last name of "Collini" is spouting Spanish vocabulary. As a result, it can be inferred that the film is more focused on creating an opposition between wife and husband, male and female, rather than one between American and Cuban cultures. The Collinis are portrayed as a typical newly-wed, 1950s American couple trying to find a place to call their own, whether it be on the road or simply a long, long trailer.

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The Gang’s All Here

The Gang's All Here posterThe Gang’s All Here has a threadbare plot consisting of a boy-meets-girl romance, heartbreak caused by a misconception, and a happy resolution for everyone. However, the film has a handful of gems, including performances by the radiant Carmen Miranda and historical references to America making friends next door and enemies abroad. The film opens on a Broadway stage as a sizable dance troupe unload the S.S. Brazil, a cargo ship carrying the Brazilian exports of coffee, sugar, fruit, and of course Miranda herself, who is bedecked in gaudy jewelry, a nightmarish outfit of bouncing pom-poms and her trademark fruit-filled hat. When the number ends, the host jokes about how the coffee Miranda bestowed upon him will make him rich, then says taking her hand, “Well there’s the Good Neighbor Policy. C’mon honey, let’s good neighbor it!” Male audience members proceed to dance with tropically-themed chorus girls to a song named “Uncle Sam-ba” which fuses North and Latin American styles.

The leading man, a young soldier named Andy Mason, makes his first appearance in this venue, the infamously lascivious Club New Yorker. A chorus girl named Edie Allen catches his eye and he pursues her, but fails to impress her. For unexplained reasons he tells her that his name is Casey instead of Andy. Subsequently the filmmakers place the Mason/Allen affair aside and launch into a bizarrely erotic musical extravaganza, featuring bare-legged showgirls grasping surreally large bananas that beg Freudian interpretation. An effervescent Miranda arrives on the tropical island stage set in a cart pulled by golden oxen; while she delivers her famous number “The Lady in a Tutti Frutti Hat” a multitude of female bodies undulate six-foot bananas from their hips, and lie in star formation with giant strawberries between their splayed legs as their counterparts perform an unmistakably penetrative act. The result is truly mind-boggling.

Mason eventually overcomes Allen’s resistance to him, but by the time her eyes assume that soft romantic gleam, he is stationed in the Pacific. Allen, ignorant of the planned marriage between Mason and his “high-school sweetheart” Vivian Potter, pines for him. After three months he returns and his father hires the Club New Yorker troupe for a party, for which he will sell war bonds by way of admission. A hint of the drama to come is dropped when Allen and Potter confide that are awaiting the return of a beloved soldier, both referring to Mason. When Allen discovers she has spent three lonely months writing letters to a practically married man, she turns her back on his desperate claims to still love her. However, because a key female dancer drops from the show on account of an allergic reaction to roses, Potter takes her place. When Allen later overhears Potter describing her plans to become a Broadway star and abandon what was only a marriage of convenience with Mason, she falls in love with him all over again. With absolutely no follow through to this happy turn of events, the film descends into a dreamlike sequence of futuristic costumes, swirling kaleidoscopic camera tricks, and the disembodied heads of the principal actors singing the film’s theme song.

The Gang’s All Here exemplifies the sexualization of Latin America to an extreme and the conflation of bodies with landscapes. At the close of “The Lady in a Tutti Frutti Hat,” the camera pans over an island coated with open-legged girls lying between the trees like so many ripe bananas; Latin America is projected as a landscape that is female, passive, and even rapable. Those who act upon this landscape are North American businessmen positioned to turn a profit from Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” of boosting trade and investment between the United States and Latin America. The wealth to be gleaned from Latin America prompts these men, like the host from the Club New Yorker, to take the region by the hand and say “C’mon baby, let’s good neighbour it!”

The “Good Neighbour Policy” had political aims as well as economic, and this integrationist sentiment has no better pop culture manifestation than Carmen Miranda, the inter-American poster girl. In The Gang’s All Here Miranda unites North America with Latin America through music, such as in the “Uncle Sam-ba.” However, Miranda’s character Dorita is an ambiguous one. On one hand she has bubbly charm and childlike innocence; her antics bemuse and baffle the North Americans, as does her quirky broken English. But on the other hand, she has a potent sexuality, as evidenced by her awakening animalistic passions in the nervous teetotaler Mr. Potter, which must be kept in check. There is suspicion and even hostility between Miranda, cast as a sensuous bombshell associated with the balmy tropics, and the American women, cast as patient and faithful sweethearts associated with a middle-class domestic idyll. The Latin America of The Gang’s All Here may be dazzling and erotic, not to mention lucrative, but the jury is out on whether it can be fully trusted.

YouTube Link: The opening scene, with the transition from "Brazil" to "You Discover You're in New York."

See also: Copacabana, That Night in Rio, Week-End in Havana, Carmen Miranda.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Down Mexico Way

Down Mexico Way posterDown Mexico Way is one of an abundant collection of early Western films starring Gene Autry, a clean-shaven singing cowboy who, despite the gentlemanly demeanor he maintains throughout most of the film, is tough enough to jump from a cliff into a moving car and take out three men in a fistfight. The film begins with a rousing musical number sung by guests attending a barbeque at our hero's ranch. They are celebrating the selection of their town as the site of the newest John Wayne movie and the promise of riches from its so-called producers, who are selling stocks in the venture. Unfortunately, the men's over-confident speeches and occasional slip-ups fail to raise suspicion amongst the humble townsfolk as they invest their hard-earned savings, and as the duo motor away it is revealed that they are merely conmen ordered by their bosses Gerard and Gibson to flee with the cash to San Ramon, Mexico.

Thanks to a telegraph accidentally dropped by the conmen, Gene Autry and his trusty sidekick Frog are alerted to the scam and resolve to chase the crooks to Mexico. They enlist Pancho as their guide, a ranch hand who by embodying the entire gamut of Mexican stereotypes provides constant comedic effect. Due to his terminal laziness and lack of skill, Pancho botches the car maintenance and it breaks down, forcing them to take the train to San Ramon. This happy accident enables their encounter with the glamorous Maria Elena Alvarado, a Mexican woman whom Gerard and Gibson cast as the star for their next film in order to scam her rich father into financing it.

The trio dedicate themselves to rooting out the crooks in San Ramon. In the meantime, a love affair blossoms between the eyelash batting Maria Elena and the serenading Autry, culminating one night when San Ramon is in the throes of a spirited fiesta. The next day he kidnaps her on horseback from the film set, getting on the wrong side of the law, but securing her allegiance in convincing her father to demand that Gerard and Gibson invest their own money in the film. The producers agree, but not having the money to invest, plan a hold up of a bank car coming from Mexico City with the Alvarado money. The trio uncover the plan, apprehend the henchmen with guns blazing, and Autry heroically chases down Gerard and Gibson on their way to the Sonora Airport with the loot. The film closes with resounding praise for Autry in San Ramon as he receives a cheque to reimburse the people of his town.

Swept up in congratulatory fervor for the hero, one might anticipate a happily-ever-after scenario for Maria Elena and Autry, but instead they part in wistful farewells and tenuous promises to meet at the next fiesta. Mexico is portrayed as intoxicatingly beautiful on fiesta night, bizarrely resembling Venice during Carnival complete with costumed merrymakers and gondola rides, but the romance is fleeting and Autry is compelled to leave both Mexico and Maria Elena, notably touted as one of the “beautiful sights” or “points of interest” of Mexico in the style of a tourist guide. Mexico is a place to be visited, to achieve a certain goal and promptly leave.

Other than looking for romance “down Mexico way,” Autry is a vigilante who aims to avenge his swindled countrymen, and he assumes his authority to do so even in a foreign nation. He becomes wanted by the Mexican police for kidnapping Maria Elena, but when they catch up with him, he states that Gerard and Gibson are in fact the crooks and proceeds to give orders to them. Down Mexico Way was released on 15 October 1941, just less than two months before the Pearl Harbor attacks that launched the United States into the Second World War, at a time when the ethics of interventionism were being intensely debated. It is significant that from this context arises a hero who resolutely acts on his sense of individual responsibility, regardless of borders and the fact that he himself was not swindled.

Nevertheless, the most overt political aspect of the film is that it posits a chummy relationship between the United States and Mexico, embodied in the characters of Frog and Pancho. Throughout the film they sustain a dialogue that compares their cultures, including annual festivities, types of food, and courtship practices, and as both play the buffoon this process of mutual discovery is filled with hilarity and surprise. As a national caricature, Pancho is presented as good-natured, but with a host of negative qualities such as boastfulness, laziness, and irresponsibility. Nevertheless, we are constantly reminded that he is a reformed individual: he left Mexico as a notorious criminal and by the end joins the Mexican police force. The filmmakers suggest that Mexico can leave behind its corrupt history, become an American ally, and deserves to be understood be Americans. As the conmen hit the road early in the film, the dimwitted one assumes a dreamy look and sighs, “Ahhh, Mexico. . . Beautiful señoritas, romantic moonlight, coral sand, ukuleles. . .,” eliciting a frown from his partner. This scene pokes fun at a popular imagination that fantasizes about Mexico while knowing very little about it.

See Also: South of the Border, Mexicali Rose.

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Again, the eagle-eyed will already have noticed... This blog's design has just undergone a fairly major revamp, though hopefully the changes are not too drastic or jarring. Among other things, the image in the header above changes with every refresh. Nifty, eh?

Comments or suggestions are welcome.

Many thanks are due to the marvellous Christine Mackenzie at the University of Aberdeen's Directorate of Information Technology.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week-End in Havana

Week-End in HavanaThis 1941 Fox romance musical is a Technicolor delight - and the backdrops were filmed in the real Cuba! The light comedic plot of Week-End in Havana begins when a cruise ship of the McCracken Cruise Company runs aground on a reef off of Florida and cruise company employee Jay Williams (John Payne) is sent down to ensure there are no lawsuits. He leaves his anxious fiancée, the daughter of the company’s boss, behind. The only guest on the ship who refuses to sign a waiver is Nan Spencer (Alice Faye), a Macy’s department store salesgirl who insists she have her vacation NOW. . . and refuses to sign until after she's had a good time in Cuba at the McCracken Cruise Company's expense! Jay is instructed to take Nan to Havana, put her up in a fancy hotel, and keep her entertained until he can get the waiver out of her.

In Havana, they go to a flashy nightclub where Rosita Rivas, played by a hip-swinging Carmen Miranda, is the main dancing and singing attraction. Bored of Jay’s bland conversation, Nan goes off to find some excitement. Enter Monte Blanca (Cesar Romero), a sleazy, comedic Cuban and Rosita’s manager and lover, who mistakes Nan for a filthy-rich American who can solve his money troubles, namely the gambling debts he owes to the nightclub’s owner, Sheldon Leonard. Blanca charms Nan into a date the following night at the club, where he takes her to the casino on the upper floor, hoping she will lose enough money at roulette to get Leonard to forgive his debt. When Nan loses $3000 and Blanca realizes she cannot pay for it, he is called to Leonard’s office, where he finds Jay Williams. Jay offers to make good Blanca's debt if Blanca keeps Nan entertained for the remainder of her stay in Havana. Blanca agrees, and proceeds with his courtship of Nan.

When Rosita Rivas finds out, she is enraged, and it is Jay's job to keep her away from Blanca and Nan. He fails, however, and in a comedic scene in a colonial restaurant, Rosita and Nan uncover the deal between Blanca and Jay. Furious with Jay, Nan demands he drive her back to the hotel. On the way, the car breaks down, and they are stuck in the balmy Cuban night to find their way home. A romantic, music-filled adventure ensues and they end up spending the night together. In the morning, Jay realizes he has made a grave mistake, and as he is about to tell Nan that he is in fact engaged, his fiancée storms into the room. Pushing her anger aside surprisingly quickly, she pays an insulted Nan to sign the waiver and takes Jay home to New York with her, despite his reluctance to leave the situation in such a state. Nan gives the money to Blanca so he can pay off his debts, and stays in Havana to continue her good time there. In the last scene, Nan, Blanca, and Rosita Rivas are all dancing rhumba on the colourful dance floor in the club when Jay shows up and professes his affection for Nan. They live happily ever after, in a perfectly choreographed sequence of singing, fruit-laden dancers led by Rosita.

The Cuba of the movie is an idyllic, colonial holiday destination with fancy hotels and tuxedo-clad, mustachioed locals mingling with rich Americans at nightclubs. Havana is a place to party, and to meet romantic Cuban men, who according to Jay are “experts at romance”. One of these men is the comedic Blanca, who is a harmless gambler with greased-back hair and a thin mustache. Despite the fact that Blanca spends all Rosita’s money at the casino, the passion between them keeps them together. Rosita is a hot-blooded, vivacious singer with constantly gyrating hips and an endless collection of charmingly misused English expressions. The porter in the hotel, whose goofy grin and comments get a few laughs, is the only other Cuban character who is prominent in the film.

The tropical nights in Havana provide inspiration for romance and the rich, polished hotels and clubs foster a gay, music-filled atmosphere. For this reason, Nan has the time of her life and ends up falling in love with Jay, who, despite his serious and businesslike character, finds himself inspired by Cuban passion as well.

See also: Copacabana, That Night in Rio, The Gang's All Here, Carmen Miranda.

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