Monthly Archives: July 2017

Fun in Acapulco

John Parker July 26

Fun in Acapulco (1963). I agree with Gaby totally about this corniness of the obsession with “siesta” and “fiesta;” as well, I too am having a hard time determining the point of this film. Did they really have to call the lifeguard-diving champion “Moreno?” Is Tequila really the cultural icon they make it out to be? Nevertheless, I accept this film for what it is: an Elvis sixties movie meant to purely entertain, not enlighten. So I will try to mention some likeable elements of the film in my post this evening when I’m done with the bad. I grew up in the sixties, as Jon likes to point out, when everyone was crazy about Elvis. His Las Vegas act and career eventually imploded (exploded?) and the excitement died down. He recorded some of the classics of Rock N Roll, as well as hundreds, maybe thousands, of less memorable tunes, like those of this film. His singing here really was awful and his dancing worse. He did manage to do the famous hip moving that he was notorious for, but the bull-fighting-pseudo-flamenco moves were pathetic. The lyrics of the songs were pure corn and made no sense. But, for an early sixties audience that loved him, there was a tremendous market for this kind of film. As well as singing, Elvis, lifeguards, dives, dances, romances, befriends poor Raoul, drinks tequila properly to impress the female bullfighter, eats Vichyssoise with poor manners, even speaks a bit of Spanish, albeit poorly.

James Bond sixties and seventies movies were iconic for having racy Bond Girls, more for their dress than for their spying ability. Ursula Andress arrives out of the pool for Elvis in the same bathing suit and sore stomach muscles that came out of the ocean for Sean Connery. Then there’s the diving so that Elvis can get over his phobia of heights and re-join the family business back in Florida. Luckily for him, and the hotel guests, he doesn’t have to do much as a lifeguard; thanks again siesta. He has time to practice diving on the low board so he can save the day at the end of the film by doing a perfect dive from the dangerous cliffs. I’d believe it if I were an Elvis fan!

The film was entertaining, with musical interludes featuring Elvis and the hilarious-to-watch backup musicians. They did seem to catch Mexican rhythms and folklore; lots of mariachi singing, including “Guadalajara!!” and guitars and maracas. Tourist-resort local culture has to be taken for what it is. The music you hear on Margarita night (pun intended) is, of course, not what the locals listen to. The nightclub entertainment is just that, entertainment. The movie as a whole was fun to watch and gives us an interesting impression of the American perception of Mexico in the early 1960s. For the patrons of the nightclubs, Elvis was the “North American singing sensation;” Sleepy Mexico is not the United States or even part of the same continent.

John Parker Touch of Evil

John Parker, July 23

Touch of Evil (1958). Orson Welles’ film noir about a border town was well cast and well set. I’m fine with Charlton Heston as Miguel Vargas with a bad accent and little knowledge of Mexican culture; he is a respected narcotics investigator who is treated with great esteem when he arrives to help the local officials at the crime scene. This is heightened when a Grandi family member tries to throw acid on him. He’s not your typical Mexican, not like real Mexican actors in the film, anyway, but in my mind he doesn’t have to be. His pairing with the (yet another) blond American that gives him yet more prestige, perhaps an important feature that Welles is playing on here. Is Welles saying that “Mexicans are just like us?” The other actors are all convincing in their roles as Mexicans, including Marlene Dietrich. The Americans who live on the border, such as Welles’ Hank Quinlan and his sidekick best friend, have family, friends, business associates, drinking buddies, brothel connections. The girl Nayid mentioned thought she heard ticking in her head was a sex trade worker hooked up with an American businessman. Both will be killed at the beginning of the film on the American side of the border, thus diminishing somewhat the threat of an international incidence. The bomb, of course, was planted in the convertible on the Mexican side. The brothel Madame, Sza Sza Gabor, and several Mexican gang members, were definitely not Latino, but again, saying their minimal lines, they didn’t need to be for the casting to be convincing.

I loved the setting. An imaginary border town, “Los Robles,” perhaps a neutral name to appease Americans, kind of like “Álamo,” like boring street names in Vancouver. Here, two cultures interact daily and exist harmoniously. Americans will pursue cheap labour south of the border and Mexicans will seek employment opportunities in the United States. The border town has brothels and sleazy hotels, drug addicts and dealers, crime families. Welles’ Hank Quinlan is in his niche. He is a loser and, as we discover, evil. He knows the ins and outs of the town so well that he is able to rely on hunches to ease his workload. He therefore plants evidence in support of his hunches; this continues his slippery slope in lawlessness that includes kidnapping and murder. He tries to use Mexicans as accomplices in his scheme to discredit Vargas and it is obvious he despises them. He is a parasite; he exploits Mexicans and is ultimately part of the legal structure discriminating against them. This is Welles’ ultimate aim.

Down Argentine Way

John Parker July 17

Down Argentine Way really promotes Argentina as a fun land of love and Latin rhythms. I once had a teacher from Mexico who emphasized, derogatorily, that “amor” is a huge component in Latin American popular culture: “If you’re romantic, Señor, then you will surely adore, Agentina.” Distinct Latin rhythms again permeate the festive scenes, especially when Carmen Miranda is featured. Carmen, who I think is Mexican, sings in Spanish and Portuguese, and dances subtly but distinctly in the syncopated style that we saw in Flying Down to Rio. Guitars serenade, a frenzied conga dance overwhelms, maracas clatter. The two Negro dancers, perhaps less Latin in their tap dancing, are sensational. Of course, a dance cabaret is featured so we see Latin dance and hear South American rhythms at their finest. The chauffeur, Anastacio, is in constant siesta mode, although Argentina does not have the sun reputation of its exotic counterparts further to the north. Our dashing protagonist, as usual, is very rich and maintains strong family values. Also as usual, meaning as in Flying Down to Rio, our Latin protagonist falls for an over-the-top-blond-coloured American. It was fun to see Don Ameche in one of his earlier movies. He was in Trading Places and Cocoon (in which he break dances and for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) in the 1980s. Interestingly, he was born Dominic Amici in the United States. I wonder if the name change to Spanish corresponds with the Friendly Neighbour period of the 1930s and 1940s. “Don,” of course, carries certain connotations: rich, dapper, smooth talking, moustache. Looking him up on Wikipedia, I see that he often played roles similar to the one in Down Argentine Way.

I’m particularly curious about the portrayal of Gaucho culture in the film. We are in the pampas region of Argentina, where sheep and cattle ranching dominated during centuries previous. The ranch hands all wear Gaucho clothing, and Gaucho formal clothing is worn for the fiesta at the end. There is a village fiesta with rustic dancing and singing, and Gaucho serenaders with guitars at Don Ameche’s ranch. Formal racetrack British style horse racing and jumping is well outside the realm of the Gauchos. I’m hoping someone who knows the culture will comment with his or her impression of the film’s portrayal. Films that try to present aspects of culture are probably bound to a few clichés and not able to go in depth, and I understand that. This potentially leads, as we’ve discussed already, to over simplification that plays into stereotypes.

Flying Down to Rio

John Parker July 12

Flying Down To Rio (1933). Jon suggests that this perspective of Latin America is different than that in the two previous films, and he’s right. Mariachi bands and dancing in the Acapulco sun give way to Latin rhythms in supper clubs that feature professional dance orchestras that were prevalent in the era leading up to World War 2. Distinct Latin rhythms prevail, meaning syncopated-African-originated Brazilian sambas and tangos. Camilo and Jon’s “conservative honour society” that we saw in Zorro is not constantly on the defensive but more fun pursuing in their tropical paradise. The female lead, herself a dark and very rich Brazilian, is so much fun that she needs to be chaperoned day and night by French-speaking relatives. Luckily for us she does get a few break-away scenes that include a dance, a silly ride in an airplane that incudes an even sillier being stranded on a deserted island, and a skin revealing beach outfit that might have been racy for the 1930s. Other Brazilians dance the Karioka in the supper club or on primitive airplanes and sing Brazilian love/folk songs without microphones. My favourite is the Brazilian band that knows this music so well that it is in full siesta mode right up until the moment it performs.

Rio, with its many famous sunny beaches and fun institutions, like soccer and Mardi Gras, even Portuguese language, is the perfect backdrop for Fred Astair’s and Ginger Rogers’ hapless band that plays when it can considering its success is constantly hampered by its leader’s short attention span. Fred and Ginger get ample dance time and adapt quite well to the new rhythms and surroundings. They eventually participate in the cause to save the lead’s father’s new hotel from floundering due to “Latin” shady business practices. Mayors and bankers all fall under the influence of corruption from the competition, giving a real “south of the border feel.” The lead’s wealthy father prevails thanks to the help of Fred Astaire and the band and, of course, the airborne dancers who do some truly amazing stunts for a 1930s film, albeit very little actual flying was involved. The lead has fallen for the ridiculous band leader, blond hair, youthfulness and all; they are married high in the sky as the original fiancée, well-mannered, bold and certainly more deserving after leading the airplane dance corps to help rescue dad’s hotel, parachutes back to earth. I’d change the title to Flying Dancers Over Rio.


The Man from Acapulco

John Parker, July 5

The Man from Acapulco (Le Magnifique) 1973. This French Bond farce featuring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jacqueline Bisset sets the stage nicely for the films that follow, particularly with respect to the social mores of the films’ eras. It has “fiesta’ written all over it: Mexico is sun, dancing, tight pants, over-sized sombreros, and mariachi singing. Bandidos are shot out of trees and are seemingly unorganized as they attack the protagonists in large numbers. This film is so 70s, clothing and hairstyles, and roles, particularly of women. The writer, as poor and slovenly as he is, has an uneducated maid who checks in on him daily; she even encourages his written output of pure crap and sympathizes with his predicament of loneliness and outright rudeness, and speaks with an accent in French, like the electrician and plumbers, that suits her station. She is a 70s cliché in her gender role, along with much of the film’s setting. I lived in France for several years and taught French for 30, so I understand the use of language and accent in the film, and expect accent, an exaggerated accent in particular, to be an important feature of the films to come. When Belmondo says “merde” (shit) to sound like “maid,” she answers “yes.” I’m anticipating broken English sprinkled with “sí, señor” and “ay ay ay.”

The typical 70s Bond films featured British actor Roger Moore jumping into cars in exotic tropical surroundings that included swimming pools, hungry sharks, scuba divers, diabolical kingpins. As a British agent Bisset speaks French with a thick English accent, inconsistently, as does Belmondo, at certain times, when he really plays the part. The Albanian language-accent ploy is laughable but common as a cinematic/theatrical device to bring out the “them,” who is unorganized and inefficient, the bandidos, the unconvincing seduction of Bisset by the author’s editor/kingpin, mariachis standard tunes (my dad’s favourite, didn’t hear it, is “Guadalajara”). When Jon mentioned the “south of the border anything goes” mental framework in Americans last night I couldn’t help but think of the “south” in American literature, especially William Faulkner, or more recently Cormac McCarthy, where south is backward and “outside the conventions of civilization,” making south of the border even further south, even further “free” of civilization, even more Beverley Hillbillies-like, John Steinbeck’s Oakies-like. Nobody notices the telephone booth hoisted into the air by the helicopter; the music keeps playing, the dancers dancing, the sun shining.