For Reel


Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event (1943)
June 21, 2016, 12:59 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
3.5 Stars
Mexican Spitfire's Blessed EventThe last entry in the Mexican Spitfire series is a bittersweet farewell to the eight-film farce, which recycled its jokes shamelessly but coasted by due to the talents of Lupe Velez and particularly vaudeville talent Leon Errol. It would be the penultimate film of Velez’s career (her last Hollywood film) before she took her own life after an out-of-wedlock pregnancy left her in shambles. Fortunately, she goes out on a high point—whereas many installments of the series relegated her to a supporting player, Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event gives her a few memorable moments and more of a consistent purpose in moving the plot forward. The picture’s games of misunderstandings begin when Carmelita tells Dennis (now played by Walter Reed) about a “blessed event”, which he mistakes as an announcement that she’s with child. For the first time in the series, there is a concerted effort to have both of Leon Errol’s characters appear on screen together—earlier installments have largely used cheap-looking tricks to create the illusion, whereas this picture uses green screen and other camera tricks to have the two interact at length. Despite the new insistence on having Errol due double duty within a single frame, however, the picture withholds the bulk of the Lord Epping schtick until the latter half of the picture, therefore feeling like one of the better balanced entries in the series. If Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event doesn’t take the series much farther, it nonetheless is a terrific distillation of the films at their best—the familiar gags are performed well, the miscommunications are particularly funny, and Velez and Errol are at the top of their game.

Advertisements


Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant (1942)
June 21, 2016, 12:56 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
2 Stars
Mexican Spitfire's ElephantThe penultimate Mexican Spitfire film was the third to be released in just six months—a sign that the hijinx of Carmelita (Lupe Velez) and Uncle Matt’s Lord Epping (Leon Errol) impersonation were a hit with audiences. It also brings an inevitable feeling of exhaustion to the proceedings, with gags being repeated and the misuderstandings being less gleefully contrived and instead feeling more by-the-numbers. For instance, the frequent mishap that occurs when a bartender gets flustered by the inconsistencies of Lord Epping’s orders is protracted more than usual—an especially glaring problem because it’s an old joke to begin with! To the picture’s credit, it has a different feel from the other installments in the series, thanks in large part to the appearances of Lyle Talbot and Marion Martin (returning to the series for the third time, but now as a new character), who raise the stakes by seeming to have just walked off of the set of a film noir. Despite the brief appearance of a pachyderm, the title refers to a small statue that Talbot fools Lord Epping into smuggling for him. Coming a year after The Maltese Falcon, the plot is a deliberate parody of that classic, but unfortunately the writers are in over their heads in satirizing that genre. Although not a great picture by any estimation, the Warner Brothers programmer Find the Blackmailer would do a more effective job of capturing the tone of The Maltese Falcon in a comedic context just a year later.



Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942)
June 21, 2016, 12:52 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
2 Stars
Mexican Spitfire Sees a GhostThe sixth entry in the Mexican Spitfire series is notorious for being the film that shared a bill with the butchered version of The Magnificent Ambersons. Orson Welles was to stranger to the series after The Mexican Spitfire’s Baby was the B-picture that preceded Citizen Kane… but in this case, Welles was relegated to the second part of the bill! As an entry in the series, Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost seems like the biggest wasted opportunity of the bunch. Every comedian worth their salt in the 1940s (from Bob Hope to the Bowery Boys) had a dalliance in the horror genre, which proved to provide the context for a neverending series of creative misunderstandings involving trapdoors and floating props. In this installment, however, the horror aspect is put on the shelf until the last reel of the picture, with the hinjinx involving Leon Errol’s Lord Epping tediously taking up the bulk of the picture. Whereas the Maisie series did a good job of staying fresh by placing its character in a variety of genres, the Mexican Spitfire‘s biggest failure is in recycling gags and failing to take advantage of the new settings—something that the lowbrow comedies of the era were particularly good at. The picture is also seriously hurting from the absence of ZaSu Pitts (who absolutely saved the last film in the franchise), and similarly Lupe Velez continues to be completely underutilized, with her best scene involving her purring like a cat on all fours.



Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942)
June 20, 2016, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
3 Stars
Mexican Spitfire at SeaAs the Mexican Spitfire series goes on, they become so interchangeable that to judge their quality one not only looks at their differences but at what was learned from the last endeavor. In Mexican Spitfire at Sea, the filmmakers took notice of ZaSu Pitts’ terrific role in the predecessor by amplifying her screen time and giving her more to do than the occasional reaction shot. As amusing as Leon Errol’s schtick as Lord Epping can be, the character becomes most successful depending on who he is sharing the screen with—if Lupe Velez strangely often feels left out of her own series, her scenes with Errol consistently elevate his performance by allowing him to play within their warm, familiar repartee. His chemistry with Pitts is similarly fantastic, with this film’s highpoint involving Pitts’ own impersonation of a British socialite (including a bad accent and a monocle that she can’t keep on her face without an absurd grimace). Marion Martin, another standout from the previous film, also reprises her role as Fifi, the “war orphan” who in this installment becomes a pawn in the increasingly complicated games of disguise and misunderstandings. The comedic talents are what keeps the series enjoyable, although the writers do seem more in their element the more chaotic the events become.



The Mexican Spitfire’s Baby (1941)
June 20, 2016, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
3 Stars
The Mexican Spitfire's BabyJust as many of the multi-film series of the time did, the Mexican Spitfire only got more outlandish as it went on. When the starting point is a broad comedy about a hot-headed latina, one might be concerned about the films sinking to absurd lows. And yet, the fourth installment (which accompanied Citizen Kane in its original New York run) marks a nice change of pace for the series after its dull predecessor, showing that the filmmakers were both fully in charge of their formula and that they weren’t afraid to take risks by venturing more into the sheer silliness that is expected of a low brow programmer. Early on, Carmelita (Lupe Velez) and Dennis (now played by Buddy Rogers, who is only a mild improvement over Donald Woods) plan to adopt a war orphan… only, because Uncle Matt (Leon Errol) doesn’t specify which war, they end up with a 20-something blonde named Fifi (Marion Martin). A series of miscommunications and inopportune timings ultimately leads to a duel between Uncle Matt’s Lord Epping and Fifi’s husband (Fritz Feld), who hurls knives at his adversary in the film’s terrifically absurd climax. The Lord Epping character had already been played out by this point in the series, but this installment does have the sense to build anticipation for his arrival—it is about the halfway point when Uncle Matt is first confronted with the idea. And, despite the familiar schtick elsewhere, Zasu Pitts is a great addition to the supporting cast (doing what she does best with comedic reaction shots), and Martin gives a fine performance that bucks the expected “dumb blonde” trope (in a series about a fiery Hispanic woman, it’s a nice relief to see the writers back off from yet another offensive stereotype!)



Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940)
June 20, 2016, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
2 Stars
Mexican Spitfire Out WestIn Mexican Spitfire, accomplished vaudeville star Leon Errol was given second billing to Lupe Velez and a lion’s share of the screentime—given the dual role of Uncle Matt and Lord Epping, Errol’s performance was almost solely responsible for driving the plot forward. If Mexican Spitfire Out West is largely a retread of its predecessor, it doesn’t match up due to how greatly it loses sight of its other players in the process of awarding even more screentime to Errol. Again, Uncle Matt takes the task of impersonating Lord Epping while Dennis (Donald Woods) tries to secure a business deal with the real mogul. Meanwhile, Carmelita (Lupe Velez) pursues a divorce to get more attention from her husband. Velez had already been short-shrifted in her own picture with the previous film, and that is more of a glaring problem in this installment—for a series that is named after her hot-tempered character, she is not given any memorable lines, nor is she costumed as well or filmed as beautifully as she was in the earlier films in the series. Errol’s hijinx are fairly amusing, but already tired at this point, and the film’s misunderstandings aren’t quite as clever or as satisfying as they need to be to sustain the comedic drive of the picture.



Mexican Spitfire (1940)
June 20, 2016, 12:42 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leslie Goodwins
3.5 Stars
Mexican SpitfireWhen The Girl from Mexico, a low-budget programmer starring Lupe Velez, found unexpected success in connecting with audiences, RKO Radio Pictures rushed a sequel only six months later titled Mexican Spitfire, giving the namesake to a series that would last a total of eight films. Unlike the Maisie series (which was happening concurrently with the Mexican Spitfire films), this second installment picks up almost exactly where the last one left off, including the same characters and continuing the action established in the first picture. And, in almost every way, it is a total improvement. For starters is that Leon Errol is treated as the asset that he was (so much so that he risks overexposure in a dual performance), and specifically the film handles his relationship with Velez remarkably well—their greeting at the beginning of the picture is a touching one, conveying the excitement of old friends reconnecting in a way that is entirely convincing. Furthermore, just as Errol’s contributions are recognized, screenwriters Joseph Fields and Charles E. Roberts find worthy material for Linda Hayes and Elisabeth Ridson as Dennis’ (Donald Woods) ex-fiance and aunt, who now conspire to reconnect the former lovers and push Carmelita out of the picture. If women fighting over a man is nothing unusual for the genre, the dynamic plays out in a progressive way if only because Carmelita is wrought as particularly crafty and not to be undone by simple tricks. Mexican Spitfire is constructed as a standard screwball comedy in the way that it indulges mistaken identities and romantic misunderstandings, but the unique characterizations and especially the relationship between Velez and Errol makes the formula feel new.