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GAY DESPERADO, THE (director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: story by Leo Birinski/Wallace Smith; cinematographer: Lucien Andriot; editor: Margaret Clancey; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Ida Lupino (Jane), Nino Martini (Chivo), Leo Carrillo (Pablo Braganza), Harold Huber (Juan Campo), James Blakeley (Bill Shay), Stanley Fields (Butch), Mischa Auer (Diego), Adrian Rosley (Radio Station Manager), Paul Hurst (American Detective), Al Ernest Garcia (Mexican Police Captain), Frank Puglia (López), Michael Visaroff (Theatre Manager), Chris King Martin (Pancho); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jesse L. Lasky/Mary Pickford; The Milestone Collection; 1936)
“… the joyride spread more silliness than joy my way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rouben Mamoulian (“Love Me Tonight”/”City Streets”) directs a musical/comedy that spoofs American gangster films. It’s taken from a story by Leo Birinski and written by Wallace Smith. The black-and-white photography was restored to their original sharp tones by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in cooperation with The Mary Pickford Foundation. The lighthearted parody veers between slightly amusing turns to irritating broadside comedy that includes bad Mexican accents, dumb gags, lame jokes, Hollywood in-jokes and convoluted plot twists. It’s goofy, friendly and harmless fun, that should appeal to fans of Mamoulian who haven’t seen him do comedies (this being his first). The film’s star is Nino Martini, a tenor with the Metropolitan Opera, who richly sings such songs as “Cielito lindo”, “Adios mi tierra”, “The World is Mine Tonight” and “Celeste Aida.” Nino can’t act a lick, but he sure can sing.

Jolly, much married Mexican bandit Pablo Braganza (Leo Carrillo) and his men watch an American gangster movie in a dusty rural Mexican border town and are inspired by the Chicago gangsters in the film, with Pablo wanting to become Public Enemy Number One in Mexico. The bandits start a theater brawl, but are calmed when movie employee Chivo (Nino Martini) sings to them. They snatch Chivo because Pablo likes his voice and is a music lover, and make him their gang’s minstrel singer. When Pablo learns that Chivo’s ambition is to sing on the radio, he’s taken to a radio station where the bandits force the station to break in on a regular program to let Chivo sing a song from Aida. Trying to act like the American gangsters on film, causes them to car jack an American couple’s convertible on the desert road. Nerdy Bill Shay (James Blakeley) and feisty Jane (Ida Lupino) crossed the border to elope but Bill, the son of a wealthy and influential father, B. Warden Shay, got cold feet fearing pops would cut off his inheritance and chickened out. They are heading home, when Chivo, now garbed as a bandit in an oversized sombrero, is forced to lead the robbery. The bandits were willing to let the couple walk back across the border and just steal their car, but when Bill mentions about his dad they decide to take them back to their hideout hacienda and send a letter to his dad asking for $10,000 ransom for him and, thinking she’s his wife, ask $2,000 for her. Chivo has fallen for Jane, and lets wormy Bill, concerned only about himself, talk him into letting him escape on foot. Meanwhile Pablo has contacted American gangster Butch (Stanley Fields) to make contact with the kid’s father. Back in the hacienda, Jane says she no longer loves Bill and falls in love with Chivo when she discovers he’s a singer not a bandit. Pablo when he discovers Bill’s escape, decides to execute Chivo but at the last minute postpones the firing squad execution because he must hear Chivo sing again. Chivo and Jane escape in the car, and pick up Bill in the desert. Chivo, still thinking they are married, abandons the couple but Jane shouts out that they are not married. Butch and his gang spot the couple and snatch them, bringing them back to the hacienda. The Mexican bandits become disillusioned with the American gangsters and revert to their old ways. In the end, with the help of Pablo, Chivo saves the day and wins the girl.

The madcap mix of American gangster film, Western, Mexican bandits, outrageous plot line and opera was unusual, but the joyride spread more silliness than joy my way.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”