(director: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: from a story by Michel Veber/Mauricio Magdaleno; cinematographer: Jack Draper; editor: Gloria Schoemann; music: Manuel Esperón; cast: Libertad Lamarque (Mercedes Irigoyen), Jorge Negrete (Gerardo Ramírez), Meche Barba (Camelia), Agustín Isunza (Heriberto), Julio Villarreal (Demetrio García), José Baviera (Fabio), Alfonso Bedoya (El Rayado), Charles Rooner (Van Eckerman), Fernanda Albany (Nanette), Francisco Jambrina (José Enrique Irigoyen), Bertha Lear (Raquela Ortiz); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Óscar Dancigers; Lionsgate Home Video; 1947-Mexico-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“Enjoyable as populist entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Legendary director Luis Buñuel (“Belle de jour”/”Tristana”/”Los Olvidados”) shoots this while in exile from Franco in Mexico. It’s a surprisingly tame mainstream film from the avant garde director that seems to be shot on automatic pilot and when the director was in dire need of a paycheck. Its plot line resembles a typical musical B western; though Buñuel manages to spit out his usual theme of how the rich exploit the weak, the film seems to mechanically divide everyone up into being either good or bad. Nevertheless it’s well-crafted, superbly photographed in black-and-white, well-acted, and enjoyable as populist entertainment. It’s from a story by Michel Veber and is written by Mauricio Magdaleno.

It’s set in the early 1900s at the Gulf of Mexico oil fields. The suave and daring Gerardo Ramírez (Jorge Negrete) and the older more timid Demetrio García (Julio Villarreal) are adventurers looking for work in the oil fields who break out of jail in the wild Tampico district, where they were being held because lover boy Gerardo punched out the hubby of the wife he was seeing. The two flee to the Gulf of Mexico, where they are hired by the small-time Argentinean owner of three oil wells named José Enrique Irigoyen (Francisco Jambrina). His National company can’t get workers because of the strong-arm tactics of the local casino owner, Fabio (José Baviera), and his moronic beastly thug enforcer Rayado (Alfonso Bedoya); the stubborn, little man of the people, José Enrique, refuses to sell to the big conglomerate oil company owned by the ruthless Van Eckerman. Just as Gerardo and Demetrio get workers and are about to operate the oil wells, José Enrique celebrates in Fabio’s Gran Casino and gets drunk. He’s last seen entering the room of the casino’s singer Camelia (Meche Barba). José Enrique’s singer sister Mercedes (Libertad Lamarque), on tour in Mexico, visits the oil wells after her brother was missing for eight days; when Gerardo meets her at the train, he mistakes her servant Raquela Ortiz for her. Mercedes prefers to go incognito and passes herself off as Raquela, where she gets a singing job at the casino. She suspects Gerardo of foul play, since he’s now running the oil wells as second in command with the mechanic Demetrio as the acting general manager–as stipulated in José Enrique’s will. Not able to count on the corrupt police for help, Mercedes learns before it’s too late that Gerardo is innocent and she loves him.

Not much of a mystery tale or romantic melodrama, it’s all so predictable, but the film moves along at a brisk pace and has more oomph than the popular John Wayne or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry westerns of its time. Negrete sings a song in jail to entertain his cellmates, another nostalgic one to his oil man boss about the good ole days on the Pampas back in Argentina, and a third one in the casino called La Norteña which appeals to the casino crowd and shows him off as one of the common folks. Larmarque sings a few hot tango ballads, including El Choclo, to show she’s a classy singer who can also be steamy.