The Gay Desperado (Rouben Mamoulian / U.S., 1936):

A skewed comic mural, inspired down to Mischa Auer's resemblance to Buster Keaton as painted by Orozco. Rouben Mamoulian opens on a pastiche of Scarface (or of his own City Streets) then pulls back to form a screen within a screen, a matinee feature played to a rapt Mexican audience. Most entranced is Leo Carrillo, who thinks his gang of outlaws could learn from the American gangster film; a brawl ensues when the show is curtained, a "Mexico the Beautiful" travelogue unspools with live accompaniment by Nino Martini, and Carrillo is again smitten. Martini is more artist than rogue, but the chief insists and gives him rifle and oversized, floppy sombrero, along with a radio station held at gunpoint -- a Spanish version of "Here Comes Cookie" is interrupted so that the juvenile can show his tenor skills, enjoyed by the police and also by Ida Lupino, the fiancée of a whimpering, wealthy clod (James Blakeley). The American couple is kidnapped and taken to Carrillo's hideout amid giant cacti, though Lupino sees through Martini's façade, it's all "amateur night" to her. Eisenstein's great footage of Mexico provides the satirical cornerstone, Mamoulian adds a playful feeling of rehearsal and performance to the hacienda's blatant artificiality ("Hurry up, we're only going to do this once," someone says before an execution) and remembers Chevalier's Apache Song by a campfire. When Chicago gangsters (led by Stanley Fields, who keeps a Lincoln portrait in his office) are invited to educate Mexican bandits on ruthlessness and end up taking over their business, it's virtually a gag by María Christina Mena ("The Education of Popo," surely). It ends gallantly, however, with the cultural takeover reversed -- "Only in the movies," it is overheard. With Harold Huber, Adrian Rosley, Al Ernest Garcia, and Frank Puglia. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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