Viva Maria! (Louis Malle / France-Italy, 1965):

The reversal -- revolutionary turns showgirl, showgirl turns revolutionary -- would have tickled Buñuel. Given Don Luis’s master co-writer (Jean-Claude Carrièrre) and Cuernavaca’s jungles and colonial architecture, however, Louis Malle can barely conjure up David Lean on a steady diet of chiclets. The Irish terrorist’s daughter (Brigitte Bardot) learns the trade and ends up in the same Latin American grounds visited later by Butch and Sundance, The Wild Bunch, etc. She joins a caravan of acrobats and strongmen and, after accidentally inventing the striptease mid-chanson, becomes a sensation with Jeanne Moreau as "Las Desnudas Marias." The first half is larded with Bardot’s smudge-cheeked faux-tomboyisms, saloons roughly the size of soccer stadiums, and wanton Nouvelle Vague referencing (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Heller in Pink Tights, Franju’s party trick in Judex of resurrecting a slain dove). The second half stumbles into a revolution in skittering burlesque of Vera Cruz and Huston’s We Were Strangers (the dictator amid his objets d’art: "I’m not a brute. I’m very modern"). Rosaries are made of bullet shells, gold coins rain from the sky after a bank is blown up, a villainous abbé carries his sighing, severed head in his hands following an explosive brush with the heroines ("Ah, women"). It’s meant to be vertigo-inducing frothy -- the camera literally goes dizzy from having Bardot and Moreau in the same close-up -- but the top-heavy slapstick chases just look like clutter waiting for a director to come along. The rubbery cactus right out of the Road Runner ACME catalog is a nifty touch, but Malle’s best joke is probably the casting of wispy George Hamilton as the revolutionary leader improbably swallowed by the love-starved La Moreau. Cinematography by Henri Decaë. Music by Georges Delerue. With Claudio Brook, Paulette Dubost, Poldo Bendandi, Carlos Lopez Moctezuma, and Francisco Reiguera.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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