Archive for Tito Junco

Forbidden Divas: All At Sea

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2018 by dcairns

Hey everybody! David Melville is back with another plunge into the murky waters of forbidden divadom ~

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

All at Sea

“Where a beautiful woman is concerned, all men are curious.”
-Charles Korvin, Thunderstorm

Pity the poor actress who is more famous off the screen than on it. Linda Christian was a beautiful Mexican starlet who married Tyrone Power in 1949. The more cynical Hollywood insiders may say that was acting of a sort. But “the wedding of the century” (as the tabloid press described it) certainly kept the fans on the edge of their seats. Power and Christian became the most glamorous and golden of movie couples and their two children are minor celebrities in their own right: Romina as a pop star in Italy – and the lead in Jess Franco’s Justine (1969) – and Taryn as a swashbuckler in epics like Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). But when the couple divorced in 1955, Linda Christian slipped back into an obscurity she had never quite escaped.

One film, at least, suggests her fate was undeserved. Thunderstorm (1956) is a tale of tempestuous seas and torrid passions, set in an impoverished (but photogenic) fishing village on the Basque coast of Spain. One day, a rugged young fisherman named Diego (Carlos Thompson) finds a small yacht adrift in the bay. The vessel is leaking and half-waterlogged. But a gorgeous and only slightly dishevelled blonde lady lies unconscious on the cabin floor. She is, of course, Linda Christian. But she goes by the name of María Román. She declines to say who she is or where she comes from. She has a strange and almost otherworldly aura; dark portents of doom seem to follow wherever she goes. She is a B-movie variant of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea crossed, perhaps, with Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. After all – as the script wastes no time in telling us – the local fisher folk are convinced such creatures do exist.

Most disquietingly of all, she is styled to look as much as possible like Grace Kelly – who was, at that time, Hollywood’s biggest female star. That is a shame because Christian (on the basis of this movie) has a natural and unaffected elegance of which the pallid and glacial Kelly could only dream. She is also a vastly warmer and more expressive actress. That tiny suitcase she packed for her cruise holds a seemingly inexhaustible stock of designer clothes. Wandering about the village like a sort of living poster for the New Look, Christian appears puzzled when local women – who spend most of their lives scaling and gutting fish – gape as if she were The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The men stare after her in naked and ill-disguised lust. The tyrannical mayor (Charles Korvin), his wastrel son (Garry Thorne) and his drunken brother (Tito Junco) all want to get in on the act. Stray hints tell us that Christian is not exactly a stranger to male attention.

The director, John Guillermin, photographs the village (its name is San Lorenzo) with almost as much relish as he photographs his star. Known today as a high-budget hack, Guillermin hit his stride in the 70s with a string of films – The Towering Inferno (1974), King Kong (1976), Death on the Nile (1978) – that required little more skill than switching on a camera and not standing in front of it. Yet here he shows a flair for moody and eccentric camera angles such as Orson Welles might envy. With a multiplicity of low-angle and high-angle shots, swooping overhead vistas and one bravura moment in a bar fight – where a bottle smashes in close-up and liquor floods over the lens – the tiny village starts to resemble a labyrinth by Piranesi or a Pop Surrealist drawing by Escher. As the smouldering intrigue around her heats up, Christian’s glamorous blonde castaway seems like a harbinger of Jessica Lange in the catastrophic rehash of King Kong. Indeed, it is this film – and not the 1933 creature features classic – that John Guillermin’s King Kong feels like a remake of.

Not that life in San Lorenzo is non-stop action. The village is a real Spanish location and most of its inhabitants are actual (dubbed) Spaniards – apart from the stars, who are a Mexican, an Argentine and a Hungarian. Yet the locals spend interminable screen time yammering over what size of oceangoing vessel would maximise their haul of fish. Thompson argues that small ships – which they all currently use – are no good for fishing in deep waters, where the richest stocks are to be found. Korvin – who owns all the boats and is too stingy to pay for new ones – insists that large ships could never sail in and out of the town’s tiny harbour. Literally every member of the cast (apart from Christian) seems to have an opinion on this. What’s more, they feel the urge to express it at wearisome length. Where, we ask ourselves, are those stringent European Union fishing quotas when we really need them?!

At one point Thompson, in a fit of derring-do, commandeers a large vessel from up the coast. He sails it into San Lorenzo harbour, narrowly avoiding the jagged rocks that loom up on every side. To be honest, Guillermin swings his camera so perilously close to the rocks that we start to feel a trifle worried. Thunderstorm is a visibly low-budget film; it seems most unlikely the producers could afford a new one. Yet the effect comes a whole lot closer to 3D than any of the 50s films that were actually shot in that overhyped and cumbersome process. We root for Thompson to sail home free and it almost looks as if he might…but then, suddenly, he glimpses Linda Christian posing provocatively on top of the highest rock, luring him to his doom like a siren out of some pagan Greek myth. In the end, he is forced to admit that Size Matters.

For all its flashes of visual flamboyance, Thunderstorm never did establish John Guillermin as an art-house auteur. No more did it establish Linda Christian as a motion picture star in her own right. But it is hard to dislike any movie that strives to outdo From Here to Eternity (1953) when it comes to steamy sex on the beach. In one swimming scene, Christian rises Venus-like out of the surf with her nipples clearly visible through her bra. Later, Thompson pins her down on the sands in a passionate clinch. The waves wash voluptuously over them, tried and tested symbols of movie passion. But then, alas, the waves grow larger. Swelling almost to the size of a small tsunami, they drag the lovers out to sea and Thompson all but drowns. The scene is ludicrous, but nobody could complain that it lacks boldness. You might say the same for Thunderstorm as a whole.

David Melville

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Q is for Que Dios me Perdone!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by dcairns

David Wingrove, writing as David Melville, returns to these pages with letter Q in his alphabet of Mexican Melodrama. Now read on…

CINE DORADO

The Golden Age of Mexican Melodrama 

Q is for ¡Que Dios me perdone! (May God Forgive Me!)

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A film even more operatic than its title, the 1948 ¡Que dios me perdone! stars diva María Félix as a Woman With A Dark Past. We know that immediately from her hat. A rich but none-too-canny business tycoon (Fernando Soler) spots her in a seedy but glamorous Mexico City dive. Her exquisite face is masked entirely by a black hat – one that’s roughly as large as the front wheel on a unicycle. This is classic movie shorthand for a lady with something to hide.

Seconds later, María turns her head and looks up. She fixes her admirer with those melting yet ruthless black-opal eyes. Her name, she reveals, is Lena Kovacs – a refugee from war-torn Europe. Her voice, of course, still sounds as Mexican as ever. Helpfully, she explains that she comes from a long-lost community of Spanish-speaking Sephardic Jews. Now she is adrift in Mexico, eking out a living as a nightclub singer. The old gent is, to put it politely, toast.

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The director, Tito Davison, is clearly pleased with the staging in this early scene. He repeats it, with varying costumes and props, to signal each and every one of his plot’s never-ending twists and turns. Once María has captured the old man’s heart – with her spirited yet tuneless rendering of the film’s title song – she steals back to her dark flat in one of the city’s ritzier slums. Waiting on a side table, illuminated strategically by a moonbeam, is an ineffably sinister black leather glove.

The hand inside that glove belongs to an evil Nazi spymaster. He orders María to seduce and marry Soler. That way she, as his wife, can steal his company’s top secret invention. Some vital yet unnamed device that may help the Third Reich win the war. Think of Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946) or Rita Hayworth in Affair in Trinidad (1952) and then absolve them of any responsibility to act or dance. That, in essence, is María’s role in this movie. Or so it seems at first…

She pulls off the first half of her mission swiftly enough. Married to Soler, she acquires an even more fabulous and extravagant wardrobe than the one she enjoyed as a penniless refugee. Yet now she must contend with two other men in her husband’s life. His future son-in-law (Tito Junco) is an oily playboy who boasts of how proud he is to be a war profiteer. His best friend (Juliàn Soler) is a doctor who practices the newfangled art of psychotherapy. Both are promptly smitten with the new bride. They watch her every move obsessively – leaving her scarcely any time in which to spy!

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Just as we’ve decided that even María Félix now has enough problems for one movie, she gets a surprise telephone call from an old friend. A mysterious voice insists that María meet her in a café. All we see – as we cut to the next shot – is a column of cigarette smoke, rising ominously over the back of a chair. Seated in that chair is a sinister and rather mannish older lady (an early model for Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love) who seems to know María, well, intimately. It seems that our gal, in her efforts to survive the war, once practised a profession even less reputable than spying.

A shock revelation (or not) but one that’s soon buried under an avalanche of greater traumas. The old pal brings news of María’s long-lost daughter, whom she left in a concentration camp in Europe. It seems the girl is still alive…and this warm-hearted lady can secure her release, for the modest fee of $50,000. Welcome news, as it allows the star to switch roles in mid-movie! Where she was once a scheming and duplicitous femme fatale, she is now a suffering and sacrificial heroine. Not that this makes any great change to María’s actual performance.

Were this not a Mexican film, you might expect María to go home and explain her new dilemma to her husband. He can’t have thought she was a virgin before they married – and the poor fool is clearly a slave to her every whim. But that, of course, would end the movie long before her fans had got their money’s worth…so instead she hatches a complicated plot to secretly sell a priceless diamond bracelet that Soler gave her as a wedding gift.

This plan (unsurprisingly) goes awry, but not before the lecherous Junco finds out and blackmails her into an affair – as the price of his silence. Their erotic encounter is one of those oddly sadomasochistic moments that were the Félix stock-in-trade. When Junco demands sex from her, she slaps him twice across the face, then spreads her arms in a lurid mock-Crucifixion pose. “Now claim your price!” Just try and imagine Meryl Streep or Katharine Hepburn attempting to act this scene, and you may appreciate María’s own particular brand of genius.

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A few scenes later, Junco has embroiled María in a plot to murder her husband and live together off their ill-gotten gains. (Secret weapons? Missing child? All that was ages ago. Do please try and keep up.) There will, of course, be several more twists before ¡Que Dios me perdone! grinds its way to a tragic and tortuous climax…

Nor is this even the most ludicrous film made by Davison, a Chilean who directed most of Latin America’s great stars. That honour goes to The Big Cube (1969), in which wealthy gringa Lana Turner meets a murderous toyboy (George Chakiris) who doses her up on LSD. But if ¡Que Dios me perdone! were a shade less hysterical, it might well pass as one of Lana’s drug-induced flashbacks.

David Melville

Cine Dorado: K is for Konga Roja

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by dcairns

Regular co-Shadowplayer David Melville presents the eleventh installment of his handy-dandy alphabet of Mexican melodrama — he is to be congratulated on finding a Mexican movie beginning with the letter “K,” a letter which does not even exist in the Spanish alphabet… now read on —

CINE DORADO 

The Golden Age of Mexican Melodrama 

K is for Konga roja

It’s a steamy tropical night. A boat chugs its way down river into a seedy jungle port. The whole scene is swathed in darkness and mist. The only light is the beam from a lighthouse – which pulses and illuminates the scene in flashes, like a strobe. Directed by Alejandro Galindo in 1942, Konga roja takes place in a world of dazzling light and deepest shadow. Not sure if this look has a name, but you could call it ‘tropical noir

The boat docks in the seedy town of Puerto Largo. Even though it’s midnight, a chorus of peons are waving their sombreros excitedly from the dock. A swarthy fat man, with a ragged moustache and three days’ growth of stubble, trundles up the gangplank and warns the captain to hoist his anchor and be gone by sunrise. “Strange boats aren’t welcome in Puerto Largo!” The captain looks suitably chastised – but Pedro Armendáriz, our hero, swans off the boat and onto the dock with the sort of élan that only a Mexican film star can muster.

Mexico’s great matinee idol of the Golden Age, Armendáriz is an imposing figure of a man. His white linen suit clings, like a second skin, to his muscular bronze body. His Panama hat casts a shadow, sexily, across his dark moustachioed face. (His is, in truth, the most formidable moustache this side of Freddy Mercury.) He checks into the town’s once hotel, and it’s no surprise that half the town seems to drop into his room while he’s taking a shower. I was wondering that the management didn’t hang a sign outside and sell tickets.

He has a typically heroic role as the loner who brings justice to a corrupt town. An agent for a big North American fruit company, he’s come to investigate shady goings on in the local banana trade. (In a witty reversal of the usual Hollywood cliché, this Latino hero even has a fat, clueless gringo sidekick called Mr Powers.) It seems a gang of nefarious crooks is sabotaging the town’s banana shipments – and will stop at nothing to see Pedro doesn’t find out. “We still use machetes to harvest our bananas,” growls one shady character. “And machetes, as you know, have other uses.”

Not being an expert in the marketing of tropical fruit – and missing, doubtless, some of the finer points in the unsubtitled Spanish dialogue – I can’t quite see the financial incentive for anybody in not selling a boatload of ripe bananas. (Indeed, I half expected Groucho Marx to show up and announce that customers must pay extra for buying the fruit and not eating it!) Still, that’s the cod-Hitcockian MacGuffin on which this action thriller seems to hang.

A kingpin in this nefarious scheme turns out to be Pedro’s long-lost bosom pal (the suave but rather oily Tito Junco) who saved his life years ago in Puerto Rico. We know at once that Tito’s a big man in town. He has a flunky to walk behind him and hold a parasol over his head. He’s also running a tandem with two of the ladies who entertain at the local nightspot, The Seven Seas. (What else would you call a bar that’s God-knows-how-many miles up a river?)

Like any other sleazy movie bar in the middle of nowhere, The Seven Seas boasts a roster of top musical talent. (Ludicrous, yes, but no more so than Rick’s Café American in Casablanca, which was shot in Hollywood the same year.) The big attraction is María Antonieta Pons, a Cuban rumba-dancer who became a huge star in Mexican films of the 40s. She doesn’t so much sing and dance as shout and gyrate enthusiastically, and her acting makes María Félix look like Eleonora Duse. Still, all she has to do is provide a visually attractive love interest, and she does it adequately enough.

Tito lusts after María Antonieta but it’s Pedro who wins her heart. We know this right from their first encounter, when she slaps him hard across the face for not paying attention during her big number. She even makes a number of impassioned speeches that call Pedro’s stalwart heroism into question. (“Women don’t love a man because he’s brave, or love him any less because he’s a coward. We just love. That’s all we know how to do!”) Also on the bill is an Afro-Caribbean chanteuse named Toña la Negra. She genuinely loves the slimy Tito – and what’s more, she can genuinely sing.

The big question of who is doing what to whose bananas seems to work out smoothly enough – but only after Pedro and Tito find themselves on opposite sides of the law! Galindo keeps it all going with his spectacular pre-noir lighting (the cameraman is one Victor Herrera) and some moments of sharp visual wit. When a gun battle breaks out in The Seven Seas, the card-players simply duck under the table and keep on playing. When Pedro and the chief bad guy face off at the end, the whole bar freezes with suspense. The barman, who’s in the middle of pouring a shot of tequila, just lets it overflow and dribble onto the bar.

The final shoot-out, in the street outside the bar, has a shadowed splendour that anticipates Carol Reed and The Third Man. Pedro and the villain stalk each other in pitch darkness and deathly silence – illuminated only, at key moments, by that all-important lighthouse. (It also shines, conveniently enough, just outside María Antonieta’s window, adding some much-needed mood and atmosphere to the love scenes.) Justice being duly done, we can go home, knowing our bananas will be on sale at their usual price.

Things did not end quite so smoothly, alas, for Pedro Armendáriz. His career began with a string of heroic roles for Mexico’s most illustrious director, Emilio Fernández (María Candelaria, Enamorada, Río Escondido). Later, he made forays to Hollywood to work for John Ford (Fort Apache, Three Godfathers) and to Europe to star in costume romances with Martine Carol (Lucrezia Borgia) and Lana Turner (Diane).

In 1963, just before playing the Turkish Chief of Police in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love, Armendáriz was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Once his work was finished, he asked director Terence Young if any retakes would be needed. When the answer was ‘no’ he flew home to Los Angeles and shot himself in the head.

His death left the Mexican cinema without a hero. No actor in the last 50 years has been up to the job.

David Melville